Honoring a Best Friend

Evan Hazard first saw Elaine Willis in 1948, during Independent Council (IC) meetings at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. He, a sophomore, and she, a freshman, also often bumped into each other on campus. Evan liked Elaine, but hesitated to ask her out because he thought she was going steady with another IC member. “She was pretty, but I was attracted primarily to her delightful personality, not her looks,” Evan said.

One day, while he was helping at an IC fund-raiser, Elaine showed up with a different lad. So Evan realized Elaine was not “spoken for” and they began to date. “We hit it off well, better than I expected,” he said. “By the end of the spring semester, we were an item.” Three and a half years later, while Elaine was studying for her BSN in New York City, Evan and Elaine married. They moved to Bemidji in 1958 when Evan joined the biology faculty at Bemidji State College (BSC). After raising two sons and a daughter, and earning two more degrees at BSC (now BSU), Elaine worked as a full-time nurse at Bemidji Hospital, now Sanford Bemidji Medical Center from 1974 to 1991.

After retirement, the Hazards remained active in the community. Elaine became their church’s parish nurse, visiting patients in the hospital and writing a health column for the monthly newsletter. She also volunteered at Neilson Place, the Sanford rehab residence, acted in community theater and took part in Diane’s Dance Studio. Evan also started volunteering at the hospital, assisting surgery patients and their families; he still continues that weekly volunteer stint.

After caring for countless others through her career and volunteer work, Elaine’s own health started to wane in the fall of 2010. On Dec. 16, the Hazards were told Elaine had acute monocytic/myelocytic leukemia; her white cell count was increasing rapidly. The next day, at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, Dr. Anu Gaba, hematologist and oncologist, confirmed Elaine’s terminal diagnosis. Chemotherapy treatment was started the Monday before Christmas.

“Care by the hospital's nurses, aides, and respiratory therapists was excellent, and Dr. Gaba and three other Sanford oncologists were informative, compassionate, and flexible enough to communicate appropriately with an experienced RN patient and a biologically savvy husband,” Evan said.

On Dec. 28, after 58 wonderful years of marriage, Evan said goodbye to his best friend when Elaine died of cancer-related pneumonia. In her honor, and in appreciation for the care his wife and family received during this difficult time, Evan established the Elaine J. Hazard Endowment for Cancer Center of Excellence Fund.

Endowments established at Sanford Health Foundation of Northern Minnesota, from generous donors like Evan, provide perpetual support to ensure that patients at Sanford Bemidji have access to cutting-edge diagnostics and treatment, while helping medical staff receive advanced training and attend educational conferences. Ultimately, Evan hopes it will enable the medical staff at Sanford Bemidji Cancer Center to help contribute to eradication of the disease.

“I hope they make cancer less often lethal and more often curable,” he said, but quality of life is important. “I would hope the quality of the patient’s life be of primary concern rather than the length.”

Elaine and Evan carefully planned for their financial future. As they grew older, they decided to support several local and national causes. Evan chose Sanford Bemidji because of the exceptional care Elaine received, not only during her terminal care at Sanford in Bemidji and Fargo, but also care over the years including a broken ankle, gynecological surgery, an emergency department visit, physical therapy, and others. Furthermore, Evan said he received excellent care during his own hospital visits and at Sanford’s physical therapy unit. He and Elaine also watched the medical team care for a teenage son after an auto accident.

“I don’t need to go on a cruise and I can’t travel as much, so I can give to a few charities Elaine and I chose,” he said. “I certainly have a loyalty to the hospital in Bemidji. I volunteer there, I’ve had surgery there, and my wife was taken care of there. It’s a good non-profit to donate to.”

To learn more about Sanford Bemidji Cancer Services, visit foundation.sanfordhealth.org or call the Sanford Health Foundation of Northern Minnesota at (218) 333-5515.

Posted Date: September 2013

Honoring a Best Friend

After 58 wonderful years of marriage, Evan Hazard said goodbye to his best friend and wife, Elaine, and created an endowment in her honor.