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The House a Hero Built: A Day at Sam’s Cabin [UPDATE]

Sam's Cabin
Photo by Jeff Harkness

This is Sam’s Cabin.

The shower room at the former YMCA Camp Tepeetonka, on Manhattan Island at Big Stone Lake, South Dakota, is being transformed into a dream come true. What was once a cold, drab, impersonal, cinder block building is on its way to becoming a warm, inviting, and inspiring place. This is the same kind of effect Sam had on the lives he touched during his abbreviated stay on this planet.

16 year Sam Grorud from Milbank lost his battle with cancer in December 2011, but not before changing the lives of every person he crossed paths with.

I first met Sam in March 2011 at our Cure Kids Cancer Radiothon, just days after his diagnosis. I was immediately drawn to his sense of calm and the perspective he shared about the situation he was in, mature well beyond his teenage years.

Sam in Israel

At that point, Sam’s chances of survival were about 97%.  When I sat down to talk with him again just three months later, it was clear he was battling much tougher odds.  Sam’s cancer wasn’t responding to conventional treatments and things were getting more and more serious as his health increasingly became more fragile.

And yet the one constant was Sam’s attitude.  Always upbeat, always positive, always looking for a way to brighten and enrich the lives of those around him.  From the youngest patients on the cancer wing at Sanford Children’s Hospital to the adults who cared for him and about him, he made an indelible mark on everyone.

Sam with the Vikings

If there was ever a person put on this planet to exemplify the power of positive thinking, it was Sam.  Don’t just take my word for it.  Listen to this interview I did with Sam last July talking about cancer, life, death, family, and making a difference.

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When it became apparent that Sam’s battles on this earth were about finished, he started to chart a course for what kind of legacy he was going to leave behind.  In vintage Sam style, when faced with what he wanted to accomplish with the time he had left, Sam’s dreams were not of trips, cars, or electronics.  His wishes were to help others.

First, with the help of his mom, Teresa, and dad, Jim, a scholarship in Sam’s name was established at Milbank High School. Once that was in place , Sam shared his vision for a place – a safe haven for other kids dealing with cancer – next to the family’s cabin at Big Stone Lake. The idea? Transform the old YMCA shower house into Sam’s Cabin, complete with bedrooms, living areas, a large kitchen where several families could gather together and for balconies that would offer spectacular views of this pristine island, which is accessible only by boat.

My wife and I had a chance to visit Sam’s Cabin recently.  It was obvious right away that Sam’s incredible and unwavering spirit is alive in this place, which should be up and running by next summer.

Special thanks to Sam’s mom Teresa for welcoming us into this little piece of paradise. We look forward to our next visit when the cabin is up and running and the heartwarming sounds of laughter and fellowship reverberate throughout this unforgettable place in the ultimate  tribute  to an unforgettable young man who changed the world!

We miss you Sam!

UPDATE:  As part of our 2014 Cure Kids Cancer Radiothon, we crossed paths with Teresa again and she was able to provide us with pictures chronicling the incredible transformation of Sam’s Cabin, which is nearly complete.

Sam's Cabin
(Photo by Teresa Grorud)
Sam's Cabin
(Photo by Teresa Grorud)

We are looking forward to the day when the first families are able to enjoy this special place as Sam’s memory is alive and well.

Make a donation now to the Cure Kids Cancer Radiothon.

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