Dothan, Alabama—three years ago today. The television is playing in Steve Hardwick’s living room. It’s one of those home-shopping channels.
Steve is the fella in the recliner. He has a perpetual smile. White goatee. He is the kind of man who parks a Harley in the garage.
The television advertises a KitchenAid mixer. A miracle-appliance made for bread, pizza crust, pasta, sausage, baklava, schnitzel, pedicures, cutting residential lawns, filing taxes, and whipping up poundcake.
Steve turns the volume down.
“Betcha I could make a few cakes with that thing and raise a few hundred bucks for Cody Hayes,” he says.
The boy from Ashford. Seventeen. A hunter, Jeep-rider, a ‘Bama-cheering, camo-hat-wearing kid with leukemia.
It was an impulsive thought.
“I’d never even met Cody,” Steve tells me. “Only saw pictures on Facebook.”
Steve’s idea was simple. Sell poundcakes; raise money.
He bought the mixer. Then, the thick-framed man baked one hundred cakes. He titled the fundraising effort, “Cakes for Cody.”
He hoped to drum up few hundred bucks. But it didn’t go as planned. He raised nine grand.
Then Cody passed.
“It changed me,” says Steve. “Used to, I’d hear about kids with cancer and think, ‘That’s awful,’ and just go on about my day. Not after Cody died.”
Steve started more fundraisers: Cakes for Libby. Cakes for Conner. Cakes for Paresia. Cakes for Paisley. The list is long. But not long enough for Steve.
He says, “These families need money bad, I hear lotta sad stories. One parent told me they almost lost their home.”
Late one night, while Steve sat in his chair, he received news of another cancer-death. A girl. It stabbed at him.
“Thought to myself, ‘I’m tired of people forgetting about these kids who die.’”
So, he launched a different kind of fundraiser. The next day, he met with city commissioners, county officials, and the mayor. This was bigger than poundcake. It was the largest scheme he’d ever had.
And he saw it realized.
Today, everyone in Circle City can see it, too. It’s in Westgate Park. A tall statue of a winged cherub—arms outstretched. They call her the “Angel of Hope.”
She is dedicated to anyone who has lost a loved one. A reminder to those who mourn, that the departed are not forgotten. Not now, not ever.
Steve holds candlelight vigils. Swarms attend. People pray. People touch the statue and whisper the names of their children.
“You know,” says Steve. “I meet all sorts’a people who say, ‘Why doesn’t God DO something for kids with cancer?’ And I just wanna tell’em: ‘He DID do something. He MADE you.”
Well, that’s not all God made. He also made KitchenAid mixers and poundcake. He made Cody Hayes, Libby Claire, Molly, Morgan, Isaiah, Bailey, Haley, Corbyn, Ike, and Kayla.
And I’ll be damned if he didn’t make Steve Hardwick with his own two hands.