James and Judith Herbert:
Survival and gratitude
James Herbert, CEO of the Neogen Co. and his wife, Judith, have their names on the Herbert-Herman Cancer Center for many reasons, but one stands out: appreciation.
They are both cancer survivors. James had lung cancer and Judith had breast cancer. Both were treated at Sparrow Hospital, where surgeons removed part of his lung and found an experimental procedure that worked for her.
“It didn’t take near as long as chemo or radiation,” Herbert said of his wife’s treatment. “It was a quicker, shorter course, and it worked. We were fortunate that both our situations were not terminal and we recovered relatively easily.”
The experience not only attuned them to the life-changing effect of a cancer diagnosis; it gave them a deep appreciation of the staff at Sparrow’s cancer center.
“We both saw what could be done if cancer was diagnosed in time and you’ve got the right doctors working with you,” he said.
Herbert could see that Sparrow’s cramped cancer center didn’t match the standard set by its staff.
“Here was a group of dedicated doctors, working in areas that were not that well-equipped for what they were trying to do,” he said.
He’s impressed with the airy, patient-friendly facility designers and builders have come up with.
“To be a comfortable place to get treatment will do a lot on the emotional side of cancer, and we all know some portion of cancer curing probably is tied to emotion,” Herbert said.
The Herberts’ decision to donate to Sparrow’s new cancer followed naturally from their own experience. Herbert heads a multibillion-dollar tech company with international reach, but his philanthropic approach reflects his business style of keeping it local.
In 1982, Herbert and former Dow Chemical CEO Ted Doan started Neo gen in Lansing’s old Oak Park School, built in 1916. This year Neogen celebrated 35 years of operating in Lansing.
Herbert could have moved his growing company into a gleaming suburban glass palace, or out of Michigan altogether. Instead, he chose to build an urban campus, rehabbing and refurbishing abandoned school buildings and warehouses on Lansing’s east side, most of them within sight of Sparrow Hospital.
Neogen started with a $75,000 investment and is now valued at about $2.7 billion.
Herbert cited the Biblical verse, “from those to whom much is given, much is expected.”
“It started with just an idea, and this community has been helpful to us as we built the business into what it is today,” Herbert said.
During treatment, the Herberts got to know and respect James Herman, who was a member of his wife’s radiology team.
“It’s hard to single out one person on a team, but the number of people he has touched in the last decade, where he has either succeeded in defeating cancer or made people’s final days more restful as a result of his understanding — it just seemed like the new hospital ought to carry his name,” Herbert said.
Last year, the Herberts invited the Hermans to dinner, without telling them what the occasion was.
Herman said he was “shocked” at Herbert’s offer to share the naming-level donor opportunity at the new Cancer Center. It’s not easy to press ‘pause’ on Herman, who loves to talk, but Herbert managed to find the button.
“Who in their lifetime gets an opportunity like this?” Herman said.” Not many people, so I’m extraordinarily grateful.”
Herbert just chuckled at the memory.
“That’s right,” Herbert said.