The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute is named in memory of the Detroit native who married Peter Karmanos Jr., her high school sweetheart, raised three sons, and helped launch a major international business.
Barbara Ann met Peter at Henry Ford High School; they married in January 1965. Devoted to her family and an outstanding athlete, Barbara Ann pitched in when Peter co-founded Compuware, the international computer systems firm, in 1973.
“Barbara Ann was a prototype for women of the ’90s,” says Peter. “She was a bright, energetic person.” As a child she contracted polio and scarlet fever, recovering from both. In January 1981 she was diagnosed with a non-aggressive form of breast cancer.
When her cancer returned, Peter searched for ways to support her — even suggesting to sell the business so they could spend more time together. But she would hear none of it.
“She never gave an inch to her diagnosis,” Peter says. “She never complained and never felt sorry for her situation. She felt the way to defeat cancer was to continue her life as she lived it before becoming sick.”
“We couldn’t have coped if it wasn’t for my mother’s courage,” says Nick Karmanos. “In the face of her personal turmoil, she provided comfort and normalcy for her family.”
Barbara Ann was 46 when she died on January 10, 1989.
On July 20, 1995, Peter Karmanos gave $15 million to the cancer research, patient care and education partnership formed a year earlier by Michigan Cancer Foundation, the Meyer L. Prentis Comprehensive Cancer Center of Metropolitan Detroit, The Detroit Medical Center and Wayne State University.
He rebuffed any plans to rename the organization. After consideration, he agreed — but only if named for Barbara Ann.
Today, the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute is one of the largest cancer centers in the United States. It is the only major cancer center named for a woman.
Her photo — the only one the Institute ever uses — has special meaning to the Karmanos family. It was taken during their last vacation together.
To those who never knew her, the smiling, youthful face belies any fear or sadness. Instead, it embodies her life, spirit and hope which, in every way, symbolizes the essence of the organization that now bears her name.
“Barbara Ann would be very pleased about the gift,” says Peter. “She strongly believed in the work done by the people here. She would have been somewhat shy about the naming but, privately, she would have been very pleased.”