When Mona Zander was a young girl, she would proudly proclaim success upon completing a task she considered important: “Mom, I’ve finished my homework!” “Mom, I’ve cleaned my room!” Invariably, Mona’s mother would reply, “Mona, you don’t get a standing ovation. Those are things you’re supposed to do anyhow!”
The progress Mona has helped generate through Glaucoma Research Foundation over the past 22 years surely deserves a round of applause today. An exceptionally dedicated partner and an inspiring volunteer leader, Mona has attended every Gala and along with her husband Ed, also chaired the event, helping GRF raise millions of dollars toward a cure. As a member of the board of directors from 2009 to 2018, and chair of its Leadership Committee, she oversaw two strategic plans that have strengthened GRF programs and accelerated glaucoma research. And in 2016, Mona’s family’s leadership gift pushed the Cure is in Sight Campaign beyond its original goal, capping the largest fundraising effort in GRF history.
Recognizing her commitment and generosity, GRF awarded Mona and her husband, Ed, the Catalyst for a Cure award at its 2019 Gala. “When Tom Brunner told me we had been chosen as honorees, I said to my husband, ‘I think they ran out of smart people,’” Mona told the group gathered that night to honor her.
Now, with a recently committed $255,000 multiyear pledge, Mona has deepened her family’s longtime commitment to GRF, becoming a founding member of the new Cornerstone Society for donors whose lifetime gifts total $1 million or more. Mona serves as the prestigious group’s first chair and has joined GRF’s Honorary Board of Directors.
Most important, Mona’s pledge has established the Zander Family Research Fund, which will underwrite promising research into potential gene therapies for glaucoma. The fund’s focus pays tribute to the circumstances that first connected Mona with GRF: It was 2001, and Ed’s mother had just been diagnosed with glaucoma. The news propelled Mona on a quest for information on research, prevention, and treatment. A random online search led her, auspiciously, to Glaucoma Research Foundation.
An extensive GRF study has already determined that family history increases the risk of glaucoma by four to nine times, but there is so much we still do not know about glaucoma genetics. Building on GRF’s strong presence in that field, the Zander Family Research Fund will underwrite early career scientists whose research explores potential gene replacement, gene silencing, gene editing, and addition gene therapies — approaches that could keep retinal ganglion cells alive and functioning.
The Zanders have dedicated their five-year pledge to Ed’s mom, Tessie, and Mona’s mom, Miriam. Both mothers reside now in memory, but the inspiration they provided during their lifetimes endures. “If I were to tell my mom all the things GRF is doing today — funding the work of science superstars, advancing the quest for a glaucoma cure — I know what she would say,” Mona says. “’Mona, those are things you’re supposed to do anyhow!’”
Posted on December 12, 2023
Source: Glaucoma Research Foundation’s “Insight” donor newsletter, Fall 2023 edition