Happy Birthday, RGM Foundation!

The 25th Anniversary of the Ronald G. Michels Fellowship Foundation

Ron Michels died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 47 on January 15, 1991, leaving behind a legacy of major contributions to the vitreoretinal community including in particular his important additions to the literature and his passion for training vitreoretinal fellows; all of these were accomplished while he was providing exceptional cutting-edge care for his patients.

During the 2015 annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Ronald G. Michels Fellowship Foundation celebrated its 25th anniversary. This annual reception of the Foundation is an event that has grown substantially in size and prestige over the years. The occasion provides an opportunity for reflection regarding Ron’s legacy as demonstrated in the Foundation’s development, evolution, and contributions.

The Ronald G. Michels Fellowship Foundation was formally established and incorporated immediately following his death and subsequent discussions among his friends, including Bert Glaser, Sandy Brucker, Alice Michels, Mylan Van Newkirk, and the author. There was agreement among these individuals that Ron would have wanted to be remembered as a skilled caregiver, author, and teacher. Thus the Foundation was established to honor Ron’s many talents and to provide funds for additional young scholars with the hopes that they would follow in his proverbial footsteps. These cash awards were intended solely for outstanding vitreoretinal fellows in the U.S. and not their sponsoring institutions. The Foundation was granted tax-exempt nonprofit status as a 501(c) (3) organization a few months later, and Bert Glaser, Alice Michels, and Barry Caldwell were named as members of the first Board of Directors. Funding for the organization came from donations by former colleagues, patients, and companies associated with vitreoretinal surgery.

The first meeting of the Michels Foundation was held in the autumn of 1991 during the annual meeting of the Academy, and the first two Michels Foundation award winners were Robert “Bob” Avery and Baruch “Barry” Kuppermann. In addition to cash awards, they received plaques and copies of the Michels Retinal Detachment book. Since that time, similar awards have been provided at the annual reception, and 2015 brought the total number of Michels Foundation award winners to 82. The names of all recipients are presented in the Table below. Administration of the Foundation came under the purview of Karen Baranick in 1996, and in 1998 Karen established Medical Conference Planners, Inc (MCPI). Karen and the MCPI staff remain intimately involved in the Foundation’s activities.

Applications to the Michels Foundation are competitive, limited to second-year vitreoretinal fellows in the U.S., and accepted early in their second year of the candidates’ fellowship training. These comprehensive applications include academic histories, professional and personal accomplishments, and five letters of recommendation by respective mentors. These are reviewed by an anonymous committee, some of whose members rotate annually. Rankings of each committee member are tabulated and winners are determined; the number of winners has varied from one to six, however since 1996 there has always been a minimum of two winners annually.

In 1998, the number of Directors was formally increased to five, including Sandy Brucker, Bert Glaser, Alice Michels Wilkinson, Barry Caldwell, and the author, and Sandy and Alice have served continuously since then. In 2014, five younger vigorous individuals were added to the Board. Three of these, all former Michels Foundation award winners, assumed specific roles within the Foundation. New Board members include Dr. R.V. Paul Chan, Chair, Website Communications; Dr. Jonathan Prenner, Annual Meeting Master of Ceremonies; Dr Amy Schefler, Chair, Fundraising Committee. Although young at the time of their father’s death, Ron’s children Dr. Allison Michels Pettinelli; and Randy Michels, Esq. have now become additional members of the Board. The contributions from the infusion of these younger Board members have quickly born proverbial fruit, as the qualities of the website, annual meeting, and fund raising efforts have reached new heights.

Ron Michels would be quite delighted to learn of the success of the organization dedicated to his name. Ron’s passion for all aspects of vitreoretinal surgery has been perpetuated by the many academic contributions of the Michels Foundation award winners. The accomplishments of current and future Michels Foundation award winning fellows will undoubtedly bring continued distinction and prestige to the Fellowship Foundation as well as important advances in our terrific subspecialty.

Happy birthday, Michels Fellowship Foundation.

C. P. Wilkinson, MD