Margaret Riley was always known as the life of the party. So when the 57-year-old, fun-loving wife and mom passed away in 2017 after a brief stay at Evelyn's House for hospice care, her family was determined to keep her vibrant spirit alive by giving back.
A Champ in Life
When you know, you know. Best friends throughout life, Gerry Riley and Margaret had dated each other in grade school and high school, where Margaret was a scholar athlete in soccer and basketball. After Margaret and Gerry married, they had two daughters, Meg and Erin, and built an active, happy life together surrounded by a large Irish family and a multitude of friends.
"My mom was always the cool mom who was there for everyone," Meg says. "She was the life of the party."
In early 2016, Margaret was diagnosed with bile duct cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation followed yet Margaret kept a positive attitude through all her health challenges. "She handled it like a champ," Meg says.
A Saving Grace
Although the cancer was relentless, Margaret seemed to be doing well in the fall of 2017. The weekend before she passed away, she won a local Halloween costume contest and the next night she stayed out until 1 a.m. Then Margaret quickly took an unexpected turn.
"By the following Monday, she was so weak, she could barely get dressed," Gerry recalls. "She went into the hospital and never came home after that."
While Margaret was at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, her oncologist suggested it was time for hospice care. "We had a choice of staying at the hospital, taking her home, or going to Evelyn's House," Gerry explains. "I didn't know there was such a thing as Evelyn's House."
But Meg did. Her friend's mother had just been there a month before and spoke highly of the hospice house. So the family decided to transfer Margaret to Evelyn's House, located nearby. "Evelyn's House was a saving grace," Meg says. "It was amazing."
Gerry agrees. "It's a decision we had to make quickly, but it was the best decision I ever made."
Opened in 2017, the ranch-style, 18,000-square foot hospice house includes 16 private suites for adults, teens and children. Patients receive specialized hospice care in warm, comfortable surroundings. Evelyn's House includes a gathering room with fireplace, family kitchen and dining rooms, sleeping area for family, dedicated music and art therapy rooms, a meditation room, a garden and special veteran recognition.
Evelyn's House is named in memory of Evelyn Newman, a well-known community leader and philanthropist who passed away in 2015. Her generous spirit inspired her family to make a special gift that, together with other visionary donors through The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital, has given hospice care a home.
Meg says Evelyn's House didn't feel like a hospital. "It felt like home to us and was peaceful. Our big family kind of took over the kitchen and huddle room and made it easy for family members to come and go." Gerry also appreciated the comforting, warm environment and the caring staff. "Evelyn's House was the perfect place for Margaret's last days."
Creating Laughter and Legacy
On Nov. 3, 2017, Margaret passed away peacefully at Evelyn's House, surrounded by family. Although she was there for less than 48 hours, the hospice house and care team made a lasting impression on the Riley family.
In addition to directing memorial donations to Evelyn's House after Margaret's passing, the Riley family took it a step further to host a music trivia night fundraiser to support Evelyn's House through The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
"Evelyn's House was a blessing," Meg says. "So we wanted to give back to help others and to carry on my mom's legacy."
In November 2018 — a year after Margaret passed — the Rileys hosted their first music trivia night in Margaret's memory. Donations of all sorts poured. More than 300 people attended the sell-out event, which raised nearly $13,000 for Evelyn's House.
The following year, the Rileys did it again. Then the pandemic hit and they were unable to have trivia night for two years. However, Meg still made shirts to sell and raised $1,000 for Evelyn's House during the pandemic. When friends and family members started asking about a music trivia night in 2022, they rallied together to raise another $12,000 for Evelyn's House bringing the total to $38,000.
“It’s like a friends and family reunion,” Meg says. “We look forward to it and get so many generous donations.”
That spirit of giving brought a sold-out crowd back together on November 4 to add nearly $13,000 more to their fundraising total. Even six years after Margaret’s passing, the packed room was eager to bid on gift baskets and buy raffle tickets while family photos cycled with the music trivia verses.
“I like that the money raised goes directly to Evelyn’s House,” Gerry says. “Knowing we’re helping Evelyn’s House helps in the healing process.”
And help they have. The Rileys have now raised over $50,000 for the hospice house that meant so much for their family in Margaret’s final days.
Thanks to an anonymous gift match currently in place through the end of the year, the Rileys and their family and friends got to see their efforts doubled for twice the impact, as their nearly $13,000 for Evelyn’s House effectively becomes $26,000.
Such champions of hospice care continue to inspire the work of The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital. To take advantage of the gift match and contribute to the cause so dear to the Rileys and many others, give to Evelyn’s House.
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