Student honors mother with Relay team

Friday will mark the 15th anniversary since Don Vest, 38, said goodbye to his mother. Ester Vest passed away after battling multiple forms of cancer. In honor of his mother, Vest has started a Relay for Life team through which he hopes to raise $5,000.

Maciena Justice

Gasping for air, Ester Mae Vest was quiet as she lay in her bed in the middle of the night on Oct. 26, 1997. She was thin and frail, her belly swollen. She spent her last moments with one of her daughters, her husband and her youngest son, Don. He was in tears as his mother spoke her last words of, “Love you too.” Her eyes dilated and it was over.

“She had been sent home from the hospital, hospice had been called in,” Vest said.

They knew things were ending, but for the Vest family it was still heart-wrenching.

Elizabethtown junior Don Vest has been doing things in his mother’s memory since she died after a 10-month battle with lung cancer. He has created the Ester Mae Vest Foundation with the intent of helping others in need.

Vest, 38, admired his mother because she was dedicated to their family and everything she did, he said.

“She’d crochet until her fingers bled,” Vest said. “There were no sick days — if we didn’t work, we didn’t eat.”

Vest said the family didn’t always have the familiar life knowing where your next meal was coming from. They were homeless for a while and lived out of the family car. Ester would make bookworms for Vest to sell door-to-door just so the family could eat.

 His mother was born in 1944 in Alabama and raised on a farm. Vest said she had worked hard all her life, but he never saw her cry, break down or say she couldn’t do something.

“It was a lot of hardships,” he said.

Ester had two sons before meeting Vest’s father and having Don and his younger sister, Anita Conder. Her eldest two sons stayed with their father when Ester left.

“She spent so much time trying to get in touch with her kids,” Vest said. “Family was everything to her.”

Conder said she believes her brother’s kind and generous spirit came from their mom.

“He’s raised funds and donated to families before,” she said. “He’s always thinking of others.”

Conder, who lives in Elizabethtown, said she is very proud of her brother.

“I idolize him because of his passion,” she said. “Once he gets his mind on something, he will achieve it, even if it kills him.”

She believes her mother would be proud of Vest for all his achievements.

“Mom’s death affected him so deeply,” she said. “If he could do more, he would.”  

For the 15th anniversary of Ester’s death, Vest has put together a team for Relay for Life. The date, Oct. 26, has been special to his family since Ester passed.

“When I saw the dates, I knew I had to,” he said. “It’s the first year we aren’t together as a family on that date.”

This year, WKU’s Relay for Life will be held on Friday and Saturday. Vest said he wants everyone to help raise money for cancer awareness and research.

“I know I can’t bring my mom back,” he said, “But no one should have to go through that.”

Vest has a goal of $5,000, which he said was “lofty,” but he wanted to try. In addition to registering a team, he created a Facebook group called Connect 5,000.

Julie Faircloth, 41, of Dahlonega, Ga., said she has known Vest for years and they both have lost a loved one to cancer.  

“He doesn’t know when to stop,” she said. “He has lots of supporters on Facebook, but he’ll walk it all night if he has to.  He’s just that kind of person.”

Currently, Vest has raised $70, according to the Relay for Life website.

He only has a couple members on his team for Friday, but he isn’t going to let that stop him.

 “I’ll walk all 12 hours by myself if I have to,” he said.