Meet the Haskells, Philanthropists Extraordinaire!

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Mar 05, 2012

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Florida - Southwest

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Sometimes, you meet people who seem to have gone through life with everything mapped out for them; as if all they had to do was show up and glide through it. They seem to personify an enviable composure and camaraderie, not only rare but compelling. Perhaps this is the best way to begin to describe philanthropists extraordinaire Frank and Betty Haskell. As newly minted residents at Cypress Cove, the continuing care retirement community (CCRC) at Health Park Florida in Fort Myers, they have already distinguished themselves for their empathy and advocacy for those most vulnerable; namely, children with cancer and blood diseases.
As they enter the grand foyer, one can't help but notice their postures. They are both straight and tall; Frank towers at 6' 3" and Betty fits right in at 5' 7". Their faces are friendly, exuding a confidence that's contagious as is their easy affection for one another. She's just come from an early morning swim and he from the tennis court. And if such octogenarian assets are attributable to good genes, it shouldn't be denied that their daily disciplines of physical activity are surely an enhancement.
As you will soon learn, swimming and tennis aren't the only activities that engage their bright minds. In fact, since moving to Cypress Cove less than a year ago, their transition from 23 engaging years as residents of The Forest Country Club community (some five miles away) might best be described as seamless. We knew right away that we felt at home here, Betty asserts. We knew we made the right decision.
But first, how did this charming couple now celebrating 59 years of wedded bliss meet? Frank is the first to admit that it all began in Boston where he was a student at Northeastern University and Betty worked in the registrars office. Its the only reason I graduated cum laude, he teases as Betty twinkles. Northeastern was one of the first schools that allowed you to integrate studies with work, so by the time you graduated you knew where you were going.
Franks confidence and leadership skills were perfect for a profession in sales. Throughout his successful roles, he became president of Moore Business Systems and retired as Vice President of Burroughs Corporation; both forerunners of what would become computer driven business technologies. Such achievements came with a caveat, however. As Frank steadily climbed the ladder, the Haskell family of five would move a total of ten times throughout the country perhaps one of the reasons why they now take such delight in being settled at Cypress Cove!
But as the visit continues, one begins to grasp that beneath their quiet intensity resides a preoccupation of transcendent purpose, born out of sorrow and unexpected loss...
Life would deal them a cruel blow when their beloved daughter Barbara was diagnosed with breast cancer at the tender age of 32. And after a four year battle including two bone marrow transplants, Frank reminds Barbara lost her heroic fight in 1995.
It is in Barbara's memory that the Haskells created Barbara's Friends the Southwest Florida Children's Outpatient Cancer Fund, in partnership with the Lee Memorial Health System.
When Barbara was going through her own treatment, she often encountered children enduring similar treatments for their cancers or blood diseases, explains Betty. She marveled at their bravery.
Establishing a charity in Barbara's honor would become the couples magnificent obsession. It pained Barbara greatly to see these little ones suffer, Frank adds.
Barbara's Friends now approaching its 16th year has raised over $8.7 million since its inception. It has helped establish and equip a pediatric hematology and oncology center that provides comprehensive support to children battling these illnesses within our local communities as well as their families. The fund also helps cover expenses for uninsured or underinsured patients. No child is ever turned away, Frank clarifies. But keep in mind that more than half either have no insurance or have only Medicaid and rely on charities like ours.
Betty likes to tell the story of how they came to identify the rainbow as the logo of Barbara's Friends.
The day we opened the center we were walking out to the car and suddenly we looked up and saw a beautiful rainbow across the sky, she recounted. It seemed like a message from Barbara; a reminder of the song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, from her favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz.
And now, thanks to her devoted parents, the land that Barbara dreamed of where little blue birds fly beyond the rainbow is being realized each and everyday for children in need throughout our community. And although you wont find a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, what you will find is a Heart full of purpose, passion and possibilities in Barbara's name. Amen.
Editors Note: About Barbara's Friends The rainbows arc also symbolizes the bridge now spanning the gap that previously existed between the pediatric oncology/hematology facilities in Miami and Tampa; thus making care and treatment accessible for families in our community. Today, thanks to Barbara's Friends, over 100 children receive treatment each week and more than 3,000 children have received treatment to date. To learn more about Barbara's Friends or to give a gift call 239-985-3550 or visit www.leememorial.org/foundation. This article was submitted by Bernadette La Paglia for The Seniors Blue Book.

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