Holley in mourning after loss of Evan Valentine, 18

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 February 2021 at 9:27 pm

Teen inspired community during fight with leukemia for 2 ½ years

Photos by Tom Rivers: Evan Valentine is hugged by principal Sue Cory when he returned to school on April 22, 2019. About 450 of his classmates surprised him in the school gym and gave him a standing ovation for his first day back at school after enduring five months in the hospital for chemo and recovery. Many of the teachers and students wore orange “Evan Strong” shirts to celebrate Evan’s return.

HOLLEY – Evan Valentine, a member of Holley’s Class of 2021, passed away on Sunday after fighting leukemia for nearly 2 ½ years.

“This is a loss to our school and our community, as many have rallied around Evan for the past couple of years,” Sue Coy, the middle and high school principal, said in a message on the district website. “Death is difficult for us all to deal with,” Cory wrote in her message. “We all handle this in different ways. We want you to know that it is OK to need and ask for support.”

Provided photo: Evan Valentine is shown on Nov. 4, 2018 with some of the get well cards he received. These cards were from Boy Scouts in Holley and the First Presbyterian Church of Holley.

Grief counselors were at the school today and will be available on Tuesday from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Students, even those on remote learning are welcome to come to the school for any support.

Evan, the son of Diane and Neil Valentine, was a very popular student at Holley. He played soccer and golf and performed in the school musicals. He was confirmed at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in August and was the altar server of the year in 2018 in the Western New York Diocese.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Valentine family,” Cory said. “They have continually felt the love of this community.”

Evan was diagnosed with leukemia on Oct. 19, 2018, a day before he was to play in a Sectional soccer game for Holley as a center defender.

Evan went to the doctor after battling some digestive issues. After getting his blood drawn, doctors were concerned about the presence of blast cells. Evan was diagnosed with leukemia and was admitted to Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong.

He completed multiple rounds of chemotherapy and had a bone marrow transplant, but the leukemia returned. He handled the chemo, the hair and weight loss, and the pain with grace and in a laid-back manner, with few complaints while keeping his faith.

Since his diagnosis, Evan and his family were inundated with love from his classmates and teachers. There are many cards, signed by hundreds of students and staff, in his hospital room. He and his family have seen the social media posts, showing the school community wearing orange T-shirts, face masks and bracelets in his honor.

Earlier, this month most of the Holley teachers wore orange “Evan Strong” T-shirts to school and posted those photos to an Evan Strong Facebook page.

Mrs. Valentine posted on Feb. 13  in response to the many photos of Holley teachers in the orange shirts: “HCSD we are thankful for your support EVERY SINGLE DAY. It has made such a difference to Evan and to us knowing that we have an army behind us in this battle. Evan Strong!”

Evan Valentine was given an escort by local fire trucks and community members lined the sidewalks on April 19, 2020 when he returned to the hospital for a bone marrow transplant at Golisano Children’s Hospital in Rochester.

There were fire trucks from Holley, Clarendon, Fancher-Hulberton-Murray and Brockport in the escort for Valentine.

The community organized the sendoff for Evan partly due to the Covid restrictions on visitors at the hospital. Many of Evan’s friends weren’t able to visit him while he recovered from chemo and when he prepared for the bone marrow transplant. Evan’s classmates, teachers and the firefighters wanted to give him a show of support and strength as he prepared for the transplant.

“He is an inspiration to not only all the students and staff at Holley High School, but to the entire Holley community,” Brian Bartalo, the Holley school district superintendent, said that day. “He is an incredible young man with an engaging personality and unwavering spirit that encourages all of us.”

A Clarendon fire truck displays an “Evan Strong” sign during his escort on April 19, 2020.