SIBLEY - Sophie Hafer’s first memories of her dad, Joe Hafer, are of singing with him on stage at the Bellflower Country Opry as a child of 3 or 4 while he played fiddle, guitar or mandolin.
“He taught me ‘Country Roads’ and “You’ve Got a Friend,’” keyboard player and vocalist Sophie said. “It was in those moments that I knew I wanted to be exactly like my dad.”
What she had originally planned to be a fundraiser benefit for her ailing father—like the ones they had performed at for so many others—will now go on as a celebration of his life after he passed away May 30 at the University of Chicago (UC) Medical Center. The event will be from 3 to 7 p.m. June 13 at The Sand Trap, 120 E. First St., Gibson City. “The original purpose of the fundraiser was really to bring everyone that my dad loved all together in one place—family, friends and musicians,” Sophie said. “I am truly grateful to be able to share the gift of music that my father gave me in celebration of his life.”
Joe Hafer grew up in Sibley and attended Melvin-Sibley High School. He moved to Kankakee in 1983 after marrying wife Alyce “Sam”, a native of that community, in January 1983; they moved back to Sibley in 1997.
Hafer worked at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Gibson City for 15 1/2 years, retiring in December 2019. He took a part-time CDL driving job with Meiss Feed in Sibley. He had also served in the U.S. Navy and acquired a degree in mortuary science, becoming a funeral director in his younger years.
“Joe is best known in the entire surrounding area for his music, playing at many events,” sister-in-law Rosemary Wieliczko said. “He was enjoying playing music with friends.”
During a routine blood test last year, Joe was diagnosed with monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, a condition in which abnormal protein is formed within the blood marrow. The condition remained stable until the end of December. “My dad’s symptoms began with a rib and back pain that we all attributed to his new job working at Meiss Feed,” Sophie said.
Then in an emergency visit in January, he was diagnosed with Stage III multiple myeloma (MM), a rare and aggressive form of cancer that attacks the plasma cells. “Doctors were encouraged about his treatment as other than the MM, Joe was a very healthy man,” Wieliczko said.
“Further down the line, after he was diagnosed and began treatment, he was quickly immobilized due to pain and weakness,” Sophie said.
That also included vision loss that made him unable to play his instruments. The combination of the disease and chemotherapy affected his cognitive function, memory and speech, and he experienced widespread pain, low blood platelets and bone lesions.
Alyce finished her nursing degree in 1988 and had worked in the medical field since that time. After moving to Sibley, she worked at various departments within Gibson City Hospital, most recently with Gibson Area Hospital General Surgery. As Joe’s condition worsened, however, Alyce became his full-time caretaker and was not able to work.
The treatments Joe underwent were unsuccessful, and his care was transferred to the UC Medical Center in hopes of getting him to the point of remission for a bone marrow transplant. Expenses began to mount from both the medical bills and the travel expenses for the 110-mile trip to Chicago from Sibley.
On May 20, Joe’s medical team determined he required hospitalization to address difficulty breathing, weakness and other blood abnormalities that they believed were likely associated with the chemotherapy drugs. “His MM was very aggressive, so even with the expert care of his UC team, he was unable to get to remission,” Wieliczko said.
The June 13 event will include live music from Sophie Hafer’s band and a silent auction with items like a quilt and baskets with themes such as Tastefully Simple, bloody mary, spa, wine, premium liquor, barbecue and lottery tickets. One donation received was an original Melvin-Sibley bass drum that was played years ago in the marching band; Joe had played trombone in that band. There will also be food and drinks and a 50/50 raffle.
The family continues to receive donations to a Go Fund Me page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/friends-helping-joe-and-sam.