Most people in Maple Creek call him Wild Bill, although some prefer Junk Yard Bill. What nobody disputes is the size of his heart. He could easily be known as big-hearted Bill.
Last week, Bill DeRepentigny was on CTV News after an inspirational act of kindness that brought a ray of hope to a family of strangers and captured the public’s imagination.
At the shortest of notice, he organized a collection of donations for Lisa Lombardi, whose eight-year-old daughter, Chloe, is in hospital in Calgary, fighting a form of leukaemia. He and fellow biker, Scott Francis, then went on a 14-hour, 820-kilometre round-trip to Calgary, where they handed over $3,215 in donations.
“It was a good feeling pulling up to the hospital, seeing the whole family waiting for us,” Bill said in a Facebook write-up on his exploits.
“So many tears of happiness, seeing a little hope return to their faces.
“All I can say is that it was awesome. We laughed a little, cried a little, and gave some short motorcycle rides in the parking lot.”
Bill’s mission came about after he stumbled across a Facebook post about Chloe.
He saw the pictures – and felt a deep connection with the family’s ordeal.
Less than two years ago, his niece, Layna, then just 22 months, lay in a bed at Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, fighting to overcome a huge tumour on her chest. Layna’s story, said Bill, is proof that medical miracles do occur for she is now a happy and healthy 3-year-old – a message he passed on to Lisa Lombardi.
“There is no possible way to explain the feeling of watching a child fight for her life,” he said. “It stays with you forever.”
He added that he understood the financial burden that can result from prolonged medical treatment.
“The bills are piling up and you don’t need to worry about that stuff when you’re worried about your children.”
Determined to do something to help, Bill, Omar Murray and Dick Kennedy, rode to Tompkins on Saturday, May 15, where they met other members of The Creek Motorcycle Riders, Ed Ewert, Lori Vereschagin and Scott Francis. They collected some donations.
Word got out on Facebook about the fundraising campaign for Lombardi. Soon donations were pouring in; one was left under a flower pot at Bill’s home in Cypress Street.
“What a wonderful town we live in,” said Bill.
At 7.30am on Sunday, May 16, he and Scott began their trek to Calgary, stopping off at places on enroute to pick up donations.
When they arrived, Lombardi was filled with gratitude for the gesture of generosity.
“I can’t even put into words how amazing that is. How somebody could see a story and just do that.”
Later, she expressed thanks on Facebook.
“We truly feel all the love. You guys are all so amazing.”
Amazed by Bill’s actions, Shannon McClure, Chloe’s niece, contacted the Advance Times.
“Bill doesn’t know my family, but his generosity was a bright light in a really bad day,” she said.
McClure, who used to work at the Strathmore Times, took about a dozen photographs of the scenes outside the hospital when Bill and Scott arrived.
Bill said he was going to stay in touch with Lisa Lombardi and planned to raise further funds.
“I am challenging all my bike friends and all my demolition derby driver friends to meet or beat $20.
“I also want to challenge my friends and competitors in the scrap metal and recycling industry to meet or beat $250.”
Bill said he received a touching video of Chloe thanking him for the donations.
“This is five seconds I will hold with me the rest of my life,” he said.
• You can follow Chloe’s fight on Facebook. Money can be e-transferred to firstname.lastname@example.org. A GoFundMe page has been created to support the family: https://gofund.me/e25f72db