If I have done any deed worthy of remembrance, that deed will be my monument. If not, no monument can preserve my memory.
-Agesilaus II, 360 BC
Meeting 22 year old Gregory Giller today, his easy manner and warm conversation might lead you to believe that this affable young man had a perfectly normal childhood. Actually, his childhood was normal and healthy until he was two years old, when he was taken to the doctor after experiencing severe pain in his side. Within days Gregory’s parents received the devastating news that their child was suffering from a rare form of cancer, whose prognosis is always grim. This dark forecast, however, did not take into account Gregory’s extraordinary optimism, and the unwavering support of his very-close family. Along with the traditional treatments of radiation and chemotherapy, Gregory was receiving a new stem cell replacement therapy, and after eight months of treatment and hospitalization, he went into remission, and began to resume a close-to- normal childhood. Bob Langhorst was a well-known restauranteur in San Diego, who with his wife Georgia spent all of their free time in service to their community. After retiring in 2003 they founded the SUCCESS Optimist Club, and began dedicating their lives to helping children with cancer. They started by raising money for DVD players in the patient’s rooms, along with toys and games for the playroom. More importantly, they provided reassuring support for the families, many of whom were at their children’s bedside for extended periods. Club members would bring them virtually anything they required to maintain their vigil. These acts of grace and caring helped to build strong bonds, and before long, the SUCCESS Optimist Club grew to include many family members, doctors and nurses.
Gregory Giller is now the assistant manager of a large pool supply company, and a recent accounting graduate of Southwestern College. His girlfriend, Samantha Rivera, is also a cancer survivor. With Dan Evers.
How the Rainforest Art Project Began
One July afternoon in 2004, Bob and Georgia visited their longtime family friend, Dan Evers at his studio in Barrio Logan, where he was engaged in art projects with local kids. Several years earlier, Dan had sold his manufacturing business in Northern California to return to the rough neighborhood where he had worked as a teacher’s assistant and with youth groups while attending San Diego State University. Observing what was being accomplished in the Barrio, Bob invited Dan to come to the Kaiser Permanente pediatrics ward to explore the possibility of working with their cancer patients on a small mural. Entering the facility, Dan was taken aback by the stark, drab, colorless interior, and immediately saw that they needed more than a mural - they needed an entire makeover. Dan envisioned a vibrant colorful environment of healing and abundance, and the rainforest provided the perfect theme. Dan presented his ambitious plan to the members of the SUCCESS Optimist Club, who responded with unanimous enthusiasm.
As Dan became more involved with patients and their families, he observed that at times the pain and trauma were all-consuming. They needed a healthy and inspiring diversion, so Dan took his ideas for a nature-based, healing art program to the San Diego Zoo, where they were enthusiastically received. The Rainforest Art Explorer Program, at the San Diego Zoo began in the fall of 2004, with patients, families, doctors, nurses and club members, all coming together to get close and personal with the magnificent zoo animals, and create amazing works of art.
Rainforest Art Explorer shows off her flamingo masterpiece at the San Diego Zoo.
The ranks of SUCCESS Optimist Club had grown steadily, and now included Greg and Loraine Giller, Gregory’s parents. Gregory was now eleven, and back in the hospital. After seven years of remission, he was once again battling for his life; only this time there was one more therapy to help him gain the upper hand against his formidable adversary. Gregory and his entire family would join the other Rainforest Art Explorers on their Saturday expeditions to the San Diego Zoo to be inspired by nature and create art. He had returned to the same room that he had occupied seven years earlier, except now it was transformed by the Optimists into the “Tree Frog Room”. Gregory had named it after his favorite rainforest animal. Following two years of tireless fundraising the pediatric ward at Kaiser Permanente had been completely transformed into a tropical paradise, where every room was named after a different majestic animal. In 2008, the Rainforest Art Project at Kaiser Permanente went on to receive wide acclaim, including the coveted People’s Choice Orchid Award from the San Diego Architectural Foundation. Kaiser’s pediatric unit has recently moved to a more modern facility, but this project has inspired other Rainforest installations within children’s hospitals and healthcare facilities.
LEFT: Bob and Georgia Langhorst, founders of the SUCCESS Optimist Club
RIGHT: Gregory Giller at 11 years old in front of his Tree Frog room.
The healing, nature-based Rainforest Art Explorer program at the San Diego Zoo has continued to grow every year, and has impacted thousands of children and family members in their greatest hour of crisis. This program is now broadly accepted by doctors, patients and families as an invaluable asset in their struggle against childhood cancer. It was recently announced by the SUCCESS Optimist Club that an anonymous donor has established an endowment to dramatically expand the program, and to fund it in perpetuity.
In July of 2009 Bob Langhorst quietly passed away in his Chula Vista home, shortly after providing strict instructions to “keep the Rainforest alive”. Rest assured Bob; your magnificent legacy will continue to provide comfort and inspiration to those who are facing the struggle of their lifetimes.