Inside Salk; Salk Insitute
Home > News & Press > InsideSalk > 04|10 Issue > Ballroom Dancer Gives Back to Basic Research

Ballroom Dancer Gives Back to Basic Research

Helen Kerger

Helen Kerger and Merlin Woesner

It wasn't very long into a waltz at his local ballroom dancing club before Merlin Woesner got a strong indication that he had found his new partner. A widower and retired radiologist, Woesner says the feeling was mutual the night he met Helen Kerger.

"I don't think it was more than four measures of music before I realized this lady knew how to dance," Woesner says. "It turns out she had been dancing for several years in the North County San Diego area, so she knew the dancing scene pretty well. But on that first dance, we immediately knew we were suited for each other."

These days, the dancing partners also attend science presentations at the Salk Institute, which Woesner has generously contributed to over the last 10 years and has included in his estate plans. Woesner says he was quickly taken by the Institute's leading scientific research after first learning about it with his wife, Velma, more than a decade ago.

"What impressed us about Salk was its size, it's not too big," he says. "And we got the impression right away that there is cross-fertilization between professors there, and that's a good thing. I don't think that exists at a lot of similar institutions."

Woesner says he developed his belief in "giving back" after growing up throughout South East Asia where his father worked as a businessman for missionary groups. The family returned to the United States so Woesner could start his formal education. He eventually graduated from medical school at Loma Linda University in Los Angeles.

It was during one of the many cruises he took with Velma that they discovered ballroom dancing, he says.

"We would stop at the lounge before going to dinner and see people dancing," Woesner says. "It looked like they were having a lot of fun and it seemed like a nice social activity and a chance to get a little extra exercise. So we decided that when I retired, we were going to learn how to dance."

True to his word, they started taking classes in their community and joined a local chapter of the National Smooth Dancers Club after retiring to Oceanside, Calif. Within a few years they were proficient at the cha-cha, the rumba, the foxtrot and the tango. They danced together for 22 years before Velma died in 2008 after 62 years of marriage.

"I became very, very depressed, but being a physician I knew I had to get back reasonably quick to the things that I liked to do," he says. "And dancing was one of them."

Today, his medical training also continues to give Woesner a strong appreciation and value for basic research and the need to fund such work at Salk.

"Unfortunately a lot of people don't realize how important basic biological research is to the future of medicine," he says. "Basic science is required before you're going to get clinical research to come through."

If you are interested in including the Salk Institute in your estate plans, please contact Cheryl H. Dean, Esq, Senior Director of Planned Giving 858.453.4100 x1228 or