He may not have donned red suits or big black boots, and I never saw him travel by reindeer, but my friend Bill Sample shared many other things in common with that jolly old spirit. The former cop who had a children’s hospital on his beat was deeply touched by the chronically ill or abused children who were frequent hospital visitors. So much so that he borrowed money to make a sick child’s dream come true. With that, the Sunshine Foundation was born, becoming the first wish granting organization for kids in need.
There is no question that there was a strong resemblance between Bill Sample and the Santa character we love…
– Twinkle in his eye- check!
– White beard – check.
– Love for children (especially those with special needs) – double check!
– Selfless spirit of giving – check!
Instead of traveling to the North Pole, Bill headed south to make his magic happen… to central Florida to be exact. It is here, in close proximity to the theme parks that so many children wish to visit, that he built the Dream Village of his vision. On 22 acres, he had nine charming cottages constructed and specially equipped for the kids. This village is right out of a fairy tale, except this one is real.
Instead of a sled and reindeer, Bill relied on planes, organizing air-lifts to carry countless children to their dream destination.
Elves? Thank goodness, yes!!! There are countless volunteers and staff who embrace Bill’s vision of making kids dreams come true. Work like this takes a village, and there never ceases to be a need for helpers.
And just like Santa, Bill did his work behind the scenes, disappearing from the limelight to let the fun unfold. It was always about the kids.
Let’s not forget “Mrs. Claus”! Bill’s wife, Kate, has been a true partner in supporting the organization her husband founded. As President of the Sunshine Foundation she works tirelessly for the kids, putting herself out there as their champion, asking for support, fighting the good fight, stretching past her comfort zone in order to further the cause she believes in so deeply. Kate radiates sunshine, sharing it warmly… and I’d venture a guess that she’d put the real Mrs. Claus to shame!
Yes, my friend Bill Sample was a modern day Santa if there was one. He found a way to help make sick children’s lives a little more joyful. Through the Sunshine Foundation, he gave their families a special gift by providing something that they could not make happen on their own.
Bill Sample left this world for a better one on June 4th, 2014.
It is now up to all of us to carry on the work he started. While he never asked for attention or accolades, I can’t imagine that he didn’t leave this life with a great deal of pride at what he accomplished.
By making kids dreams come true he made his own dream come true…making kids lives brighter.
I was fortunate to know Bill Sample and was inspired by his vision and fortitude. He had a heart every bit as big as Santa’s. We all remember how hard it was to say good-bye to Santa…and as difficult as it is to say good-bye to Bill, I bid him a fond adieu with a twinkle in my eye. He would want it that way.