Henri Landwirth, the founder of Give Kids the World Village – a cost-free resort for children with life-threatening illnesses – has died aged 91.
Born into a Jewish family in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1927, Landwirth survived the Nazi death camps of the Holocaust, moving to North America following the conclusion of World War Two.
Later becoming a hotelier, in 1969 Landwirth opened his first Holiday Inn franchise in Orlando ahead of the opening of Walt Disney World Resort in 1971. In 1980 he decided to offer free accomodation to the Make-A-Wish foundation for use of families wanting to visit Disney with terminally ill children.
In 1986 he started Give Kids the World, which has grown over the years from an initial 35-acre village, to the 84 acres on offer today. Completely accessible for children of all abilities, Give Kids the World has welcomed more than 150,000 families since its foundation.
“Words cannot express the sense of loss we feel today,” said Pamela Landwirth, president and CEO of Give Kids The World and Henri’s former wife, speaking to the Orlando Sentinel
“When people endure what he did – experiencing the worst of humanity – I think it can either make you bitter or lead you to think that you were spared for a reason. Henri recognised that he could move forward with compassion and love. He made a huge difference.”
Last year, Pamela and Henri were inducted into the IAAPA Hall of Fame
. An organisation Give Kids the World has built close ties with, the attractions body holds special fundraisers at its Orlando trade show each year, raising thousands of dollars for the charity.
“Some of his best moments at the village were seeing kids come in and be regular kids, enjoying the village and entertainment it provided them," said Henri's son, Gary, accepting the Hall of Fame Award on behalf of his father in November.
“If he was here today [to accept this honour], I know he’d be smiling ear to ear. He’s a little kid at heart and he loved working with IAAPA."
Landwirth's legacy reaches beyond Give Kids the World, with the Fanny Landwirth Foundation – a grant-making foundation for charities in Orlando, Jacksonville and Asheville.
To celebrate Henri's life, Give Kids the World Village will hold a special event from 2pm to 3pm at the attraction on 28 April.