The energy, belief and passion of the first Cheerful Heart board members have carried the non-profit for over 13 years. Linda Graven, one of the first board members, epitomized the “heart” in Cheerful Heart. Her compassion was delivered with humor and sarcasm. She lightened any room she walked into. Folks enjoyed being in her company.
Linda and Valerie Lindstrom met Cheerful Heart founder, Judy Kinsel, while working on the Relay For Life in 2001. Judy asked both to join her, along with Mac Binger, on the Cheerful Heart Board of Directors.
Judy and husband Mitch moved to Polson in 1999 after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Judy struggled to care for Mitch and the household. Being new to the community, they had not developed a group of friends who could help walk the dogs, grocery shop, or take care of other daily chores while trying to cope with cancer treatments. Mitch and Judy talked about creating an organization that could help cancer patients and their families, and the idea of Cheerful Heart was born. Mitch died Nov. 9, 2001, and Judy followed through to create a non-medical assistance group for cancer patients and their families. Cheerful Heart may sound like a service for heart patients, but instead the name came from Proverbs 17:22, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.”
When developing the Cheerful Heart Board of Directors, Judy knew that Linda brought great skills and deep business experience to the organization. Linda had moved to Polson in 1995 after retiring from Lockheed Missiles and Space Company where she’d worked since 1974. She started at an entry level administrative position and progressed through various administrative positions. She retired as Administrative Manager of the Space Systems Division. Linda was the first female to hold that position.
In those early days the Polson Oncology Clinic was in the Grandview Clinic Building just west of St. Joseph Medical Center. Linda started several Cheerful Heart services. Not only did she volunteer for Cheerful Heart every week at the clinic; she was also a hospital volunteer.
Linda said the best thing about working at the clinic was seeing the smiles on the patients’ faces. She saw a need at the clinic for head coverings, and developed the Wigs, Hats and Scarves Program. She donated a substantial inventory from her closet. She had a knack for making things look good, so displays were appealing. In 2006 she established the Super Soup Tuesday. The hospital kitchen prepared a soup to be served to patients and their caregivers. In addition to serving soup during the one-day a week clinic, brown bags containing a bowl of soup and crackers were prepared for take-home. A volunteer base was established, but Linda was passionate in giving her time and energy to do whatever was requested. She also maintained the volunteer list and was first in line to respond to requests. She worked hard to fulfill needs immediately.
Linda enlisted Valerie’s help for one of the more unusual tasks. A case worker with a social service organization had told Linda that a cancer patient, who was confined to a wheelchair, needed help cleaning his kitchen. They worked for one full day scrubbing, scraping and cleaning. One of Linda’s character traits was to take on any task and do it well !!!
Raising funds for Cheerful Heart was all consuming. Linda worked hard to bring in operating monies. In 2003 the first Treasure Fest Garage Sale was held. Linda cajoled and pushed board members to pick up items during the year so that sale inventory was in-hand and ready for the sale. Good-natured ribbing was her signature style. When she saw value in an item, and others questioned whether anyone would buy such a thing, she was always right. The sale ran six years and raised more than $25,000.
Linda and husband Dick moved to North Carolina in 2006 to be closer to family. Linda had Stage 3 malignant melanoma in her leg in 1984 and yearly checks showed that it was in remission. After moving, she experienced pars planitis, an inflammation caused when her immune system attacked her eyes. She began taking an immuno-suppressant drug to keep her eyesight. In 2008 she was diagnosed with rectal cancer and Celiac disease. Eight years later her melanoma was back, this time Stage 4. In addition, she was also diagnosed with lymphoma. Considering her future, Linda elected to save her eyesight and continue with the immuno-suppressant drug.
She and husband Dick had down-sized to a two-bedroom townhouse, with space for a caregiver, in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Family members, who live close by, lovingly cared for Linda and Dick.
Cheerful Heart, Inc. continues with its mission to serve cancer patients, in part because of Linda’s substantial energy and work. After leaving Polson, Linda continued her support for Cheerful Heart.
Editor's Note: Valerie interviewed Linda in June 2017 for this feature. She passed away June 29, 2017. Linda’s support continues. She chose Cheerful Heart to receive memorials in her name. Thank you, Linda !!! God speed my friend !!
Grandson Ryan wrote Linda's obituary.
Linda with Marie Osmond, February 2016, when she took 23 kids, grandkids and spouses to Las Vegas for a long weekend. Donny and Marie Osmond were Linda’s favorite celebrities.