Four sick children and their families were treated to Ozarks vacations this month, courtesy of a local charity whose mission is to help kids with cancer have fun.

Four sick children and their families were treated to Ozarks vacations this month, courtesy of a local charity whose mission is to help kids with cancer have fun.

Founded by two-time cancer survivor and disabled retired Army major Don Bishop, the University of Table Rock Lake Foundation will have sponsored over 20 families by the end of the year.

“This summer has been our best yet,” Bishop said. “The word about what we do is finally getting out.”

The Carpenter family from Independence, Mo., heard about the organization from their social worker at Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Hospital. Aydan Carpenter, 5, has been battling Ewing’s sarcoma since April 2009.

Aydan’s dad, Ty, said that the trip went better than he expected. “Aydan had a blast. He loved it, loved it!”

His mom, Geneva, agreed. “We were at Silver Dollar City for five hours,” she said. “We thought he’d last maybe an hour.”

“He rode rides we never thought he would go on,” Ty said. “He enjoyed everything we did.”

 And they did a lot, everything from riding the Mighty Galleon at SDC to taking in the Presleys’ show, driving go-carts, and eating dinner at Mazzio’s in Branson.

Aydan’s three siblings – 14-year-old Alex, 13-year-old Mariah, and 7-year-old Madison – were so busy that they had no time to go on the Internet the entire weekend.

Like Aydan, 6-year-old Logan Dills of Aurora, Mo., was also diagnosed in 2009 – acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He and his family found out about UTRLF from their visits to the St. John’s Jane Pitt Pediatric Cancer Center in Springfield, Mo..

Three weeks per month, Logan is treated there. The fourth week he travels to St. Jude’s in Memphis, Tenn., where he receives spinal chemotherapy.

According to Logan’s parents, Rodney and Deb, it’s difficult for their family of six to get away. Rodney said, “It’s pretty expensive for us to do anything as family. I have wanted to take my four kids to the Dixie Stampede for a long time but couldn’t afford it.”

But that’s all changed now. The entire family got to see the show Friday night. Logan especially enjoyed seeing the horses.

Dixie Stampede was also the favorite of 12-year-old history lover Gunner Gonzalez, from Neosho, Mo. Gunner is another acute lymphoblastic leukemia patient who heard about the Foundation from his social worker at Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Although Gunner is currently in remission, he has faced a lot of setbacks. But he was all smiles the morning of his interview, eager to talk about the new shoes he bought on his shopping trip to Tanger Mall, his day at Silver Dollar City, and the hot tub at the Still Waters Resort, where all four families stayed.  

According to Gunner’s mom, Elizabeth, “Financially, with medical expenses and one income, we couldn’t afford a vacation.”

Gunner himself said that his entire attitude “skyrocketed” when he found out that UTRLF was providing a three-night/four-day getaway for him, his mom, and his 2-year old sister, Leilee.

“It gave him something to look forward to,” Elizabeth said.

Gunner’s only regret was that his father couldn’t come along. He had to stay behind to work.

Devin Southard, 5, of Nixa, Mo., is another acute lymphoblastic leukemia patient who receives treatment at St. John’s and St. Jude’s. Devin has been fighting the disease since he was 2. According to his mom, Stephanie, he has one year left of treatment.

As a single mother, Stephanie said that it’s hard to take Devin and his little brother, Zachary, out of their 800-square-foot apartment. They have to stay inside most of the time.

“This trip was an opportunity to let them get outside, enjoy the sun, and just be boys,” she said.  Stephanie’s father was able to come along to help out.

In addition to paddle boating and kayaking on Table Rock Lake and swimming in the Still Waters oasis pool, the family went to Silver Dollar City and Dixie Stampede, where Devin liked eating corn on the cob.

Devin summed up his trip as only a 5-year-old can: “Fun!”

To that, Bishop replied, “Mission accomplished!”

To view photos of UTRLF families having fun, click on the Newsletter link at the University of Table Rock Lake Foundation website at www.uoftrl.com.

To donate to the Foundation, contact Bishop at 417-739-4386.