Tacoma doctor’s influence will be reflected in sculpture at Mount Tahoma High School

A sculpture honoring the late Tacoma surgeon who founded the American Cancer Society Relay for Life will be installed at Mount Tahoma High School in time for this year’s relay at the school track, scheduled for the first weekend in June.

Dr. Gordon Klatt, who died in August at age 71, started the event in 1985 when he walked and ran for 24 hours around the track at the University of Puget Sound and asked friends to make donations to the American Cancer Society.

The following year, more than 300 supporters joined him and a 24-hour relay was born. Over the years, it has grown into a major effort with relays held in more than 5,000 communities in the U.S. and at 900 locations around the world. So far, the Relay for Life has raised nearly $5 billion worldwide.

A committee led by relay supporter Harvey Rosen, a friend of Klatt’s, started working several years ago on a way to recognize Klatt’s contribution.

“We were friends,” Rosen said. “It always bothered me that people wait for someone to die. Why not honor a guy who has done so much for so many while he was alive?”

When Klatt was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2012, the committee’s work took on a new urgency. It raised nearly $115,000 to purchase a sculpture, and had hoped to place it at UPS to commemorate the spot where the relay began. But Rosen’s committee and the university couldn’t agree on the choice of artist or artwork.

In September, the university installed a bronze plaque at the entrance to Baker Stadium. Previously, in 2008, the university had recognized Klatt with an honorary doctoral degree.

Rosen turned next to the Tacoma School District, which has hosted the Tacoma relay at Mount Tahoma High School for nearly a decade. Earlier relays were held at Stadium High School.

Last week, the School Board approved placing a sculpture donated by Rosen’s committee at Mount Tahoma.

The 6-foot-high steel sphere, by Seattle artist Jeff Jolly, shows a pair of hands embracing the world. It will be placed in a visible spot at the front of the school property, between the main building and the stadium.

The globe will be mounted on a circular base, lit at night by solar-powered lighting, and surrounded by circular outdoor seating. People will be able to read basic information about Klatt and the relay on a plaque; they’ll be able to access additional information through a code that can be read by a cellphone.

The committee hopes to install the sculpture and seating this spring.