Neighbors, friends start online fundraising campaign for family of former Geneva battalion fire chief who died from cancer

GENEVA – Geneva resident Chris Johnson knew he wanted to do something when his friend and neighbor, Gavin Hayes, was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of lymphoma.

Just before Hayes’ health started to decline this summer, Johnson and other neighbors started an online fundraising campaign to help raise money to take some of the financial burden off Hayes’ wife, Christina.

Gavin Hayes died Tuesday, Oct. 12, after a three year battle with the disease.

“Our goal is to start this fund to address those concerns, so Gavin doesn’t have to worry about these things,” Johnson said before Hayes’ death.

Hayes and his wife are the parents of two children, Jordan, 14, and Eli, 11. Hayes worked at the Geneva Fire Department for 27 years until he officially retired Oct. 2. He was diagnosed with the aggressive cancer in the fall of 2018, and underwent multiple treatments, but the cancer persisted.

In late August, his doctor told the family that all options had been exhausted, Christina Hayes said.

“He was working from home up until a few weeks ago. He had good days and bad days. These are the cards that we were dealt,” she said.

“He passed away at 6:45 p.m. [Tuesday night],” Christina Hayes said in a text message. “He went quickly downhill and [died] very peacefully with his family surrounding him.”

“The outpouring of support has been overwhelming. What more can I say but, ‘thank you,’” Gavin Hayes stated in a text message shortly before his death.

The online fundraiser went live on Sept. 26, with a goal of $50,000. As of publication time, around $24,000 had been raised.

“We tried to put a reasonable amount that we thought we could hit, that would take the burden off them,” Johnson said. “My hope would be to exceed that amount because the more we can provide, the more relief it gives the family so they can take care of things.”

The online fundraiser isn’t the only thing that neighbors have done to support the family. The Hayes family and some friends, including Johnson and his family, took a vacation this summer to the Florida Keys, where they were able to relax and spend quality time together.

“Gavin wanted to see if his kids liked to sail, because our plan was to sell the house when Eli graduated high school and live on a boat,” Christina Hayes said. “The response we’ve received has been overwhelming. It’s wonderful, just knowing the impact that Gavin has had on so many people. Old friends are coming from across the country to see him. A lot of people love him.”

For Johnson, spending this precious time with the Hayes family has been “an honor,” he said.

“For the past few years, we’ve been doing anything we can to support them,” he said. “It’s a privilege to be able to do what we’re doing and to spend time with Gavin in his final days. Gavin is a great guy, and I know he’s well-loved. It’s a really sad thing.”

Aimee Barrows

Aimee Barrows

Aimee Barrows is the editor of the Kane County Chronicle.