William 'Bill' Sample, 78, founder of the Sunshine Foundation

William Sample
William Sample
Posted: June 09, 2014

William "Bill" Marshall Sample, 78, of Chalfont, founder of the Sunshine Foundation, whose personal crusade to grant the last wish of ill and dying children enriched the lives of thousands, died Wednesday, June 4, of respiratory failure at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Sample was a Philadelphia beat cop stationed at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children when he began to hear about the heavy emotional and financial strain that caring for a sick child placed on families.

The hefty medical bills made it difficult for the parents to carry out a dying child's last wish. So Mr. Sample decided to take on that challenge.

"Not all children are able to run and play and enjoy life," Mr. Sample said. "Many are innocent victims of birth defects, accidents and deadly diseases. Shouldn't each child know that somebody cares enough to see his or her dream come true?"

In 1976, after taking out a personal loan and assembling volunteers, Mr. Sample created the Sunshine Foundation, the Original Wish Granting Organization.

The first wish to be fulfilled came in January 1977 from a 4-year-old Warminster boy who dreamed of playing in the snow in the Poconos. The child, a leukemia patient, died four months later.

Since then, the foundation has fulfilled the yearnings of 37,000 children who have life-threatening illnesses, chronic ailments, developmental disabilities, or trauma from abuse, and whose parents cannot afford to give them one last trip.

"Bill had a heart the size of the universe that was most tender towards children, and most significantly, children with special health-care needs," said his family in a written tribute. "His legacy lives on through the seed he planted so very long ago."

Born in Olney, he graduated from Olney High School. After enlisting in the Army, Mr. Sample served in Korea. After returning home, he became a patrolman. He retired in 1983 to devote himself to the foundation.

Mr. Sample saw that many of the sick children wanted to visit central Florida's theme parks. Demand increased when Reader's Digest published a story about him.

So in 1989, he found 22 acres in Davenport, Fla., and moved there to oversee construction of Sunshine Foundation's Dream Village, a place where children and their families stay in a pretend forest and cottages, each with a magical theme.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Sample also created the Sunshine Foundation Dreamlift, a jet carrying special-needs children and their caregivers to a Florida theme park for the day. Since then, 93 Dreamlifts have flown thousands for the day of fun.

Mr. Sample was proud of the foundation's work with children who have progeria, the disease of premature aging. Starting in 1982, the foundation began an annual Progeria Reunion.

The Progeria Research Foundation's president, Audrey Gordon, and its medical director, Leslie Gordon, described Mr. Sample as "an extraordinary person who championed progeria."

Mr. Sample received many honors, including President Ronald Reagan's Volunteer Action Award, an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Villanova University, and the Great Friend to Kids Award from the Please Touch Museum.

Surviving are his wife, Kathleen "Kate" McCoy Sample; daughters Diane, Donna Tener, and Ellen Caroline; and four grandchildren. Two sisters died earlier.

His first wife was Dorothy Sample. They were divorced. She survives.

A visitation is planned for Tuesday, June 10, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Helweg & Rowland Funeral Home, 1059 Old York Rd., Abington.

A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 11, at Gloria Dei Church, 570 Welsh Rd., Huntingdon Valley. Interment in Washington Crossing National Cemetery will be later.

Contributions may be made to the Sunshine Foundation, 1041 Mill Creek Drive, Feasterville, Pa. 19053.


bcook@phillynews.com

610-313-8102

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