Vision of Children Foundation is close to Samuel Hardage’s heart

Samuel A. Hardage, chairman and founder of Chase Suite Hotels and Woodfin Hotels, has successfully developed hotels, high-rise office buildings, apartments and residential warehouses in 16 states. Since its initial project in 1969, the company has completed by its own account 67 projects in 16 states and in excess of 4,000 hotel rooms.

In 1982, Hardage became the first franchisee of Marriott’s Residence Inns, which pioneered and launched the upscale, limited service, all-suite hotel. In 2000, Hardage Suite Hotels simultaneously completed the construction of two significant all-suite hotel projects, Woodfin Hotels in San Diego and San Francisco, totaling 428 keys.

Hardage is also the co-founder and chairman of the Vision of Children Foundation (VOC). He and his wife, Vivian, established the VOC after they were told their infant son had ocular albinism, a genetically caused vision disorder. The VOC’s mission is to cure hereditary childhood blindness and vision disorders, and to improve the quality of life of visually impaired individuals and their families.

What brought you to Rancho Santa Fe?

We were looking for a great place to raise a family. The more we learned about the Ranch, the more we knew we had found our new home.

What makes the Ranch special to you?

The Ranch is a marvelous repository of wonderful, talented people who are open to one another. Put another way, it’s home to a lot of great friends who always have time for each other.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in Rancho Santa Fe?

A couple of cell phone towers - maybe disguised as a palm tree or whatever - so that we can join the 21st century.

Who or what inspires you?

My son, Chase. When he was diagnosed with ocular albinism (OA) 18 years ago and my wife and I were told there was no cure, I’ve never felt so motivated to do something. We were stunned to find out that no one was even doing research to understand OA, much less treat it. It was clear that if there was any hope of finding a cure, it was going to take funding. So we established the Vision of Children Foundation (

www.visionofchildren.org

).

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

Actually, I recently hosted this dream dinner party, but it was a party of 27 of the top vision and genetic eye researchers from around the world. They shared their latest discoveries and research efforts involving ocular albinism (OA) and related conditions. This included encouraging reports from the human gene therapy trials that began a year ago, which are providing continued hope for a cure.

This dinner party was actually part the Seventh World Symposium on Genetic Vision Disorders, which was organized by the VOC. Top institutions were represented, including Jules Stein Eye Institute, Columbia University, Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine and the National Eye Institute.

One of the most important outcomes of our symposiums is the collaborative relationships that are formed. Working with limited funding and resources, we all work together to keep moving toward a cure. This forum builds trust, understanding and respect between various researchers, many who work thousands of miles apart from each other and may have never otherwise met. Our symposium ended this year with a commitment to address specific research issues as a group. I am greatly encouraged by what I saw and heard.

What are you currently reading?

David Baldacci’s new novel - “First Family” - is a real page-turner.

What is your most prized possession?

Well, it’s not really a possession, but the thing I prize most is my family.

What do you do for fun?

I love to ski, hunt, fly, play golf and explore new places and new ideas with good friends.

Describe your greatest accomplishment.

Founding the VOC. The VOC is the only international nonprofit foundation that funds genetic vision research and facilitates communication between families, educators, health care professionals and researchers who care for these children. Currently, VOC supports 23 researchers at 12 institutions worldwide who are conducting research studies on over 25 associated genetic eye disorders. The scientific discoveries funded by VOC are crucial in pushing forward the science to eliminate vision disorders and create effective therapies. For example, human gene therapy trials now under way have safely restored vision in 11 young adults with a rare form of congenital blindness. While the patients have not achieved normal eyesight, preliminary results set the stage for further studies of this innovative treatment for retinal diseases.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

Use your gifts to the best of your ability from the beginning to the end.


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