In a matter of months, leukemia had torn a hole in the life of William Karr and his family.
Karr was a healthy 72-year-old. The retired U.S. Navy chief volunteered in the community, gave his time to help other veterans and was active in his church. But leukemia took that all away.
Karr died in 2013, weeks after being diagnosed with the disease.
“It was devastating to the whole family. I had never known anything about leukemia prior to this and started digging into it after he died,” his son, Douglas Karr, said.
As a tribute to his father, Greenwood resident Douglas Karr created an event to help cure blood cancers. Music and Technology in the Midwest is a festival that will feature 11 area bands performing everything from bluegrass to the blues.
Area tech companies will set up booths demonstrating the latest innovations in the Indianapolis market.
The goal is to raise money for research into leukemia and lymphoma, to one day eliminate the disease that took Karr’s father.
“My dad was a guy who worked hard, but played hard, too. Indianapolis is a city where every time we get together, we do our work. So we thought maybe we should take this day to play instead, all for a good cause,” Douglas Karr said.
Throughout the day on April 27, people will filter through the historic Rathskeller building in downtown Indianapolis to hear music and learn about technology.
Companies such as Angie’s List and TinderBox will talk to people about the advancements they’re making in software.
People will listen to harmony and twang of Johnson County’s Whipstitch Sallies, the energetic rock of the Bleeding Keys and the classic all-female sound of The Girls.
“Leukemia, lymphoma and other types of cancer have definitely affected each one of us. Allie, our guitar and banjo player, is a survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” said Sam Roberts, mandolin player for the Whipstitch Sallies. “The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society raises money for researching cures and for improving patients’ quality of life, so it’s a cause we feel good about supporting.”
The event will benefit the Indiana chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a nonprofit group aimed at raising money for research into blood cancers.
It is Douglas Karr’s project as part of the society’s Man and Woman of the Year project. He and 12 other area residents will be vying to raise as much money
“At the end of the day, the man and the woman who raise the most are who would receive the title. That’s done through corporate sponsorships, and personal donations. Some candidates host special events,” said Mandi Fagan, spokeswoman for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. “Those two winners get to vie for the national title.”
Like most of the nominees, Karr was inspired to take part through his own experience with leukemia.
William Karr was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer in which the bone marrow makes abnormal blood cells.
Doctors discovered the disease during routine tests following an auto accident. He died months later.
One of his most outstanding traits was his desire to help people, often in secret or without anyone knowing, Douglas Karr said.
He and a friend would often find area military veterans who were unable to fix up their homes, doing the work free of charge.
A Cuban family that he had sponsored through a nonprofit for many years showed up at his funeral.
“We found out stuff even after he died that we didn’t know that he did,” Douglas Karr said. “He didn’t make a big deal about it.”
William Karr’s death motivated his son to learn more about leukemia. Research showed that increasingly, the disease is curable.
Medical advancements have allowed patients to live for years after diagnosis, with a survival rate of 59 percent.
A friend, Steve Gerardi, saw some of his online writings and contacted Douglas Karr about leukemia. He suggested nominating Douglas Karr to take part in the Man and Women of the Year fundraiser.
“Instead of just having one fundraiser, you have these candidates that have their own fundraising. At the end of the day, you have this whole team raising this money,” Gerardi said. “Doug mentioned he lost his dad to leukemia, and he jumped at the idea to do this.”
Gerardi, a local concert promoter, thought that they could host a music event. As founder of DK New Media, Douglas Karr has a background in marketing and media.
Combining music with tech companies, it would be a fundraiser that separated him from other nominees.
“A lot of people don’t realize that the marketing tech sector is a growing industry for Indiana. We have all of the feeder schools here, big companies are taking off, and a lot of employees are starting their own things,” Douglas Karr said.
Their first step in putting the event together was to speak with Techpointe, an Indianapolis-based technology lobbying firm. Techpointe wanted to introduce some of the more unique companies in central Indiana to the general public.
Quickly, Douglas Karr started lining up partners to help in the event. The Rathskeller, equipped with indoor and outdoor music venues and a ballroom for the tech displays, volunteered to host and staff.
Local producers Coldcock Whiskey, Flat 12 Bierworks and Tow Yard Brewing all donated beverages for the festival. Brozinni Pizzeria of Greenwood will have its pizza truck parked in the nearby alley.
Douglas Karr found that nearly everyone he approached had a connection to leukemia.
“It’s a humbling thing. This seems to be something the whole city is getting behind,” he said. “It’s been scary. I thought we’d spent a few hours a week on it, but it’s turned into a couple hours every day that we’re dedicating to this.”
All of proceeds from the festival, including from T-shirts, beer and whiskey, all go to the Indiana chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Douglas Karr is about 50 percent of the way to his fundraising goal, though he can’t share what that goal is because it would compromise his chance to win the competition.
But with the actual event more than a week away, he’s confident that he’ll reach and possibly surpass that number.
“We think it’s going to be a blowout event. Our estimates are somewhere between 500 and 1,000 people will drift through during the day,” he said.
Douglas Karr’s mother, Carol, is flying up from her home in Bradenton, Fla., to take part as well. Family members and friends have been supportive with donations and casting a wide net to get others involved in the cause.
“His friends and everyone who knew my dad knew he was the kind of guy who you could ask for help. So they’ve been digging deep to help too,” Douglas Karr said. “It’s going to be a celebration of my dad’s life, and it’s going to be a chance to raise money and awareness of not only leukemia but the marketing technology sector as well.”