Here's the Hot Tub Mogul Who Gave $27 Million to the Children's Hospital of Orange County

In today's edition of Inside Philanthropy hospital news, we learn about a Los Angeles hot tub mogul who devoted $27 million of his fortune to build a pediatric hospital tower in Orange County, California. Here, the improbable, Horatio Alger-style story of Bill Holmes.

Holmes was an Iowa teen of 16 in the 1940s when he hitchhiked his way to California in search of his fortune, then defined at $50,000. Now 84 years old and retired since 2004, Holmes has certainly surpassed his teenage goals, which look modest compared with the life Holmes built for himself.

Holmes's road to fortune began simply enough. He served in the Army, worked odd jobs (such as assembly railroad signal parts and mixing cement), and started a pool installation company in the 1950s with seed money of $500. Over the decades, Holmes's pool business underwent several iterations and eventually became L.A. Spas (based, of course, in Anaheim), a hot tub company that turned Holmes into a multimillionaire several times over. 

Now a divorced grandfather living in Orange County, Holmes has been a relatively low-profile philanthropist over the years, but his $27 million dollar donation to the Children's Hospital of Orange County has already landed him a spot on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's top donors for 2013. What motivated Holmes to invest such a massive sum of his hot tub fortune toward children's health? Apparently, he has a soft spot for children. And, the Children's Hospital of Orange County also asked nicely.

While Holmes's children or grandchildren have not received services from the Children's Hospital of Orange County, Holmes had previously donated $200,000 to the hospital and was friendly enough with the hospital foundation's gift officer to be susceptible to being hit up for cash over breakfast at a place called Mimi's Cafe. The foundation was in search of funding to meet a multimillion-dollar hospital improvement goal and asked Holmes for help. He agreed and is now responsible for financing the 425,000-square-foot Bill Holmes Tower, a seven-story emergency pediatric facility featuring operating rooms, private patient rooms, and laboratory and imaging services. The L.A. Times has a helpful slideshow on the Bill Holmes Tower. The photos showcase the medical facility well — it's an impressive place — and I'd be curious to know more about the planning that went into the "Turtle Talk Theater."

Holmes's new tower is part of a larger expansion of the Children's Hospital of Orange County that includes medical improvements and amenities focused on the well-being of children who have long hospital stays. Some of the fun additions? An outdoor play area (outfitted for IV hookups), pool tables, air hockey, and virtual reality goggles for use during MRIs. (Apparently, virtual reality goggles cut down on any distracting, MRI-induced childhood wiggling.)

In an interview with the Orange County Register, Holmes explains that his primary motivation in donating a major hospital facility devoted to children's health is a desire to help the vulnerable. "Children can't take care of themselves," he says. In the same interview, Holmes also describes his goal of raising more money for children's issues and reveals he has donated to seven children's homes as well.

So there we have it: the all-American story of a Midwestern boy who went west, made his fortune through hard work and good business sense, and is spending his old age giving out money to children — people too vulnerable to shape their lives yet themselves. Hopefully, Bill Holmes's generosity will improve the physical health of children sufficiently that many who pass through the Bill Holmes Tower also will be able to grow up, pursue their dreams, and contribute to the health and well-being of the world around them.