Local businesses participate in fundraiser for the Zeuf Hesson Memorial Fund
Santa Cruz lost a local legend last December when beloved surf icon and Pleasure Point resident Robin Janiszeufski “Zeuf” Hesson passed away after a nearly 20-year battle with cancer.
To honor that struggle and the legacy of strength and compassion that Hesson left behind, a group of friends and associates have organized a fundraiser sale on March 15. Around a dozen businesses, including Village Yoga and Modern Life Home and Garden, will participate by donating a portion of all sales that day to the Zeuf Hesson Memorial Fund at PowerOverCancer, a nonprofit where Hesson served on the Board of Directors for several years before her passing.
“Zeuf suffered physically for almost the entire time I knew her, and yet she was always ready to give her love and support to others,” says Amy Mihal, a close friend of Hesson’s and a co-owner of Village Yoga in Downtown Santa Cruz who helped organize the fundraiser. “There weren’t many spirits like her. I think we all saw things in her we wanted to honor and emulate.”
Hesson left a powerful impression on those who knew her, whether as a friend, patient, or even customer. Last October, Mihal and others organized a “living wake” for Hesson in the form of a paddle-out, a surfing tradition that usually honors the recently deceased. In this instance, however, Hesson herself was the master of ceremonies.
“It was the most touching, moving, life and death affirming thing I’ve ever experienced,” says Alayna Nathe, another close friend who helped organize the fundraiser and the paddle-out along with Mihal. “There was such an outpouring of love—it was floating in waves down the street. Zeuf said it was the best day of her life.”
Hesson worked for years as a critical care nurse and gave much of her time to helping others through nonprofits like Serrena, as PowerOverCancer was called when she sat on its board. Together with her husband Richard “Frosty” Hesson, a local surf legend in his own right, Hesson helped to establish the Ride-A-Wave program, which assists disabled people in discovering the joy of surfing.
Those who knew her best, however, tend to remember not so much the things Hesson did with her life but simply the way in which she lived it.
“She had such strength of character,” says Nathe. “She was goofy and loving, but also brilliant beyond belief. Despite the physical devastation of her battle with cancer, I never saw even a glimmer of her wanting to give up. She was a true warrior.”
The idea for the fundraiser arose organically, when Mihal and Nathe found themselves chatting with Jill Sollitto, the owner of Modern Life Home and Garden, Hesson’s favorite furniture store. As the conversation turned from fond memories of Hesson to an upcoming sale at Modern Life, a light bulb went off.
The fundraiser has since expanded to include several other businesses, as well as a book signing by Frosty Hesson of his memoir “Making Mavericks” at Modern Life on March 15. The organizers say they plan to make the event an annual one, and hope that it will only increase in size and scope as time goes by.
“Cancer is awful,” says Sollitto. “We’re all going to have a direct experience with it—either ourselves or the people close to us. I mostly knew Zeuf through this business, so I’m glad I can use it to help support a cause that was so close to her heart.”
The money will go to the Zeuf Hesson Memorial Fund at PowerOverCancer, which was established just after her passing in December. The fund, and POC in general, helps cancer patients afford services like acupuncture, psychotherapy or massage according to their financial need.
“Zeuf really believed in taking clinical care and leveraging it with supportive care services to address the emotional, social and physical challenges of fighting cancer,” says Patty Gebhardt, who served on POC’s Board with Hesson. “That was something she lived and breathed on her own cancer journey.”
Gebhardt says Hesson’s approach to her battle with cancer was unique and deeply inspirational—so much so that it inspired POC’s current name.
“Before the name was Serrena,” says Gebhardt. “Which is kind of a soothing, comforting type of made-up word or brand. But through my work with Zeuf I realized that what cancer patients really want is to be empowered, to be put back in the driver’s seat. So when I made that name change I made it with her in mind.”
Visit powerovercancer.org for more information.