Matt Tretter throws a party every year with hundreds of invitees, but the guest of honor has never attended.
Tretter's little girl, Caitlin, died on April 17, 1999, after a three-year battle with cancer. It was the day after her 6th birthday.
If you goIf you go
What: Caitlin's Cause fundraising event
When: 2 to 9 p.m. Saturday, July 20
Where: Wheaton VFW Lodge, 1N731 Papworth St., Wheaton
For the past 10 years, Tretter, who lives in Glen Ellyn, has thrown a party to honor his daughter and raise money for the University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital. It started as a little something he whipped up for family and close friends in his backyard.
Tretter will play host to the 10th and final Caitlin's Cause fundraiser from 2 to 9 p.m. Saturday, July 20, at the Wheaton VFW Lodge, 1N731 Papworth St. He expects about 250 people to attend.
The event is free and includes food, music, kids' games, a show by reptile expert Jim Nesci, an auction and a raffle. Some of the items up for auction include a football signed by Peyton Manning, front-row tickets to see the Eagles at the United Center with a hotel room in Chicago, and a trip to Florida.
All proceeds benefit the Children's Hospital's Keepsake Box program, which gives parents who lose a child a treasure chest of mementos. The keepsake box can include such items as hand molds, hair locks and photos.
When Caitlin died, all Tretter could physically hold were photographs and a plaster mold of Caitlin's hand. The mold is a raised print that gives the appearance of a child's hand resting on a stone.
When Tretter looked into the Keepsake Box program and found it was low on funding, he decided to do something to help keep it around.
"Once the shock of (Caitlin's death) settled, I decided to uphold her memory," he said.
Over the years, Caitlin's Cause has raised about $360,000.
Tretter hopes to go out with a bang this year with a goal to raise enough to break the $400,000 mark.
From its beginnings as a house party, the event has grown beyond anything Tretter imagined.
"I've met so many people who look forward to it every year," he said. "It really is a celebration. I know Caitlin has touched people."
There are many reasons why this will be the fundraiser's last year. The big one is the time commitment. Tretter now has three more children -- two little girls and a boy. He and Caitlin's mom are divorced, but they remain close and she attends the fundraiser every year.
Tretter and his wife, Cheryl, live in the same house in Glen Ellyn where it all began. They have a 9-month-old daughter, Alexa, and 4-year-old twins Jackson and Emma, who are just getting to the age where they can understand what happened to the big sister they never knew.
"My daughter is much more attuned," Tretter said. "She talks about Caitlin in heaven. They don't quite understand that concept, where that is, but they want to be like their big sister."