Sorrow fell upon the campus when the news spread that Seymour Library Public Service Assistant Trisha Hurst had lost her battle with cancer.
“I knew this day was going to come, but I didn’t know it was going to be so soon,” said senior Kejia Ran, who works in the library. “I was late for class because I just couldn’t stop crying.”
Hurst and her husband Jason Connell moved from Arizona to Galesburg in 2001, where she originally began working in the Campus Life Office. In 2010, Hurst accepted a position in the Seymour Library and worked there until her passing.
The bespectacled curly haired woman was remembered by faculty, staff and students alike for her exceptionally positive and caring nature that she spread throughout the library and at Knox.
“Her smile was infectious,” stated Assistant Librarian for Research and Instruction Rebecca Yowler. “It was an outward expression of everything good inside of her.”
Senior student worker Karen Armendariz felt that Hurst’s attitude influenced so many throughout Seymour library.
“She was a ray of positivity so she made an impact on everyone very easily,” she said. “Even if she didn’t have a close relationship with you, she was still so nice and willing to help.”
Yowler, Armendariz and Ran are among several co-workers who were not only deeply impacted by Hurst’s presence, but also saw the impact that she had on the students around her.
Recent 2017 graduate, Mamaa Ackah, expressed similar sentiments to Phifer and other students. As an international student, Ackah formed a bond with both Hurst and Connell during her time at Knox.
“I stayed on campus during the breaks and they [Hurst and Connell] became like my extended parents here. They were like family to me,” the Ghana native said.
Student workers both past and present all expressed sentiments relating to Hurst’s genuine and encouraging essence, whether it was helping students through academic issues they faced or even personal problems. Ran, an international student, recalls Hurst not only being willing to learn about the other cultures around her, but also encouraging students to embrace their given culture. The Chinese native went by her English name “Miranda” when she came to the United States because she felt it was easier for everyone else to pronounce.
“During my sophomore year, Trish encouraged me to go back to being called by my Chinese name,” the now senior said. “She helped me realize that I needed to make others learn how to pronounce my cultural name and the meaning behind it.”
Hurst was well known by everyone around her not only as a truly positive person, but also as a selfless person, never focusing on the personal battle she fought every day with cancer.
Library Office Coordinator Tanna Cullen remembers several times in the past 20 years when she assisted Hurst down the steps of the circulation desk, arm in arm, hip to hip, taking every step one at a time.
“Despite the pain, she was filled with grace and courage. She faced her health issues bravely, quietly and without complaining,” Cullen said.
Hurst survived breast cancer in 2003, when she lost almost all of her hair from chemotherapy treatments. The organization Relay for Life, (a fundraising platform sponsored by the American Cancer Society and run by volunteers seeking to raise money for those affected by cancer) set her up with a wig and make-up artist. These resources really touched her and this along with her need to help others are some of the main reasons why she joined the organization.
Previous Assistant Librarian for Public Service Anne Giffey, another member of the organization, said that Hurst and her Connell started off as volunteers, jumping in and helping during events whenever she asked them. In 2014, Hurst became a member of the planning committee and got more involved as an organizer.
“Trisha made great friends and really appreciated the support giving and receiving support by meeting other survivors affected by cancer,” Giffey said.
Hurst not only leaves behind her co-workers, family, friends and students; she also leaves behind Connell, her best friend and husband of 21 years. The couple met 25 years ago in college at Southwest Missouri State, while both were involved in bad relationships.
“It was like we were neighbors that became friends, then roommates, then best friends,” Connell said. “And I was just lucky enough to marry mine.”
Connell said that Hurst always wanted the best for others around her. He said that she was the driving force that led him to go back to school and finish his degree while working at Knox in 2002. The couple have been working together in Seymour Library since 2010 and like coworkers, friends and students, Connell always felt the support of his wife.
In February the couple were told by Hurst’s doctor that she only had a few more weeks to live. Hurst was losing her battle to colon cancer.
“I’m in a puddle of tears when I hear the news and she’s the one still smiling, holding my hand, telling me everything’s okay,” Connell said.
Connell admired his wife’s strength, resilience and caring nature. Hurst left Connell a 10-page memoir before she died, in which she requested that her husband not mourn over her death, but rather that he celebrate her life. Hurst asked her husband to cremate her and sprinkle her ashes in places where the two made memories together. Both Connell and Hurst are Buddhist and believe in reincarnation of the soul and that they will eventually be together once more.
“It may not be in this lifetime or the next, but we will find each other again,” Connell said.