When Jim Curtis was approached by the One Wish Foundation out of Pennsylvania, he jumped at the opportunity to make a child’s wish come true. Mason Smith was 12 years old and had been battling Leukemia for seven years. The foundation wanted to grant him a trip to northern New York to arrange a turkey hunt, something he’d been wanting to do for a long time.
Jim and his wife Karen farm 1,500 acres of land, which made a perfect location for Mason’s turkey hunt. The Curtis family welcomed Mason and his family, along with professional hunters and the One Wish Foundation founders to their land to make the boy’s wish come true. The group left with a successful hunt, as well as a unique connection that no one expected.
“Let me tell you about our daughter”
What Mason and the One Wish Foundation members didn’t know is that the Curtis family had a special tie to what Mason was going through. Jim and Karen’s 18-year-old daughter Samantha (Sami) had passed away one year prior, after a two-year battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. When they heard about Mason’s story, they felt an instant connection. Not only did the families have a pediatric cancer connection, but Sami was also passionate about hunting. In fact, one of her last wishes was to hunt elk in Colorado.
“I couldn’t believe they contacted us without knowing our connection to cancer and Sami’s story,” Jim says. “After we heard each other’s stories and started talking, we instantly felt a connection.”
The One Wish Foundation had lofty goals of providing land where children like Mason could fish, hike and participate in a variety of other outdoor activities. Coincidentally, this was a project that had been on the Curtis family’s mind ever since their daughter passed away.
Honoring the “Help Sami Kick Cancer” foundation
According to Jim and Karen, Sami was always dedicated to helping others. When she was diagnosed at the age of 16, she continued her focus on changing people’s lives for the better. Her foundation, Help Sami Kick Cancer, continues to raise money to support families affected by pediatric cancer. Before she passed away, Sami enthusiastically indicated to her parents what she hoped would happen with her legacy foundation.
“We got to talk to Sami about this while she was on her death bed,” Jim says. “She was so excited. She said, ‘I want you to continue to help people.’”
Introducing The Lodge @ Dreaming Tree Ranch
The way that Jim and Karen chose to fulfill Sami’s wish – combined with the inspiration from Mason – was by coming up with the concept of “The Lodge.” In January 2019, they purchased 230 acres of land and a 4,500-square-foot home in the small towns of Canton and Potsdam, New York. The Lodge, which is 1.5 miles from the Curtis family home, would turn into a retreat for families of pediatric cancer patients.
The Lodge is a way for families to experience something other than the distractions and heartache that often accompany pediatric cancer. The Curtis family provides access to fishing, cross country skiing, and even maple syrup making from a sugar bush on the property.
This venture combines Sami’s and Mason’s love of hunting with the Curtis family’s dedication to helping people.
“The essence of The Lodge is Samantha, but the inspiration is Mason,” Karen says. “Sami was an extreme outdoor person—a hunter, avid fisher, barrel racer. She would be incredibly proud of this project. It embodies everything she loved to do.”
Continued renovations & big plans
Jim, Karen, and a group of dedicated volunteers have fully renovated the home. It is now handicap-accessible, has an in-ground pool, and provides sleeping room for 12. The home has six bedrooms, three full bathrooms and one-half bath.
They have hosted three families so far, with plans for 10 families each year. Mason and his family were the third family hosted on the property, and they plan to visit as often as they can.
With the help of Willow Tree Landscape & Florist, Jim and Karen are currently finishing the patio area around the pool and installing an outdoor kitchen. The final project will be an event pavilion, which presents potential to raise money by renting it out, hosting their own fundraising events on site, and providing at least a three-season area for the families to enjoy.
Maintenance made easy with Bobcat equipment
On a property with many projects, improvements, and constant upkeep, it’s important to the Curtis family to use dependable equipment. They have found success with Bobcat® equipment – including both excavators and compact track loaders. They are also looking to add a Bobcat zero-turn mower for upkeep of the grounds around The Lodge.
The family owns a Bobcat E145 large excavator that they use for hedge row management. They also plan to use it to dig a pond. They rented an R-Series E35 compact excavator to build a stone retaining wall around the swimming pool.
They also own a Bobcat® T650 compact track loader, which they use for snow removal and trail building. The trails are covered in wood chips donated by a local tree service company. The narrow, all-season trails are used for walking, cross country skiing and other activities.
“The T650 makes it easy to unload truckloads of chips and then Karen and I spread them on the trails and level them,” Jim says. “The lack of compaction keeps the chips fluffy and looking nice. Karen won’t drive anything other than a Bobcat machine!”
Karen agrees, “they’re the easiest to operate, the functionality is better than other brands, and the view is unbeatable.”
Family legacy at The Lodge
The Lodge continues to work with the Help Sami Kick Cancer Foundation to provide a place of comfort and adventure. Though COVID-19 lowered the number of visitors, the family continues to work with a variety of hospitals, social workers and organizations to find the perfect candidates who are in need of a retreat.
“It brings us such joy, as well as a sense of healing for us and the families,” Karen says. “Most people think we’re trying to keep Sami’s memory alive, which is not the sole purpose of this project. This project is based on other people going through what we went through, offering them a relatable experience and walking a bit of that path with them. We want families to come out of this happy and whole.”