Even after a decade of dreaming, the end result of Toby Keith's quest to build a home-away-from-home for Oklahoma families fighting pediatric cancer exceeded his lofty imaginings.
“This was a dream. This was a need that Oklahoma needed. This is 10 times bigger than I could have ever imagined. I would have been happy with 15 or 16 rooms and a kitchen with soup and sandwiches, maybe, and a shuttle that could take people in and out and take care of these kids and their families,” the country music superstar said at Thursday's grand opening ceremony for the Toby Keith Foundation's OK Kids Korral.
“This is the Ritz Carlton meets Disney World,” he added, with a laugh. “I'd have been happy with Chuck E. Cheese and Motel 6.”
The 25,000-square-foot OK Kids Korral, which was modeled after an upscale ski lodge, sits at the south end of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
The $9 million building, which Keith said came in under budget, was designed to house pediatric cancer patients and their families seeking care at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center and other nearby facilities. It features 12 overnight suites, four day rooms, a gourmet kitchen, spacious dining hall, Route 66-themed indoor playroom, family resource center and more.
“It's off the hook, it's amazing. It's exceeded my dreams and imagination and expectations tenfold and I'm completely blown away,” Keith told The Oklahoman.
Building the OK Kids Korral has been a personal mission for the singer since Ally Webb, the 2-year-old daughter of his former bandmate Scott Webb, succumbed to cancer in 2003.
“I've seen it firsthand and it's very devastating to have to lose half of your income while one parent tends to the sick kid and the other one has to work and your bills are double and triple. And the magnitude of all that is astronomical. We hope to ease and facilitate as much as possible … and I thought this home was a perfect fit because we had nothing here like it,” Keith told the crowd of about 250 people who attended Thursday's ribbon cutting.
When it came time for the ribbon to be snipped, Keith helped hold the crimson strand while former pediatric cancer patient Elijah Fowler wielded the oversized scissors.