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Classy house, classier owner

One step into Juli Evers’ home, and you can’t help but be impressed by the beauty of her old stately home. But after getting to know Juli, you will likely be even more impressed with her. The house itself has a rich history. It had been built by Ferdinand Hilbert, the first doctor to reside in Albany. In fact, Charles Lindbergh, whose parents were friends with the Hilbert’s, used to play there as a young boy. Later, it had also served as the longtime home of John and Lila Wellenstein, and it is still known locally as the ‘Wellenstein House’. John and Juli Evers first saw the house in September, 1999, while on their way to a wedding shower for their daughter, Nicole. Juli loved the house, and thought it would be nice to live near her Nicole, who was moving to the Albany area with her new husband Russ. After discussing it with John and their youngest daughters Sarah and Catherine, who still were in school and living at home, they decided to buy the house. However, the nearly century old building needed work. “Some people would have given up on this old house,” Juli reminisced, “but we didn’t want to.’ Instead, they stripped and painted and renovated the historic home, restoring many of its early features; including rebuilding the outside portico, restoring a pantry to the first floor, and the sleeping porch to the second floor, among many other projects. Juli’s major project, though, was to drive each day to the University of Minnesota hospitals to serve as a teacher for young patients with cancer. The road that led Juli to choose this vocation, however, was a long and difficult one, that began when her second oldest daughter, Sarah, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in the fall of 2001. Juli was devastated, but felt the prognosis was good. “She was strong, she was an athlete,” Juli said, “physically she was in the best state she could be in.” Her optimism was tempered though, when chemotherapy wasn’t effective. Sarah, an all-conference athlete in both soccer and basketball, had to have her leg amputated. Sarah rallied, even celebrating New Years with friends. Two days after New Years, though, she went into sepsis. Juli, who was teaching in Albany at the time, rushed to the hospital. Sarah had a serious infection and her immune system, weakened by chemotherapy, couldn’t fight it. “By the time I got there,” Juli said, “they weren’t sure she would survive.” The doctor’s decided to harvest Juli’s white blood cells, which were then injected into Sarah. “I didn’t leave her side,” Juli recalled, “I didn’t leave the hospital for the month of January.” Sarah also had the support of her family and friends;  her father John,  trying to balance his need to work in order to keep their health insurance (Honeywell was very supportive) with the need to be at her side. After three weeks in a coma, Sarah woke up. During this crisis Juli remembers someone telling her:  “We’re praying for her, we’re praying for a miracle.” Juli looked around at all the young cancer patients and replied, “You know what, then you’ve got to pray for everyone on this floor. They all need a miracle, they all need a prayer.” Sadly, Sarah’s cancer spread to her lungs, but Sarah remained determined; “her goal was to be able to walk down the aisle at her brother’s [Matt] wedding,” Juli remembered, “and she was able to do that.” In late September Juli received a call from Sarah’s doctors. They told her that ‘there was nothing more they could do for her.’ They all met for a last get together for Sarah on September 26, 2002. Shortly after that gathering she even managed to make it to a Twins playoff game, where Bert Blyleven dropped by to say hello, and later wrote on her CaringBridge webpage. Sarah said that she wanted her friends and family to celebrate her life when she died. Juli said she would rather celebrate her life with her. They planned to have the final celebration in Albany. Then John and Juli took Sarah home. Also, her cousin Jonathan, now with the Minnesota Opera, quit school to be at her side. While home, looking forward to a final party with her friends and family, Sarah suddenly fell very ill. She was taken to University hospitals. Sarah died there on October 11, 2002. She was only 20 years old. Many parents would have chosen anger and/or withdrawal at such a tragedy. Juli, however, thought service to others would be a better response: “I wanted to be fully engaged in life,” Juli said, “because that would be the best way to honor Sarah.” When she saw the job opening at the University hospitals, Juli thought it was meant to be. She feels her experience helps her to understand and reach out to these children, even though she rarely shares her story with them. Also, while obviously saddened when a patient dies, she can persevere and keep reaching out to these children. After all, she told me, “The worst thing that could ever happen to me has already happened.” Still, Juli’s personal faith hasn’t wavered, “I saw many miracles in this, maybe not the ones we asked for, but in hindsight we can see them,” Juli reflected, “such as her (Sarah) surviving sepsis and staying with us another ten months.” Today, nearly eight years after Sarah’s death, Juli and John are still working on restoring the ‘Wellenstein House’, and Juli still is working as a teacher with young cancer patients;  children who are facing greater problems than homework, or a poor grade on a test. It helps her keep a sense of perspective; as Juli says, “At school every day I realize what’s important.”

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