When Matt Weippert thinks about his daughter, Sarah, he remembers her sense of humor.
“She was a little bit of a practical joker,” said Matt Weippert, 55, of Hicksville. “She kept us laughing and she gave us a lot of strength while she was sick.”
Sarah died in 2002 at the age of 12 after losing her battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a blood cancer, but her family has kept her spirit alive by helping others and still finding ways to make people laugh.
Later this month, the Weipperts will host two comedy improv shows to raise money for the Sarah Grace Foundation for Children with Cancer, Inc., which they formed in 2003 in their daughter’s honor. “Unrehearsed,” the title given to the unscripted shows, will take place on June 14 and June 15 at 7 p.m. at Hicksville United Methodist Church.
The roughly 105-minute shows will feature four actors, all graduates of Hicksville High School, performing improvisational theater games in a format similar to the TV show, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Sarah’s brother, James Weippert, 21, is among the cast members.
This is the third consecutive year that James Weippert, a senior theater major at Adelphi University, has partnered with his former high school drama teacher, Dave Coonan, and friends to stage a show for his sister’s foundation. In 2011, they performed Neil Simon’s comedic play “The Odd Couple” to raise money for the foundation, however, the production costs ate into some of the proceeds, so they switched to an improvisational format in 2012.
“When you’re helping kids with cancer you want to make sure the take-away is significant,” said Coonan, 31, of Lynbrook, the show’s director.
The productions are James Weippert’s way of continuing to help his big sister. When he was only 9 years old, he donated his bone marrow to Sarah in a final effort to save her life.
“They were extremely close .?.?. they would tease each other unmercifully, but always had each others’ back,” Matt Weippert said of his children.
With the money raised through the shows, the foundation’s annual “Night of Laughter,” another stand-up comedy benefit held each spring, and donations, the Weipperts have raised roughly $600,000 for support services for more than 800 families of pediatric oncology patients throughout Long Island and the tri-state region. The funds assist them with paying for expenses not covered by their insurance, an issue that Matt Weippert and his wife, Marissa, experienced firsthand while Sarah was undergoing treatments. They were able to take out a home-equity loan to cover the gaps, but realized other families had less resources than they did.
“The foundation is my way of keeping Sarah alive .?.?. and this part is continuing her laughter,” said Matt Weippert. “I cannot and will not ever accept that she is gone .?.?. Sarah's memory will remain alive and everything that she went through will not be for nothing.”
The Hicksville United Methodist Church is located at 130 W. Old Country Rd. in Hickville. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased in advance at thesarahgracefoundation.com or at the door.