When Cherie Blomquist returned to work for the new school year at Sandrock Elementary School, she learned one of her co-workers was going through a crisis.
Fellow teaching aide Anna Thompson’s husband Gary had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
Blomquist said her first thought was to help with the Thompson’s expenses.
Anna said she was appreciative, but unprepared for how quickly her friend could arrange a fundraiser.
Elementary school staff members lined up along tables full of spaghetti and salad Thursday night at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265.
As portions of food on the table went down, the amount of money in the collection jar went up, with more than 200 people offering their patronage at the fundraising dinner.
A total amount of money raised was not available Thursday.
Blomquist said she and fellow planner Peggy Ponikvar were spurred to help their co-worker knowing that she would never ask for money.
“She felt really shy about it,” Blomquist said. “She’s really old school that way.”
Blomquist said she was also sympathetic to the medical side of the Thompson’s health concern after her own bout with uterine cancer.
Gary’s treatment for multiple myeloma, which negatively affects the body’s bone marrow, has required him to relocate temporarily to the Midwest Regional Center in Zion, Ill., part of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Anna said she is expecting her husband to return home within the week. He will have to go back next month.
“He might even have to wear a mask while he’s home, so we might not recognize him,” she said.
Anna and her daughter, Janna, will be waiting for Gary when he returns.
Janna, who graduated from Moffat County High School in the spring, said she decided to put off college for a year and get a job at Maurice’s in Craig to help her parents in their time of need.
“My mom really needs my support,” she said. “I think I was meant to stay.”
Gary and Anna’s son, Gavin, is a sophomore at Western State College in Gunnison.
“It was really hard for him to go back,” Anna said. “It was hard on both the kids.”
One person who attended the Thursday fundraiser traveled 250 miles to be there.
Terry Sellers, of Cheyenne, Wyo., came to see Gary, but was disappointed to find that he was not there.
“I used to work with him at Colowyo,” Sellers said. “He was just fine the last time I came through here, and then about a month ago, somebody told me that he was sick.”
Sellers said he knew Gary mostly through working at Colowyo Coal Co. However, away from work, the two men shared a love for motorcycles.
“I bet Gary would really appreciate this whole dinner,” Sellers said.
Anna said she told her husband about the fundraiser over the phone before coming to the dinner.
“He was just totally speechless about it,” she said.
Anna spoke for both of them when she said they were “overwhelmed with the support” from people in the community and her co-workers who organized the event.
“I just keep talking to people and telling them thank you because I feel so blessed,” she said. “A lot of people say stuff like, ‘If there’s anything we can do…’ But, for these people, it’s not just lip service. They actually do it. This is a small town with a big heart.”