Spanish Springs Elementary School Kindergarten teacher Deborah Evanchek took a different approach Tuesday when she walked in the school’s cafeteria to see her family and hundreds of students applauding and cheering in her honor. The sight became even more unbelievable when members of the National Guard presented her with the Seven Seals Award, which is given to those displaying “meritorious leadership and initiative” in support of the National Guard and Reserve.
There was just one problem: Evanchek didn’t feel she had earned it.
“My initial reaction is that it is undeserved, totally,” Evanchek said. “I think anybody who was in my place would have helped out. I feel honored, of course, but I don’t feel I did enough for such an amazing award.”
Evanchek, however, was outnumbered by those who felt the complete opposite, especially Patricia and Maj. Todd Hudson who nominated her for the award. In late 2012, the Hudson family, including daughters Lexi and Emily, encountered what Patricia called the “most challenging deployment” in the family’s history. Todd was sent to Afghanistan following the Christmas holiday just six months after Lexi was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes.
In a letter written to the Seven Seals award committee, Patricia wrote:
“I didn’t want to impose on her, but I was having a very hard time finding any care especially because of Lexi’s diabetes. (Referring to Patricia’s search for daily care when students were off-track) Mrs. Evanchak volunteered to receive training on care and maintenance of Type I Diabetes at the onset of Lexi’s diagnosis and continues to read and research how she can help Lexi in the best way possible and understand her disease, so I knew my daughter would be safe in her care.”
Patricia, who was also running her small business throughout Todd’s deployment, went on to say that Evanchek would talk with Lexi daily during school ensuring she was handling her father’s absence and she invited both Hudson girls to eat lunch with her to talk more.
“She was really the first one to help and step up to the task,” Todd said. “She didn’t shy away from anything that came up. I left really soon after Lexi’s diagnosis and that was really tough for all of our family.
“Life throws you curves and you have to just roll with them, and it was nice knowing that while I was unable to be there for my daughter that there was someone I could trust back here to be with her at school.”
Evanchek’s children were similar ages to the Hudson girls, which made it easy to keep up with care outside of school when Patricia needed the extra help, and Evancheck said it was “not a burden at all.” But back in the classroom and hallways, Lexi required around-the-clock monitoring as she adjusted to her new diagnosis.
“When Lexi came into my class last year the girl I met at first was not the true person because she was still going through her diagnosis,” Evanchek said. “Her little body was changing and then when she got diagnosed and her sugar levels were controlled, I was able to say ‘Oh, that’s who that sweet little girl is.’
“Now, knowing her so well, I had to figure out whether she is low or high and what each level really looks like. Things that she did would clue me in on that. She couldn’t correlate it on her own at that time so I would have to watch her if she was sleepy or grouchy or different things like that.”
Evanchek said the ultimate lesson she learned was that every student should be “loved and respected because everyone has a story.”
“Lexi’s health condition played a lot into that, too, because I am so protective of her and I have to watch her all the time on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute basis that she is like my kid,” she said.
As continuous hugs were exchanged with Evanchek Tuesday afternoon, Todd and Patricia could not help but look on and smile. Though Evanchek denies she is worthy of the award, Todd said a person like her willing to go the extra mile saved his family.
“Deb is so strong, and for her to take on the responsibility like that without even being asked to just says so much about the kind of person she is,” he said. “A disease like that changes your whole life, and she really had to do a lot of homework to be able to keep up with Lexi, but it was just great knowing she was there for my wife and our family.”