In the mid-1990s, Evelyn Struthers lovingly cared for her husband while he lived with Parkinson's disease, and the experience inspired her to help others. She donated her time, and millions of dollars, to help the Methodist Hospital Parkinson's Center move to its own building and expand its services to become a nationwide model. After the move happened, she remained a devoted and hands-on volunteer at the Struthers Parkinson's Center.
"At age 85 she would be there in her little pink volunteer jacket with a nametag that said "Evie" feeding people lunch and wiping their mouths and leading them to their next activity," said Dr. Martha Nance, the center's medical director. "No one had any idea that this was the person for whom this building was named."
Struthers, of Minneapolis, died at 97 with her family at her bedside at Methodist Hospital on Oct. 29.
She was born in Dunn, N.C., graduated from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and taught physical education for several years in Evansville, Ind., where she met Alan Struthers. They married in 1940 and moved to Minneapolis, where they raised four children in a house in the Kenwood neighborhood where they lived for more than 34 years.
"She could get a lot of stuff done, and she knew how to run a household on a tight budget," said her son, Richard Struthers. "She was the grand matriarch of the family."
Like many women of her generation, Struthers stayed home to raise the kids, but was deeply involved in the community. She was a founding member of the HAGS (Housewives Amalgamated Growth Stocks) investment club, the "Bourbon Alley Garden Club" and was a longtime member of Plymouth Congregational Church. She loved to golf and belonged to the Interlachen Country Club, and was the longest-living member of the Woman's Club of Minneapolis. She played golf until age 90 and drove until age 92. Bridge was a passion, and she played in the days just before she died.
Throughout the last decades of her life, she was particularly proud of the work she'd done at the Struthers Parkinson's Center's CREATE program, which provides respite for caregivers, and she remained an active participant on the Center's Community Advisory Board until her death.
"She really leaves a lasting legacy that will help people with Parkinson's and their families for decades to come," said Nance. "We couldn't have done it without her financial support, but also her leadership."
Struthers said that while his mother was deeply committed to the Parkinson's Center, she never let that get in the way of her commitment to her family. For decades, every July she hosted a family gathering at Grand View Lodge in northern Minnesota, where she'd hold court in one of the cabins. There, she could catch up on the latest family happenings. There was always a bridge game going, and she relished the chance to teach the game to her grandchildren.
"One of her last wishes when in hospital was to make sure that Grand View Lodge would be paid for," Struthers said. "She wanted to make sure the family will have at least one more year together — family was most important in her life."
Evie Struthers is survived by her four children, Gale Madsen of Lancaster, Va., Janet Zakrajsheck of Mequon, Wis., Alan Struthers of Sea Girt, N.J., and Richard of Minneapolis, 10 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and a brother, William "Tittle" Tart. She was preceded in death by husband, Alan. Services have been held.