In 1975, with the support of Dr. Robert Christensen, a Professor of Ophthalmology at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA, an anonymous philanthropist publicly known as “Mr. K” created, funded, and endowed the original UCLA Mobile Eye Clinic. Following the initial success of that program, Mr. K began the process of establishing a charitable entity to provide vision care to disadvantaged persons such as the young, the elderly and the working poor, and in 1979, The Karl Kirchgessner Foundation was officially founded. Because of Mr. K’s desire for anonymity, the Foundation was named after a great uncle whose German last name, Kirchgessner, roughly translates as “churchgoer.” The Mobile Eye Clinic, the Stein Eye Institute and UCLA have received over $8.2 million in support from the Foundation since its inception.
In addition to helping fund vision care for the disadvantaged, the Foundation has also supported impactful research in the field of vision. From 1998 until 2017, the Foundation administered a research program to fund the vision research of promising young scientists affiliated with universities throughout the United States. A Scientific Advisory Board was created, composed of distinguished professors from UCLA and USC, and during the 20 year period of the program, research grants totaling $2.275 million were awarded to 43 investigators. Approximately 80% of the investigators who were awarded these research grants went on to receive funding from either the National Institutes of Health and/or National Science Foundation. In 1984, the Foundation created The Karl Kirchgessner Foundation Ophthalmology Endowment Fund to support pioneering vision research at the Stein Eye Institute at UCLA, and in 2001, the Foundation established a Chair in Vision Science at UCLA to further science investigations. The current holder of the Chair is Dr. Debora B. Farber, PhD, DPhhc, a researcher making great strides in the isolation and characterization of genes involved in inherited retinal degenerations.
The Karl Kirchgessner Foundation continues to make yearly grants to local organizations that provide much needed services in the field of vision, such as community clinics, outreach programs, and providers of vision screening, adaptive equipment, and assistive services. From inception through its fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, the Foundation has awarded over $20 million in vision-related grants.