Tin soldiers and Nixon coming

Air Force One sits on the tarmac at the Fort Smith Municipal Airport on December 6, 1969; Winthrop Rockefeller (white hat in left photo), and Richard Nixon shook hands with the crowd before departing for Fayetteville.

On December 6, 1969, President Richard Nixon flew into Fort Smith, Ark., on Air Force One as he traveled to Fayetteville and the “Game of the Century” between the Arkansas Razorback and Texas Longhorns.

That makes today a huge personal anniversary for me.

I was among the approximately 2,000 people who greeted Nixon at the airport 50 years ago today. I was 16 and living in Fort Smith with my mom and sister while my dad served a tour of duty in Vietnam.

But I wasn’t there to protest the war. I was there to see history in the person of a sitting President arrive in Fort Smith, no matter how brief the visit.

I borrowed my mom’s car and drove out to the airport a full two hours before Air Force One arrived and snagged a great spot by the rope barrier that had been set up. Security was pretty light. No one frisked us or questioned us as we ran onto the tarmac area in an attempt to beat the crowd to the best viewing spot.

When Nixon finally arrived, I don’t remember any actual remarks, although there was a podium set up. But I do remember that he came down the line of people along the rope to shake our hands. He was accompanied by Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller (white cowboy hat in left photo above).

When the President got about two people from me, someone apparently suggested that it was time to board the helicopter that would complete the trip to Fayetteville. Nixon turned away and took a step toward the waiting helicopter. The crowd let out a collective groan, and the President immediately turned back and resumed shaking our hands (mine, too!). He continued shaking hands down to the high school bands that were playing, where he shook hands with some of the young musicians.

It was a highlight of my youth, despite the fact that Nixon turned out to be, well, Richard Nixon. Watergate and the corruption of his administration surfaced years later.

Two memories stand out from that day.

One was shaking the President’s hand.

The second memory occurred before Nixon arrived. A guy holding a small Instamatic-type camera climbed on top of one of the barrels set up to hold the rope barricade and immediately drew sharp reprimands from the security detail. The camera guy was incensed as he climbed down, and yelled “come the revolution, you’re going to get yours!”

It was a sign of the times, even in a small Southern city like Fort Smith.

OU showcases Stephenson Cancer Center at End2Cancer conference

A scientists presents his findings at the End2Cancer conference at the Samis Education Center on the OU Health Center campus

By Jim Stafford

The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the NCI-Designated Stephenson Cancer Center delivered an academic doubleheader for about 200 cancer research scientists at the recent 2019 END2Cancer conference at the Samis Education Center on the Health Center campus.

For the main event, scientists came to share their research or hear presentations given by counterparts from across the country who are pursuing breakthrough discoveries in the area of cancer treatment. At the two-day conference, the scientists focused on emerging nanotechnology and cancer drug delivery applications.

At the same time, OU showcased its renowned Stephenson Cancer Center on the Health Sciences Center campus, said Rajagopal Ramesh, Ph.D., conference chair and professor, Department of Pathology at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.

“The whole idea in organizing this conference for the third consecutive year – beyond the science – was to put Oklahoma on the map and have the Stephenson Cancer Center recognized for the great science that we do in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer,” Ramesh said. “We have eminent speakers coming in from all over the country, and the majority of them have never been to the state of Oklahoma or to the Stephenson Cancer Center.”

The NCI-Designated Stephenson Cancer Center ranks in the top 50 in the nation for cancer care in the 2019-2010 U.S. News & World Report ranking and currently ranks No. 1 among all cancer centers in the nation for the number of patients participating in clinical trials.

“They were highly impressed,” Ramesh said. “The first thing I hear when they come in is ‘Wow, I never knew such an outstanding cancer center with top-notch research infrastructure exists.’ We wanted them to come in and have the opportunity to go to the Stephenson Cancer Center and look at some of the cutting-edge clinical trials we are doing at the center.”

Ramesh pursues his own cutting-edge research at the Stephenson Cancer Center, developing nanoparticles that can deliver drugs specifically to tumors and minimize the toxicity that is often a cancer treatment side effect. He specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.

Ramesh recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to explore a means by which tumor cells may be avoiding immunotherapy in lung cancer. The study is unique in that it is being conducted on lung cancer patients in real time while they are on a clinical trial receiving an immunotherapy medication.

The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) also supports Ramesh’s lung cancer research with a $135,000 Health Research grant.

“OCAST has been beneficial not only to my lab but across the entire state of Oklahoma,” Ramesh said. “The whole idea of OCAST is to bridge the transition from academic research to an industry setting in the state of Oklahoma. By receiving funds from OCAST, we are able to generate new ideas and test them first in the lab.”

Wei Chen, Ph.D., professor and dean of the College of Mathematics and Sciences at the University of Central Oklahoma, is another OCAST-supported scientist who moderated an END2Cancer panel discussion and presented findings from his own nanotech-based research at the conference.

“Ending cancer is everybody’s dream,” Chen said. “So everybody in this conference and many researchers around the world are contributing to the fight against cancer. We are making good inroads both in terms of nanotechnology and other methodologies. But cancer is a very tough enemy, as we know. Therefore, we still have a long way to go.”

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).