Photos by David Gordon
A fundraising event for the family of Jayden Holzhauer, who died of brain cancer on April 2, brought around 500 of his neighbors in Blue Mountain and other well-wishers together on Sunday, May 4 for a celebration of his life, held at the Elks Club.
The event resembled a party, with a variety of foods, children’s activities, live music and a raffle. Josh Tyler, Hudson Crew and 90 Proof performed throughout the day.
Jayden was nine years old when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in March. Following removal of the tumor, he remained in a coma. Unfortunately, doctors could do nothing more for him.
“It’s been very tough”
Both Jayden’s parents said their religious faith helped them to deal with the pain.
“It’s been very tough, but our faith is very, very strong,” said Brian Holzhauer. “We got a lot of great support. Everything happens for a reason, and when it’s our time we will see him again and we will be with him. God watches over our son; no more sickness and death. And when it’s our time to go, we’ll be with him again.”
Brian Holzhauer attends the United Methodist Church in Saugerties, and some of those attending the fundraiser were from the church.
“We got a lot of support from our friends and family, but now a lot of our friends have become our family,” he said.
“It was so sudden,” said Jayden’s mother, Atalia. The decision to end life support “was very tough, but it was better than seeing him suffer. You realize you can’t do any more, and the doctors can’t do any more.”
Faith is important to Atalia. “That’s what helps us get through every day,” she said.
The family has another boy, Landon, 5, and Atalia is pregnant with a girl.
Referring to Landon, she said, “his sister is coming; it’s bittersweet.”
Saugerties Councilman Jimmy Bruno said he would be devastated if he were in the Holzhausers’ position. “When I was growing up, people said, ‘God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.’ I don’t know if I could handle that.”
Bruno, who coached Jayden in Babe Ruth baseball, said he was a great kid. “He was very respectful; he would call out ‘hey, Coach Bruno.’”
Tammy Drost, one of the organizers of the event, said Jayden was one of the children who shaved their heads for Saint Baldrick’s Day in March, a fundraiser for Saint Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money for cancer research. “He didn’t know at the time that he had cancer,” she said. Drost made some 60 pounds of potato salad and 60 pounds of macaroni salad for the fundraiser.
Ethel Resso, who helped to organize the event, said the residents of the Blue Mountain community support each other. “When you look at our community, they come together for everything; it’s an amazing community. We’re like one big family. No matter what we do, people come to help.” Her husband works at the Grant D. Morse School, which Jayden attended, and her children’s best friends are Jayden’s cousins.
Amid the celebration of Jayden’s life there was a quiet activity going on; people sat at picnic tables signing letters to politicians at all levels from the town to federal officials. “We have a high incidence of cancer in this community,” said Tracy Farrell, one of the organizers. “Ten people have been sick here, six children in the last two years have died. We want an investigation.”
Farrell said there have been 10 cases of cancer among children in the community, “and we lost six of them.” Farrell hasn’t counted the letters yet, but she estimated that people had signed between 600 and 1,000. They’ll be sent out sometime in the next week or so, she said.