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A friend's kindness smoothes hard time

A waitress and a couple become friends, but when an illness strikes, she offers so much more.

By KATHY SAUNDERS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2001


TREASURE ISLAND -- Here is a short story of a friend in need and another's unflinching generosity.

For 28 years, waitress Evelyn Hughes has been serving flapjacks at Robby's Pancake House. Celia and Jim Durst of Michigan first met her at the restaurant more than a decade ago and last year they and Evelyn became friends.

Hughes, who loves Christmas, invited them to her house after her shift to show off the 40 trees she had decorated.

"I just fell in love with that couple," said Hughes, 69.

This winter, when the Dursts returned to Treasure Island and the pancake house, Hughes took them to the Florida State Fair. The next day, Feb. 9, she went to their hotel to say goodbye before the couple returned to Michigan, but Mr. Durst had been taken to Palms of Pasadena Hospital after suffering a stroke.

While Mr. Durst was recovering, their hotel reservations expired. Which is where Evelyn stepped up.

"All of the winter tourists were coming in and they didn't have a place to stay," Hughes said. "I told her (Mrs. Durst) she would, of course, stay with me."

Mrs. Durst moved all of their belongings into Hughes' St. Petersburg home. She plans to stay there until at least March 10, when her husband is scheduled to be discharged from the hospital.

"There aren't enough words in the English language to describe how I feel about her," Mrs. Durst said, but she told the director and staff at the hospital's skilled nursing unit about Hughes' generosity.

On Monday, the hospital sent a floral delivery to the pancake house. When the unit director shared the story with the florist, he sent an arrangement, too.

"I think it's extraordinary what she did," said Casey Ingram of Alma Ingram Flowers in St. Petersburg. "You always hear such bad news, but this lady did such a nice thing."

Ingram sent a huge bunch of red roses and a pretty purple butterfly. The hospital sent a dish garden of plants decorated with a pink bird. Ingram delivered the flowers himself.

"Oh, my Lord," said Hughes when she was handed the flowers. "I like to help people and they (the Dursts) were so special."

Mrs. Durst said Hughes has gone beyond just opening her home.

"She's done all of our laundry, including underwear for crying out loud," she said. "She irons everything."

When Durst first arrived at Hughes' home, the shower didn't work properly. She said Hughes paid a plumber $450 to repair the problem.

"She's our angel," said Mrs. Durst. "I am so humbled by the kindness and generosity I've experienced since we've been here."

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