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May 18, 2014 - Black Hills Pioneer


Published by the Black Hills Pioneer

A fighter, role model, example of hope

By Heather Murschel Black Hills Pioneer | Posted: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 11:30 am

SPEARFISH — When a Black Hills State University student was diagnosed with cancer and requested time off from classes, but chose not to withdraw completely, her drive to continue her education caught the attention of a faculty member. Despite her ongoing treatments, Elissa Varner’s dream to graduate in December inspired Micheline Nelson to follow her journey.

Nelson, the director of BHSU office of field experiences, said Varner hasn’t let her cancer diagnosis stop her from accomplishing this goal. With one month until finals, Varner is set to graduate with an early childhood and special education composite major. A milestone in itself, her fight to survive continues through her many visits, tests, and treatments at doctors’ offices, clinics, and the John T. Vucurevich Cancer Care Institute.

“When not in treatment, she shows up at the school to faithfully continue her internship,” Nelson said. “There are difficult days, but her determination to graduate is stronger. A single mother of two daughters, Varner is a fighter, a role model, and a perfect example of hope.”

So, Nelson put on a different hat, and as the secretary of the Black Hills Chapter of the American Legion Riders, she knew how to make Varner’s life just a little easier. She talked to her fellow chapter members about helping Varner as part of their National Make-A-Difference Day service project.

This all came about four days before that Saturday, so Nelson said everyone pulled together and began making preparations.

After meeting Varner and her father, Nelson discovered the only concern for the family at that time was how they could complete some outdoor projects in need of attention. Through conversations she and other members of the chapter found out that Varner really needed a yard shed to store outdoor furniture tractor mower, and additional tools to give her space in her garage to park her car for the winter.

“Wednesday, two riders, Russell Edwards from Deadwood and Royce Lyons from Belle Fourche, met with her father to assess the needs. By Saturday, Royce had purchased the materials needed to complete the project,” Nelson said.

Jim Childers used the winnings from the 2013 Optimist Club Youth Ride Poker Run to pay for the materials and a metal shed, and Lynn Pohlman donated waterproof sealant for the deck.

Thankful for the blue skies and sunshine that day, about 20 volunteers arrived at Varner’s home determined to finish every project on the list, knowing the difficulties she is dealing with and her determination to lead a normal life and complete her projects.

“Power tools, tables, extension cords were down-loaded from pickups ready for the day. Teams divided the list of projects to accomplish,” Nelson said.

After six hours of continuous work, and some help from family friends, the shed was up and ready to fill, and her garage was ready for her car. In addition, volunteers repaired damages caused by the October blizzard, such as and cutting and staining lattice around the deck, raking the yard, cutting down tree branches and broken limbs.


Black Hills Pioneer 06.29.13

Black Hills Pioneer March 7, 20.13
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