Donor Story


Architecture Alumnus Creates Memorial Run to Benefit UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center

By Michelle G. McRuiz

Posted April 3, 2018

By any account, Polly Rogers was a remarkable woman. A first-grade teacher, runner, cross-country and track coach, wife, and mother of three, Polly dedicated her life to helping others succeed. Those under her tutelage, including her sons, learned that excuses wouldn’t get them far.

L-R, Sally Machacek, Justin Schroer, Joshua Rogers and Nancy Bowles pose during a check presentation ceremony. Photo: Courtesy UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center

“She taught us to never settle on anything; she never let us quit,” said her son Joshua Rogers (’12 MS). “There was no room for slacking in her life.”

Nor was there room for illness, but pancreatic cancer doesn’t discriminate. Polly was stricken with the disease in 2008 at age 55 and succumbed to it 11 months later. After her death, her sons Josh, Chris and Ben, and her best friend Sally Machacek, conceived a way to honor her memory while helping the fight against this particularly lethal illness.

Polly’s sons and Sally started a fundraiser in 2009 to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer and support pancreatic cancer research. The fundraising event is Polly’s Run (, a 5K run/walk now in its eighth year. In 2016, the fundraiser donated tens of thousands of dollars to the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“I’ve always had a notion to keep things local,” said Josh, who earned a master’s degree in architecture at UNM and is a development manager at Titan Development in Albuquerque. “We decided that keeping our money here could have a big impact in the state of New Mexico and give people the best cancer treatment they possibly could get.”

The Cancer Center is grateful for the support, especially because pancreatic cancer is considered largely incurable. Its five-year survival rate is only 7 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

“The UNM Cancer Center is extremely grateful to Josh for his dedication to raising funds to support pancreatic cancer research in honor of his mother, Polly,” said Dr. Cheryl Willman, director and CEO of the center. “He has done an outstanding job, and we are honored to be a part of Polly’s legacy.”

Polly started running in her late 20s. “She was a crazy runner,” said Josh, “doing sub-20-minute 5Ks. As kids, my brothers and I followed her on this sport, and she got us to love it. We went all over the country to track and cross-country meets. It was a great experience for us. My mother really loved to touch young lives.”

Josh is pleased with the corporate sponsorships and approximately 500 participants that Polly’s Run has year over year. “We have a lot of repeat people who have made this about their loved ones,” he said. “It gives people hope to know that there are others out there doing things to make this disease go away.”

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