The medical and physical landscape of North Texas would not be what it is today without the work of Kern Wildenthal, M.D., Ph.D. — a brilliant scientist who was called to lead a young medical school into the 21st century. It was fitting that this distinguished figure was honored with the prestigious History-Making Texan Award by The Texas State History Museum Foundation at its annual gala in February of 2024. This accolade celebrates living Texas legends whose contributions have left an indelible mark on the state and the nation, recognizing their exceptional achievements and impact across various fields and communities.

Kern Wilendthal, M.D., Ph.D., was awarded the History-Making Texan Award on February 29, 2024, in Austin, Texas. Photo credit: Chris Caselli and Thao Nguyen.

From Native Texan to History-Making Texan

A native Texan, Dr. Wildenthal’s journey toward this esteemed recognition began with academic excellence. He earned his B.A. from Sul Ross State University, his M.D. from UT Southwestern Medical School, and his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in England.

His illustrious career spanned 43 years at UT Southwestern and Southwestern Medical Foundation, including being named the youngest dean of an American medical school at the age of 38. In 1980, Dr. Wildenthal was named the first President of UT Southwestern, contributing significantly to its growth and prominence.

Even after retiring and transitioning to President Emeritus in 2008, Dr. Wildenthal continued his influential work, leading in various roles as President of Southwestern Medical Foundation, President of Children’s Medical Center Foundation, and Executive Vice-President of Children’s Health System of Texas, while also providing consultancy to numerous organizations.

History-Making Growth at UT Southwestern

Under Dr. Wildenthal’s leadership, UT Southwestern underwent a transformative evolution, becoming a global powerhouse in medical research and education. During his tenure, the institution’s size quadrupled, annual research expenditure skyrocketed from $56 million to $398 million, and endowments surged from $40 million to over $1.3 billion. The campus witnessed unprecedented expansion, boasting over 300 acres and six million square feet of buildings. UT Southwestern’s research enterprise soared to among the top 10 biomedical institutions internationally, solidifying its reputation for excellence.

Dr. Wildenthal’s impact extends beyond academia, as evidenced by the numerous honors and eponymous recognitions he has received. From the Kern Wildenthal Research Building at UT Southwestern to the Wildenthal Terrace at the University of Cambridge, his name is synonymous with innovation and philanthropy. Additionally, in 2023, Southwestern Medical Foundation’s Board voted to rename its planned giving society in honor of Dr. Wildenthal. He has been honored with prestigious fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, and is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the Texas Business Hall of Fame.

Kern Wilendthal, M.D., Ph.D., (right) with fellow 2024 History-Making Texan Award recipient, the Honorable Alberto R. Gonzales. Photo credit: Chris Caselli and Thao Nguyen.

Receiving the History-Making Texan Award is a fitting honor for Dr. Kern Wildenthal’s extraordinary contributions to the advancement of medicine in Texas, highlighting his legacy as a visionary leader, dedicated educator, and compassionate philanthropist whose impact will continue to resonate for generations to come.

Photo Gallery: Dr. Kern Wildenthal at the 2024 Texas State History Museum Foundation Annual Gala

Photo credit: Chris Caselli and Thao Nguyen.

Video courtesy of Texas State History Museum Foundation