Bil Gangl was a teacher, coach and leader. His strong character, warmth and charisma was admired by everyone who knew him – including the students and staff at Mahtomedi High School.

Bil was a long-time track coach at Mahtomedi. He loved working with the student-athletes so much that he continued coaching there even after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2007.

Despite being diagnosed with cancer, Bil Gangl, left, and his wife Megan loved to travel and live life to the fullest.

“It was important to Bil and to me to still do all of the things that we had enjoyed doing,” his wife Megan said. “We didn’t focus on the cancer. We focused on living, relationships, fun and family.”

Bil lived with small-cell carcinoma for 2.5 years before it took his life at age 53. That’s more than twice as long as most people with this form of lung cancer live.

“In that time, we enjoyed lots of travel and lots of family dinners,” Megan said. “We went on long walks when he felt up for it. Really, we made sure to do anything that was about enjoying life.”

Track team shows love for their coach

In 2009, the coach who replaced Bil wanted to skip the usual pizza sales and other small team fundraisers and instead do a big, community event. So the team designed a 24-Hour Relay.

“Part way through the planning, some of the students came to the coaches and said, ‘Coach Gangl isn’t doing very well. Do you think we could give some of the money we raise to the American Cancer Society?’,” Megan recalled.

And that’s how the first Bil Gangl 24-Hour Relay at Mahtomedi High School was born.

Sadly, Bil passed away before the second event took place in 2010. But that year, Megan created a relay team herself. Earlier, she and Bil had created a memorial gift through the Regions Hospital Foundation. So she boosted that gift with the money her team raised through the relay. Then, starting in 2011, half of the total amount of money raised for the relay began being donated to the Bil Gangl Memorial Fund.

 

The high school track team Bil coached put on a 24-Hour Relay event to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Bil’s memorial fund makes a difference

HealthPartners Cancer Center at Regions Hospital identifies patients who might be missing out on those family dinners or vacations that were so important to Bil and Megan. Then, the Cancer Center uses money from the Bil Gangl Memorial Fund to provide simple things to those patients and their families – like zoo memberships or a gift card for a massage or a big family dinner at an area restaurant.

“It’s by far one of the best parts of my job,” lead oncology social worker Caitlyn Squire said. “So much of our work in the Cancer Center can be challenging. And while we have a great care team for these patients, their families are as much a part of this process as the patient is. Being able to give these experiences to families allows us to make sure that we are taking care of the whole person.”

Sometimes, bigger gifts come from the fund, too.

“One patient had a daughter who lived in New York,” Caitlyn recalled. “She was getting married. Our patient and his wife had their flight all set, but they were really worried about getting from the airport to the hotel due his mobility issues.”

Thanks to the Bil Gangl Memorial Fund, Caitlyn and her team were able to set up a limo to help. The limo picked up the patient and his wife from the airport and brought them straight to the hotel where the wedding was being held.

“It was a really fun thing to do for them. It eased a lot of their anxiety about what was going to happen in the big city,” Caitlyn said.

Bil’s legacy lives on

As people build on the legacy Bil left behind, the Bil Gangl Memorial Fund continues to grow, too.

Bil’s son Joe says some of his best memories are of the bike rides he took as a child with his dad and family. And in August 2017, he took off on a bicycle trek across the United States to help other families going through a cancer journey. The ride, called Pedal Mash, will take Joe 3 months to complete. He will travel 5,024 miles spanning 13 states, with his girlfriend, Libby, driving alongside him in a support vehicle. And every penny he raises doing it will be donated to Regions Hospital Foundation and his dad’s memorial fund.

 

Joe Gangl is riding his bike across the United States to raise money for his dad's memorial fund.

“It was important to Bil to have a legacy,” Megan said. “I think he would be proud of being remembered for something so positive like this, not just for having cancer. He’d be glad that his memory is supporting families spending time together like ours did.”