Several years ago, John Killian’s youngest son, Sam, was diagnosed with Duchenne, the most common form of muscular dystrophy. One of Killian’s first steps was a conversation with life insurance and financial planning representatives.

That led him to a man named Chris Messick, who said he wanted to help. To Killian’s surprise, Messick and several others asked if they could put together a fundraiser.

“I thought maybe they would have a happy hour and raise $1,000 and it would be great,” Killian laughs. “Then they came to me three weeks later with this whole carnival idea drawn up, and they wanted to have it at White Rock Lake.”

Messick became the chairman of Sam’s Family Fun Day, which raised $38,000 during the inaugural year. Last year that amount was more than doubled with $85,000 — $70,000 of it raised before the event.

And this year they have even bigger plans.

“We are thinking $150,000, a little less than double from last year,” Killian says.

The organizers focus on corporate donations, which Killian explains are a means to get “out of the gate.”

“We try to get corporate donations from my company [ING] and vendors to cover the cost of the event, which is about $7,000. This way when individuals are making donations it goes directly to the charity,” he explains.

Last year’s event attracted about 400 people word-of-mouth, but this year, Killian says they’re making a push to get the word out. Bounce houses, a bungee rope run, train rides, clowns, face painters, magicians and a mini race car — big enough to fit the driver and a kid and run all around the park — will be part of the fun, plus plenty of food including every kid’s favorite, hot dogs.

The main draw will be Eddie Coker, a well-known children’s entertainer who grew up in the Lakewood area and performs at more than 200 children’s concerts a year.

“When we got Eddie Coker involved, that helped make it a draw,” Killian says. “He is what we base the day on.”

Coker says you couldn’t meet a group of nicer people than those involved with Sam’s Family Fun Day.

“I have been doing this for 20 years, so for a first-year event to do as well as it did is pretty impressive,” Coker says. “I can potentially be jaded after all these years of doing neat causes at lots of different events, but this was one that really was quite amazing.”

As Sam Killian’s disease progresses, his body will degenerate because of the lack of protein to regenerate his muscle tissue. Somewhere between the ages of 10 and 14, about 95 percent of children with Duchenne become wheelchair-bound.

But for now, Killian says his youngest of four is only about six months behind where he should be developmentally. Sam’s an active kid, his dad says, and he’s doing well.

Sam’s Family Fun Day
/ Saturday, Oct. 20, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
where/ Flagpole Hill
cost/ free admission; donations and proceeds from food sales benefit Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy
for information/ 214.766.5986, or

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