On Saturday Oct. 20, the Public Health Sciences Division’s Ilda Islas lost her life in a highway accident near Prosser, Wash. Islas worked for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center for more than a decade, but for many faculty and staff members her face was not familiar; her work was.
Islas' office was half a state away in the Lower Yakima Valley town of Sunnyside, where she served as community project manager for Dr. Beti Thompson's Center for Community Health Promotion.
There she ran the office, and every winter distributed to the community the warm clothing donated to the annual PHS coat drive. There she helped Thompson identify homes with drinking wells potentially contaminated with bacteria and nitrates—a project that led to the Environmental Protection Agency award Thompson and staff received last January. There she sent photos and information that you may have seen or read in Center News. Those in Thompson Studies considered Islas' can-do spirit unstoppable.
Islas, her 14-year old daughter, Alejandra (Alex), and her 5-year old son, Francisco, were returning from a soccer match in Toppenish. Alex's team won. They were traveling on state Route 22, not far from home, when a flatbed truck crossed the centerline and slammed into the family's Honda SUV. Islas and her daughter died instantly. Her son escaped with minor bruising as did the other driver.
"The tragic death of Ilda and her daughter Alex leaves a tremendous hole in our Valley projects," said Thompson, who began working with Islas 14 years ago on community-based participatory research projects. "She was an amazing woman with a huge heart and a genuine dedication to serve others."
No job ‘too big or too small'
Islas supervised a team of eight staff members in the Sunnyside office. Her responsibilities included building and supporting community partnerships, training and supervising health promoters and scheduling and implementing outreach and education events in nine communities throughout the Lower Yakima Valley.
"Ilda was the heart and soul of our operation in the Yakima Valley," Thompson said. "No job was too big or too small for her to do. Many times when we knew the Valley staff members were super busy, we would apologetically ask Ilda if she could do one more thing. The response was always an emphatic ‘sure!'"
The entire Sunnyside team was to visit Seattle last week for on-site training. Instead Thompson's Seattle team traveled to Prosser to attend a service honoring Islas and her daughter.
"Although Ilda's death places the Sunnyside staff in a devastating position, each member responded that they will go on with the work in Yakima Valley, because that is what Ilda would want," Thompson said.
Ilda Islas' memorial internship scholarship
Thompson Studies will create a scholarship in Islas' name for a summer internship program at the Sunnyside office. If you'd like to donate, please contact Elizabeth Carosso, project manager, at (206) 667-7569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.