Around the ArchdioceseStewardship

Avery family strives to aid cancer patients

Charity founded after loss of two siblings to disease

By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant

DUBUQUE — “This is our calling from Jesus. We are called to help those that need help — this is part of our Catholic faith,” said Ron Avery, founder and president of the Avery Foundation, of his family’s desire to assist others through its charitable efforts.

The Averys, longtime members of St. Patrick Parish in Dubuque, established a family foundation in the spring of 2017 to help local cancer patients and their families offset some of the financial costs incurred during treatment.

The family’s faith is infused into its philanthropic work. The Averys asked their parish pastor to offer a blessing for the foundation after it was established, and each of the foundation’s board meetings begin with a prayer.

Ron, his siblings and their parents, Harvey and Mary Avery, have been inspired to carry out the work of the foundation because of their Catholic faith, but also because theirs is a family that has been touched deeply by cancer.

Julie Avery, one of Ron’s sisters, died of the illness in 1982 when she was only 21 years old. In 2015, his brother Jim Avery, a well-known Dubuque welder and metal artist, died of cancer at the age of 59.

“When Julie, my sister, was sick and dying, I knew at that time I wanted to do something for cancer,” Ron remembered. “I was very young, though. I was just a freshman in high school. But it was always in my mind. And then when Jim got sick and we found out that he only had a short time to live, I knew that I needed to really do something.”

The Avery Foundation, created in memory of Julie and Jim, aims to help cancer patients in the Tri-state area with some of the unexpected, but substantial financial costs incurred when traveling for medical treatment. Foundation grants are available to both patients receiving treatment out of the area and also patients traveling into Dubuque for their treatments.

Based on receipts submitted when an individual applies for a grant, the foundation pays for their mileage, $0.45 per mile from the patient’s home to the cancer center; hotel stays up to $75 per night; and meals up to $7 per breakfast, $10 per lunch and $15 per dinner.

The Avery Foundation began accepting applications in November of last year. Though still relatively new, it’s already making an impact.

Pam Hardtke, whose husband, Fred, has battled a rare form of cancer at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, over the past year, has received assistance through the Avery Foundation. After Pam learned of the foundation through a friend, she had her sister submit her hotel receipts and was reimbursed for some of her costs.

“Within just two or three weeks we had the check,” Pam said.

The past year was a difficult one for the Hardtkes. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments took their toll on Fred’s physical condition — he lost more than 100 pounds during treatments — and the process was emotionally exhausting for him and the whole family. Treatments created new financial strains as well as bills still had to be paid back home and new expenses were incurred while staying in Rochester. Amongst all the difficulties, Pam said the Avery family made a difference.

“They helped us in a big way,” she reflected. “They’ve been great.”

Not only have they helped financially, but Pam said they have also been a source of moral support for her and her husband through kind words of encouragement. And earlier this month when her husband received the good news that he is now cancer-free, the Avery family was there to share their joy.

Any cancer patient interested in applying for a grant through the Avery Foundation or any individual wishing to make a donation to the foundation to support its efforts can learn how to do so on the Avery Foundation website (

Several fundraisers are planned in the coming months to help raise money in support of the Avery Foundation. Information and dates for these events are available online at its website and also on the foundation’s Facebook page (@AveryFndtn).

Ron Avery has also created a book, which will be coming out later this year called “365 Days for Hope,” that will provide cancer patients with daily reflections based on inspirational quotes from famous individuals such as Rosa Parks and Pope Saint John Paul II.

Whether it is through his book, or the family foundation, Ron said he hopes to provide whatever support he can to those who are battling cancer and dealing with treatments.

“We want to be a rainbow in cancer patients’ stormy clouds,” he said.


The Avery family is pictured. Hanging above is one of Jim Avery’s inventions called the chemo bike, which he worked on during chemo treatments. Jim later died of cancer, as did his sister, Julie. Parents Harvey and Mary (front) are seen with their children and grandchildren. (Contributed photo)