Evelyn “Cecilia” Kennedy Hayes passed away peacefully on the morning of December 12th, 2018 at the age of 105. A truly amazing woman, in every sense of the word, Evelyn led an incredible life that spanned over a century and left an indelible mark on all those around her. She will be remembered as a caring matriarch with a quick wit, wry smile and a memory like an elephant. Evelyn was a force of nature, both in presence and character, and she is very dearly missed.
Born May 7, 1913 to Boleta Larson Kennedy and Willis Henry Kennedy, Evelyn was a native of Coos Bay, Oregon. The town played a special role in her family’s history as her grandfather was the first pioneer to land on Coos Bay and had an inlet (Larson) named after him. A small town overlooking the ocean, Coos Bay afforded Evelyn a childhood rich with freedom and adventure.
Well loved by her parents, she was an only child and therefore quickly learned to make friends wherever she went – a trait she would hone throughout her life. There were trips to the beach with close neighborhood friends, picnics at the river and most importantly, endless afternoons spent playing with her eight cousins at her beloved grandparent’s ranch. The ranch would play a formative role in her life as a place she would return to often and forever remember fondly.
With a fierce drive and determination that characterized everything she did, Evelyn excelled in school and was soon accepted to the University of Oregon as an Economics major during the height of the Great Depression. Always with an eye towards practicality, she was elected the treasurer of her sorority, Alpha Phi, and made $20 a month – enough to carry her through her studies. It was at the University of Oregon that one fateful night Evelyn attended a fraternity dinner where she met Webb Hayes Sr.
Webb had a love of life and an infectious laugh that left everyone around him in joyful tears. A former nature guide on Mt. Rainier who also spent a brief stint modeling, it was hard not to notice Webb. The two began dating and soon married in 1933 in a small ceremony in Portland, Oregon. Webb would later write of his relationship with Evelyn (who he affectionally called “Gus”) by saying: “No greater love has any man for his mate.”
They began their newlywed life in Seattle, Washington, and with very few jobs available at that time for a young architect, Webb found his calling as a salesman. Within a year, they were blessed with a son, Webb Wilson Hayes, Jr., followed by another son only two years later, William Kennedy Hayes. Both boys were the perfect blending of Webb and Evelyn – brilliant, driven, exceptionally capable, often stubborn and with a laugh and light that filled up any room. Needless to say, Evelyn had her hands full but she was a woman who was up for any challenge.
From Washington the family moved to San Marino, Calif. where they built their home from scratch and lived happily for four years. Then WWII began and Webb Sr. was stationed at Fort Douglas, Utah where the family soon joined him. Once the war ended, the family returned to Coos Bay and eventually moved to Kensington, Calif. in 1948 where Evelyn and Webb Sr. would live for the rest of their lives. When asked about the many moves, Evelyn remarked: “every time we moved, it was a good move. We had wonderful friends, and we found wonderful friends wherever we went.”
Throughout the years, Evelyn would take the family back to Coos Bay each summer to work on her grandparent’s ranch. These were the best times in her life – building a fence with Webb Sr. or watching the boys learn woodworking (they would later build their wives sling-back chairs and their grandchildren rocking horses).
It was those years on the ranch, coupled by an innate ability, that gave her the skills to become so creative and resourceful. She could fix anything, a broken washing machine or leaky sink. She could lay brick, build houses or bake caramels for her 12 great grandchildren. Just as handy with a sewing machine as she was with a hammer, she was the original craftsman. When the family needed furnishings for their new Kensington home, Evelyn hand-braided the rug for their massive living room floor (the boys ate hot dogs and cabbage for weeks). She made toy frogs out of bean bags, mini Santas out of wine corks, dolls out of raffia and elaborate decorations out of paper mâché and wire. Her handmade ornaments grace the Christmas trees of all her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
A member of the Chinquapin branch of the Berkeley Children’s Hospital, Evelyn dedicated herself to charity and volunteer work. She sold her crafts and donated the proceeds to the hospital and spent hours working at the Turnabout Shop, a thrift store for the Berkeley Clinic. She maintained her many friendships, played bridge every week and swam at the local Albany high school well into her nineties.
Evelyn was unlike anyone else. Whatever she set her mind to doing, she did and she did it well. When reflecting back on her life, she once said: “life was something that I loved a lot, and I still do. It is a precious thing.”
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you please send donations in honor of Evelyn Hayes to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital of Oakland.