Anyone who has visited The Summit has probably met Bill Hadden. If they met Bill, they definitely met Sammie. It doesn’t take long to realize that the duo’s friendship is unique. Between his jokes and tales of his adventures, it takes even less time to recognize that he, a 94-year-old World War II veteran, is a true gem.
In 1972, Bill had a massive stroke that caused blindness and partial paralysis of the left side of his body. He explained he cannot use the typical white cane most blind people utilize due to the paralysis. Instead, Bill learned about Leader Dogs School for the Blind, founded by Lions Clubs International in 1939. It took him three years, but in 1975 he got up enough nerve to go for a five-week training program. Upon graduation, he went home with his first guide dog: a 90-pound German Shepherd named Rex. Since then, he’s had seven dogs, including his current companion, Sammie.
“I’ve been blind longer than I was sighted. You can show me how to get to the lobby, and I can count steps and find my way there, but I can’t get there on my own. It’s a constant learning experience but having a guide dog has allowed me to be independent,” he said.
After his graduation, Bill became an ambassador for Leader Dogs, traveling an estimated 80,000 miles a year for 30 years. During those trips, he visited rehab centers and schools for the blind to talk with others about using a guide dog. Maine and New Hampshire are the only two states he hasn’t visited.
“One time in Alaska, a bellman helped me find a relief area for my dog in the parking lot surrounded by woods. I was there, six o’clock in the morning, and the ground started shaking. I thought, ‘Oh! I’m in the middle of an earthquake! I’m going to get gobbled up, and nobody will ever know what happened to me.’ About that time, somebody grabbed me by my good right arm, and I thought, ‘Gosh, I’m getting mugged right here in the middle of an earthquake!’ Only to find out the bellman observed a cow moose charging because I got between her and her calf, and she was trying to get back to her baby. I had on a short-sleeve shirt, and her saliva blew off her mouth onto my arm about the time he was jerking me sideways!”
Travel tales like this one make Bill so captivating and charming. His grade-school sweetheart, Jackie, would undoubtedly have agreed. He wooed her with “goo-goo eyes” across the church they both attended as children and a watermelon gifted on their first date. They were married for 68 years, and their lives touched for 75. The couple moved to The Summit in 2011.
“We debated the move about 16 months. Cried about it, prayed about it, laughed about it, and finally decided let’s do it,” Bill said. “Unfortunately, I lost my wife in 2016. God needed another angel, so He called her to heaven.”
Bill credits their enduring love and his faith for his long life. His faith also led him to The Summit, which is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ and, more recently, the Baptist church.
“It was entirely new to us, but since we’ve been here, it’s family. We say that, and it’s meaningful because we truly are extended family. The Summit gives the aura of, ‘I want to live here.’ Plus, the food and meals I experienced coming here were a come along as well: move here so you can eat here,” he said with a sly smile.
Never one to be idle, Bill stays busy at The Summit. Sammie joined him there in 2016 and they haven’t stopped moving since. He’s a member of the prayer group, the Recycling Committee and, of course, the Welcoming Committee. He never misses a meal at his chosen table, number 33 in the back, so Sammie has a corner to curl up in and recharge.
“Imagine if I’d been holding on to your elbow, having you guide me everywhere I go all day. That’s exhausting and a lot of responsibility,” Bill explained. “The dogs are bred for this specific purpose, and at eight weeks of age, they are evaluated to determine the possibility of being a guide dog. Only three out of 10 make it.”
And, to Bill, that means Sammie and her fellow guide dogs are quite literally a miracle. Because of that, he is sure to give back to the community that gives him so much. He established the Hadden Student Helper Fund at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, where he got Sammie. The fund is designed to help students who need incidentals ensure they can finish training.
“I’m here today because of my faith. I feel very strongly about that. God was walking with me through all my trials and tribulations.”Bill Hadden
This article was first published in LifeSpire of Virginia’s Community Matters magazine. Check out the rest of the e-book version online: https://bit.ly/3hSWUfP.