Hermann Gmeiner, 66, whose SOS Children's Villages have been home to thousands of orphans worldwide, died of cancer April 26 at a hospital here.

His first "kinderdorf," or children's village, was created in the Tyrolean village of Imst in 1949. According to his organization, about 30,000 orphaned and abandoned children now live in more than 225 such villages in 85 countries on four continents.

In 1963, the first villages spread from Europe and began springing up in developing countries. The movement crosses ideological boundaries, with villages in western and eastern Europe, as well as in China and countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Many were set up to cope with war orphans in countries such as Vietnam, Korea and Bangladesh.

In the villages, consisting of 25 houses each, groups of about eight children of different ages are organized as families cared for by a "mother" who gets the job after two years of training. Each village is supervised by a director who serves as a father figure for the children. Siblings are kept together, which often is impossible in other orphanages.

The children attend local schools and are supported until they reach adulthood. Older children can live in student or apprentice houses while they learn a trade or a profession.

The villages are funded by private donations, which amounted to nearly $100 million last year, according to brochures put out by the SOS Children's Village organization.

Mr. Gmeiner, who officially retired last year, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize numerous times. He was born in the village of Alberschwende, in Austria's Vorarlberg province.

He said that he had been inspired in his work by the sight of an 11-year-old boy begging for food on an Innsbruck street and by his experiences on the Russian front in the German Army in World War II, when a Russian boy once saved his life.