An 8-year-old Richard J Stephenson is confused.
He and other members of his family in Sheridan, Indiana, are at a Presbyterian church for an event to raise funds. The parish needs money to keep the church warm.
“Mom,” Richard asks Mary Brown Stephenson, “why are we here? We’re Methodists.”
The mom’s simple, direct reply: “They need our help.”
The Stephenson family aids another local church with a different denomination. And then a third.
The young boy is no longer confused. Whether he is conscious of it yet or not, the young boy has become a philanthropist.
It’s a time that coincides with the start of his precocious entrepreneurial spirit. Boy Scouts of America records would keep falling because Stephenson would keep achieving “youngest ever to do this” and “youngest ever to do that” distinctions.
“My family moved nine times before I turned 12,” says Stephenson, now in his seventies, and the founder and chairman of the board of Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). Zion, located just north of the Lake Forest border, is home to CTCA’s Midwestern Regional Medical Center.
“My parents rented homes, and three of them had no indoor plumbing,” he adds. “I never knew my family struggled financially, for we were always focused on helping others and living life by the moral code—which in my family’s home meant that if you saw someone less fortunate than yourself, and you were able to help them without negatively impacting yourself or your God, you did so. No fuss; no muss.”
He lost his beloved mother to a painful and tragic battle with cancer. The delivery of care his mother had received from medical professionals upset him profoundly. It paved the way for Stephenson—a Barrington Hills resident since 1966, a father of five and a grandfather of eight, with a ninth on the way—to make a promise that he would “change the face of cancer care.” He opened his first CTCA hospital in 1988, with a commitment to deliver cancer patients and their families the Mother Standard® of care, or the kind of care you would want for your loved one.
“Tragedy, it was a tragedy,” says Stephenson, also a global merchant banker, as well as a chairman or president or board member of many other proprietary and philanthropic enterprises. “My mom was fun and nurturing, a third-generation Scot, the daughter of a stoic, pure Scot. If a CTCA hospital had existed then, my mother would not have died when she did.”
Five CTCA hospitals, including the one in Zion, thrive today, with the others serving patients from around the world in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Tulsa. The Zion location has received a 96.5 overall rating. The most visited of all oncology websites in the United States is CTCA’s.
In 1991, Stephenson also founded Schaumburg-based Gateway for Cancer Research, an international nonprofit organization. Thanks to Stephenson’s financial support, ninety-nine cents of every dollar Gateway receives from public donors goes directly to fund Phase I and Phase II clinical trials.
“Phase I and Phase II clinical trials,” the Gateway site states, “are underfunded, yet have the greatest patient impact in conquering cancer.”
Last March, Stephenson was inducted into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans for his entrepreneurial spirit and passionate commitment to the well-being of others. For the last 70 years, the Horatio Alger Award has been bestowed upon admirable leaders who have succeeded despite facing adversity, and who are committed to higher education and charitable efforts in their local communities. The Horatio Alger Association aims to educate and provide scholarships to students who embark on pursing limitless opportunities while overcoming adversity.
“An unexpected honor,” Stephenson says.
For more information on Cancer Treatment Centers of America, please visit cancercenter.com. For more information on Gateway for Cancer Research, please visit gatewaycr.org.