Elmer and Anna Hill met in the fourth grade in their rural Missouri hometown. They married, had four children, added eight grandkids, and shared 46 wedding anniversaries by the time they flipped open the first page of their Nolensville album.
Now, ten years into this chapter, their list of shared experiences is long. One headliner was when Elmer was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. They made it through the entire set of cancer protocols, with the help of family, friends, and neighbors.
Life was sweet again as they unpacked moving boxes in Nolensville, and shared mugs of coffee with locals in Mama Java’s Café. Then, in October 2013, before all the boxes were emptied, Anna received a breast cancer diagnosis. Okay. They knew the drill but, this time, they didn’t have the support of family and longtime friends – or so they thought.
“It seemed we found out overnight why people think of Nolensville as the little town with the big heart,” Elmer said. “The people we knew from Mama Java’s, and a ton of others we’d never met, gathered ‘round to do whatever was needed.
“Anna came through the ordeal and has been cancer-free for ten years,” Elmer said. “There wasn’t long to celebrate, though, because in 2014, just shortly after finishing Anna’s treatment, our daughter Melissa was handed a cancer diagnosis.”
Melissa had a seven-month-old baby. Without hesitation, Anna purchased a ticket to Phoenix with an open return date. S-+he flew out, while Elmer put things in order at home. He purchased his open-return ticket and left their new friends to look after their property for nearly one year.
“We made it, and we gained so much in the process,” Anna said. “One night we talked about the experience and realized we wanted to pay it forward. Nothing great or grand. Just something to honor what other people did for us.”
A few nights later, they saw a local resident’s drawing of a cardinal on the town’s social media page. Being St. Louis Cardinals fans, they took it as a sign to get started.
“Three of the people in that first group were cancer survivor sisters,” Elmer said. “We have a lot of local artists, including Anna who’s an accomplished water colorist, so art became the basis for our major fund-raiser.
“We raised $2000 our first year. Our third event, in 2023, had 500 participants and raised $50,000 while saying we didn’t necessarily want to grow bigger as much as we wanted to grow better. We did both. Our fourth fund raiser/art auction will be February 2024.”
Anna was instrumental in forming a 501c3 Artists’ Guild of Nolensville, which works in partnership with Heart frim the Heart. Gift cards to Kroger and Walmart, along with gas cards and other retailers, are given to cancer families. Churches and other organizations help find out what people need, including lawn services, house cleaning, transportation, and more.
Gift caddies are delivered across the country, containing blankets, lotions, soaps, lemon drops to alleviate the metallic taste of the chemo and more.
“Yes, Anna and I started Art from the Heart,” said Elmer, “but it’s not about us. It’s about our saying ‘thank you’ for all the help we received. It’s about dedicated Board members and volunteers. It’s about creating a legacy that our kids and grandkids will carry forward. It’s about 56 wedding anniversaries. It’s about doing something that would make our parents proud. It’s about all that, and about being grateful.”