After Sam fell and hurt his knee at age 4, it wasn’t healing. When his mother took him to the doctor, initial blood tests were done with the thought that his pale complexion meant he was anemic. Instead, they were given a more serious diagnosis – Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. After chemotherapy and a period of remission, he relapsed. He received a bone marrow transplant in January of 2000 and died just three months later at age 6.


Pictured beneath a portrait of Sam Beres in their Brookfield home are Sam’s mother, Cathy Bisswurm-Vogel, her husband, Greg Vogel, Sam’s brother, Jordan Beres, 18, and sister, Emily Vogel, 3. On Saturday, Aug. 22, the family and members of St. Agnes Parish, Butler will participate in the 10th annual Sam Beres Memorial Walk/Run when they expect to top the $100K in fund raising. (Catholic Herald photo by Tracy Rusch)

The photo represented by the painting above the fireplace is a favorite of his mom’s, Cathy Bisswurm-Vogel, taken when he was the ring bearer at her sister’s wedding. “When we built our house, my husband, Greg, planned that spot just for Sam’s picture to hang above the fireplace,” she said. Beyond photos and Sam’s curio cabinet, containing his baby blanket, pillow, angel figurines and other prized possessions, Sam’s memory is alive in the community as this year marks the 10th annual Sam Beres Memorial Walk/Run at St. Agnes Parish, Butler.

The Aug. 22 event, sponsored by the St. Agnes Christian Formation-Youth Ministry, is engraved upon the hearts of his family, St. Agnes parishioners and the Butler community.

Gerry Wolf, director of Christian formation at St. Agnes, said Sam’s loss was felt throughout the community. His daughter, Megan, 26, a teenager at the time, was on the St. Agnes youth board and wanted to respond to the family; that idea led to the walk/run that she helped organize in the fall of 2000.

“It was a very small affair,” Wolf said. “… but it was a response to the family to support them and a response to do something positive in light of the tragedy of Sam’s death.”

Cathy said the walk/run is a family affair that includes her husband, Sam’s older brother, Jordan Beres, 18, and little sister, Emily Vogel, 3, and their extended family that count for about 40 or 50 of the day’s rough estimate of 200-250 participants.

Money raised from the race fee and donations made in Sam’s name are donated to the Medical College of Wisconsin, where Sam’s doctor, Dr. David Margolis, has a fund he uses for research. Cathy reported that $15,300 was raised at the 2008 walk/run, compared to the $2,000 raised in the race’s inaugural year. To date, they’ve raised $90,018 from the walk/run alone, but they’re looking to break the $100,000 mark in total donations.

“To me, it shows what a neat community St. Agnes is that everyone comes out,” said Cathy, the race starter each year. “The kids started it – still a lot of Sam’s classmates are there participating, and it just really shows what a great parish St. Agnes is.”

“I like that people give instead of taking,” Greg added about the support of the community in the walk/run, golf outing, and soccer tournament done each year to raise money. “I mean this is all giving from people, all sorts of people. You have people at real high levels in their career. You have people that are just starting out; I like that everyone can get together in both groups.”

Tyler Langford, 15, a former classmate of Sam’s, has participated in the walk/run every year since it began. His memories of Sam are limited to the high energy of a first-grade boy, but that doesn’t take away the meaning of the walk/run for Langford. Though he doesn’t claim to be much of a runner, Langford said he and his parents and younger brother participate.

“To me, it feels good to remember Sam, and then it helps because we raise money through donations – we can help raise money to cure cancer,” he said.

Langford, who will be a sophomore this fall, will never forget his eighth grade graduation – when their class dedicated the St. Agnes Parish School soccer field to Sam, whose family loves soccer.

“Our eighth grade class put (a banner) up last year, so that’ll just be there so it’s Sam’s field,” Langford said.

For a printable registration
form for the Saturday, Aug. 22 Sam Beres 10th Annual Memorial Walk/Run, visit <>. The two mile walk/run begins at 10 a.m. at St. Agnes Parish, 12801 W. Fairmount Ave., Butler. Can’t participate? Donations can be sent to Sandy Bisswurm (Sam’s grandmother), 14340 Flora Ave., Brookfield, WI 53005; make checks payable
to St. Agnes Parish.

He hopes to make it to Sam’s walk/run every year.

“It’s important to me because Sam was a good person and I’m really just glad that we can still remember him,” Langford said. “…his memory still lives on and that we’re all still at the same time helping to find a cure for cancer and leukemia.”

Another of Sam’s former classmates, Danny McKee, 15, who holds first place in the run – if he repeats this year, it would mark his fifth consecutive win – likes to run, but the reason he’s there each year goes deeper.

“Sam Beres was in my class, first of all, so it’s kind of special that way,” he said. “And it’s just fun to get together with everyone and just do it for a good cause.”

McKee remembers Sam as an outgoing classmate who was good at Legos.

“I wasn’t like his best friend, but I did know him pretty well,” McKee said, explaining that it has helped him cope with losing his classmate. “…The run does help, I mean, it’s fun and it helps me kind of think about it.”

While he said there are tears sometimes, the overall walk/run is upbeat and positive.

“It brings back the memory of Sam and it makes people feel better about everything,” McKee said. “…I think he would enjoy it just as much as anyone else.”

What began as an outreach effort to help a family through a rough time has grown into an event that friends and families attend annually, and that has been added to the weekend of the St. Agnes Parish Festival.

Because this is the 10th year since the walk/run began, some special events are being planned in commemoration. This year’s shirt will be tie-dyed to commemorate the many rainbow colors of shirts that participants received other years.

Balloons will be released just as they were at Sam’s funeral by his third grade class and also by his family annually when they celebrate his birthday by taking the day off and having a family dinner.

“I like to call it bittersweet,” Cathy said of the emotions on the day of the walk/run and the events that evoke Sam’s memories. “Where it’s so nice to see everyone once a year … but the reason that we’re there stinks.”

Wolf said the Sam Beres Memorial Walk/Run that has attracted friends, family, Sam’s doctor and even his bone marrow donor from Rhode Island, has been a defining part of St. Agnes Parish.

“It’s been something that has drawn our community together,” Wolf said. “Kind of a rallying response to supporting one another in hard times and it’s become a tradition I hope continues for a long time, if not for as long as our parish exists. It’s really one of those things I’m most proud of in being a member at St. Agnes and I think a lot of other people who are involved feel the same way – that it kind of defines our community as a parish family.”

The walk/run is a way to dust off the memories of Sam and remember the little boy who loved sports, wrestling and food. Cathy hopes it leaves families and parents with a message on life: “Just to appreciate what they’ve got, spend time with their kids and just realize how short life is and how quick it can change.”