2013 Heartstoppers Haunted House

Community Volunteer Awards
2013 Honoree
Heartstoppers Haunted House
Accepting the award on behalf 
of Patrick Willis were Brian Cooley and 
Heartstoppers CEO Peter Willingham

Distinguished Business Partner

Patrick Willis, Heartstoppers Haunted House

Somebody once said that "good companies make money. Great companies make a difference in their community." Even as we climb out of recession, it is a true statement for business that -- "It's Jungle Out There." Is it enough that a business provide a good service to customers and a good living to employees? Isn't it great there are those that do all that, and go way beyond? That would include businessman Patrick Willis

Patrick's personal story shows that the internet is not the only place a young entrepreneur can write a rags to riches story. Listen to this:

In 1972, at the age of 16, Northern California native Patrick Willis began his career as a "repo man" and by age 19 he had purchased that same company from its founder. At an early age, Pat was already making his mark as an entrepreneur.

Today, his American Recovery Service is the largest national automotive repossession servicing company in the world and the clear leader in its industry. Interesting business, interesting owner.

As a true entrepreneur, Pat can look at something and see something else. A good example of this is his purchase of a waterfront hotel in Stockton which he has converted to new lodging for graduate students, undergrads, faculty and staff at the University of Pacific. It's now called University Lofts and is popular and successful.

We are not sure what he saw when he snapped up the old Mineshaft property in Rancho Cordova, but we are pretty sure he did not see a Haunted House.

But the Cordova Community Council and partner Joel Watson's Heartstoppers did and approached Pat with a wild idea: loan this unique piece of property for several months to see what could be done to raise some money to support our community. That's right -- loan it.

Last July, thanks to Pat's immense generosity, the Heartstoppers scare-masters and friends from the Cordova Community Council began a four-month journey to produce the most wonderfully unique Haunted House possible, while raising money to support community events, like Fourth of July fireworks and free outdoor concert and movie nights.

When Heartstoppers Haunted House opened up in the old Mineshaft last fall, a lot of Sacramento 30 and 40-somethings were anxious to bring their own children to a place that held so many memories of their own.

Over the course of 14 nights, more 8,500 visitors came to the Heartstoppers Haunted House, netting for the Cordova Community Council enough money to assure this summer families in our community will enjoy fun, free Friday night movies and concerts, with some money left over to help pay for extra attractions at the Fourth of July.

Heartstoppers was an incredible volunteer undertaking, with more than 100 volunteer actors, performers, carpenters, sound and light technicians, parking and ticket booth workers, and on and on -- all working to scare you silly. But none of it could have happened without the faith of one certain repo-man extraordinaire, and that was Patrick Willis.

Pat did more than hand over the keys. Over the course of many months, his enthusiastic and talented staff helped make things happen at the Mineshaft. Fire safety sprinklers sprang to life. Handrails sprouted along staircases. Overgrowth disappeared, sleeping utilities were shaken awake. In all, this extraordinary contribution was valued at more than $100,000 - the largest private donation to the Cordova Community Council in its 54-year history. 

As we learned more about Patrick Willis, it came as no surprise to learn he supports other charitable efforts, like University of the Pacific's Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship and the Sacramento Future Foundation, which helps underprivileged students achieve a college education.

There is a thread that runs through it all, and it is this: Give people tools to put a good idea to work, and see what happens. And that is exactly what happened with the grand collaboration called Heartstoppers. 

Pat Willis could not be here tonight, but three of his wonderful staff are: our old friend Brian Cooley, CEO Peter Willingham and CFO Jennifer Nelson.

Like we said at the beginning, "good companies make money; great companies make a difference in their community."

It is with great pleasure we say "thank you" to Patrick Willis and his amazing staff for all their help in making Heartstoppers Haunted House -- and all the fun family Friday nights in Rancho Cordova that will be possible - a reality. Sometimes people are so generous, it's just plain scary. 

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