Support Surfaces for ‘Penguin’ Family

Two fundraisers are planned to aid William and his parents, Sabrina and Michael McMurray.

Local residents Sabrina and Michael McMurray, blind-sided by a sudden tragedy, have experienced an outpouring of community goodwill and empathy in the form of delivered meals, get-well cards and  fundraisers organized on their behalf.

In fact, two are scheduled: Aug. 4 at Riddle Field, and another on Aug. 14 at Mozambique restaurant.

The McMurrays, owners of Laguna’s iconic Penguin Café, lack medical insurance. And two weeks ago their son, William, was diagnosed with an inoperable and fast-growing tumor called a brain stem glioma.

Friends, neighbors, local business owners, former teachers and many others have been posting kind words and offers of moral and material support on the web site that was quickly set up by friend and web designer Clay Leeds, where the family also posts updates on William’s progress (

The site initially included a “donate” button for financial contributions to help with medical bills and unforeseen incidentals. However, it was temporarily disabled, so anyone wishing to help can drop their donations in a box at the Penguin, 981 S. Coast Highway, between Thalia and Anita Streets.

When James Pribram heard the news he lost no time in dedicating his planned paddle to the Mexican border to William, and a team of Billabong surfers visited William at the hospital before he was discharged. His room decoration included a colorful get-well scroll offered by another friend.

Canisters for donations to the family appeared overnight at the cash registers at the local Whole Foods Market. E-mails have been flying back and forth between friends sharing information on how best to help the family.

Earlier in the year, a ball had hit William, 11, who will enter sixth grade at Thurston Middle School this fall. His subsequent dizziness, a sore neck and headaches, were thought to be related to a concussion from the blow, as a clean CT scan offered mystified physicians no other explanation for the symptoms. But instead of improving with time, William’s condition worsened, affecting his vision, speech and motor function. On July 14, his parents brought him to the emergency room at Mission Hospital and received the devastating diagnosis.

William was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Orange County, where he began radiation treatment on Monday. Since the tumor is inside the brain stem and inoperable, doctors say there are few other options,  explained family friend Kimberly Leeds. The prognosis, for the time being, remains vague.

On top of the McMurrays’ lack of health insurance, the Penguin Cafe has also experienced financial set backs in recent years, said Leeds, with the McMurrays struggling to keep open the doors of a business that has been a family tradition for more than 40 years.

Now medical bills will only add to their burden, even as their son’s medical crisis means they will have less time to mind the business, Leeds said.

Though the Penguin boasts a dedicated staff well versed in the daily routines, Sabrina McMurray kept the place running smoothly on a daily basis, even waiting on tables as needed. Now, though, care for her son must come first; she hasn’t left his bedside for two weeks.

In the meantime, her best friend, Laguna Beach resident Kelly Fontenot, who has worked on and off at the café since she was 12, fills in at the Penguin when she can. Reached last week after covering the lunch rush, Fontenot said customers are responding with a “major outpouring of love.”

“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare,” said Fontenot, adding that the McMurrays appreciate the proliferation of thoughtful deeds, even offers to do their laundry. “It’s amazing,” said Fontenot. “It’s Laguna, and it’s why we live here.”

Hospitalized at CHOC since his diagnosis, William finally came home this past Tuesday. He will now make treks to CHOC’s outpatient facility in Orange for radiation treatments five days a week for six weeks.

Fontenot has since managed to nail down the preliminaries for a fundraiser that will be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 14, at Mozambique. There will be a ho-host bar and a suggested $10 donation, with the remainder of the details to follow. Anyone interested should look for posters around town or check in at the Penguin for updates.

When Kim Ressler’s 12-year-old son, Will Lichtenstein, who loves the Penguin, learned about the McMurrays’ woes, he immediately told his mother, “We have to do something,” and suggested a fundraiser that “us kids” can be involved in. Ressler took him up on his proposal, based on his commitment to help organize everything, and set to work. When city rules for getting a permit to hold a fundraiser in a public place threatened to undo her, she enlisted the help of Laguna Beach Little League president Jennifer Sweet, who agreed to help secure Riddle Field for a fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 4.

Ressler began putting out feelers for the event earlier this week and by Wednesday afternoon 30 local kids had already committed to help. They are planning on the fly, but so far the event will feature food, drinks and a bake sale, and activities should include a who-can-run-bases-the-fastest contest for the kids, a home run derby for the parents, and possibly a dunk tank. Laguna Beach resident and Pepsi executive Rick Almquist has already pledged to supply soft drinks, and they are hoping to get pizza donated as well.

In the meantime, Ressler said any children who want to volunteer their services will be welcome, whether to hand out flyers in advance, help man a concession stand during the event, supply baked goods for the sale, or some other task.

Anyone wishing to help out or donate items to the bake sale can contact Ressler at 949-929-5647 or [email protected].

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