Car accidents, cancer and custodial work: Bunnie Alexander

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Helen Alexander, known as "Bunnie", meets with Mary Jane Wadley, a costume maker for the theatre program. The costume shop is just one of the many areas in the HFAC that Bunnie helps maintain as the custodial supervisor in the Harris Fine Arts Center. (Natalie Stoker)
Helen Alexander, known as “Bunnie”, meets with Mary Jane Wadley, a costume maker for the theatre program. The costume shop is just one of the many areas in the HFAC that Bunnie helps maintain as the custodial supervisor in the Harris Fine Arts Center. (Natalie Stoker)

At 5 a.m. she wakes up and takes a thyroid pill. She lets the dog out, makes the bed and turns the radio on for her husband. He likes to listen to it in the morning. She leaves the house, and a caregiver replaces her.

Her name is Helen Alexander, but everyone who loves her — and everyone does love her—calls her Bunnie. The nickname has stuck since childhood, when she came home from the hospital in Rocks Springs, Wyoming, bundled up in a bunny snow suit. Bunnie is one of the early morning custodial supervisors in the Harris Fine Arts Center.

Alexander attended college at BYU, studying elementary education. She would never become a teacher, but through her trials, she would teach others the importance of work, family and sacrifice.

Although his I.Q. is 120, Alexander’s husband John can is described by Bunnie Alexander as “a really intelligent 3-year-old.” On Sundays, she sits with him at church because he can’t be left alone. John Alexander has been paralyzed for the past 25 years. He’s been hospitalized five times and requires constant help and attention.

The accident happened two days after their 25th wedding anniversary.

“I can remember it so well. I was stake young women’s president at the time. I was working at my table for a training program coming up, and a friend came in and said, ‘Your husband has been in an accident,'” Bunnie Alexander recalled.

Their son had gotten into an argument on the baseball field and had run away. John Alexander took his motorcycle to look for his son.

“We think maybe he didn’t fasten his helmet after he stopped to talk to someone. He was close to home. Then this kid hit him, a juvenile delinquent. He was 15 years old and shouldn’t have been driving. He had a long drug record and had hit someone just two months before,” Bunnie Alexander said.

Helen Alexander work at her desk in the Harris Fine Arts Center at 6 a.m. She supervises multiple custodial crews and always starts the morning meetings with current events, family stories and inspiring quotes. She overlooks students' work in order to keep the building clean and organized. (Natalie Stoker)
Helen Alexander work at her desk in the Harris Fine Arts Center at 6 a.m. She supervises multiple custodial crews and always starts the morning meetings with current events, family stories and inspiring quotes. She overlooks students’ work in order to keep the building clean and organized. (Natalie Stoker)

John Alexander spent seven weeks in the ICU and seven months in the hospital for rehabilitation. A year after coming home, John Alexander had fits of uncontrollable anger because of his head injury.

“The first year was really hard. It took me all day just to get him dressed and fed. Then I had to take him to therapy, and I still had to take care of my kids,” Bunnie Alexander said. “You’re dealing with a whole new person. These last two years he has really calmed down.”

Bunnie Alexander is at home “all the time” because of her husband. They met as children in Wyoming and began dating their senior year of high school. They celebrated their 50th anniversary in May with a surprise party her children planned.

Bunnie Alexander and her husband were financially secure, but she still went to work. She worked for 10 years for the Provo School District. She also ran marketing for Bel Air Assisted Living until a friend told her about working at BYU.

Bunnie Alexander spent the next 10 years working with the BYU mentor program. In her first year, she doubled the program’s numbers, and at the peak of her career she was training 900 mentors. She started a second job in the HFAC at the same time.

At one point, Bunnie Alexander was balancing three jobs: the HFAC morning crew, the mentor program and Utah Home Health marketing, where she would organize health fairs and deliver gift baskets to doctors. She was also young women’s president in her ward.

Then she discovered she had cancer.

After returning from a stake pioneer trek in 2008, Bunnie Alexander began feeling back pain that kept her awake all night. The doctor discovered the disease — non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — and Bunnie Alexander spent six months at home in chemotherapy. She has since been in remission but recently received surgery for a newly discovered cancer spot.

Darius Simons is also a supervisor in the HFAC. Simons has worked with Bunnie Alexander for one year and has been a close friend and support.

“It’s pretty amazing. Her husband had a brain injury, it’s been that way for 25 years, and she had cancer. She texted me about the surgery and said she was kind of worried about the cancer coming back,” Simons said.

Bunnie Alexander manages to be the light in others’ lives despite her daily challenges. Those close to her describe her as incredibly kind and warm-spirited.

She throws birthday parties for the students on her crew. She starts work with a spiritual thought and current event updates. She takes time to talk to her students and support them in their hobbies. Those who work for her have nothing but good to say about Bunnie Alexander.

“I would say loving, but that doesn’t fully describe it. Or charitable, but that doesn’t … some people you can say, ‘Oh they’re this or they’re that.’ The closest is loving,” Simons said.

Olivia Boone, a senior from St. George studying nutrition, works for Bunnie Alexander in the HFAC. Boone said Bunnie Alexander “doesn’t let people walk all over her.”

“She’s somebody very understanding. She’s real … she realizes life’s circumstances because she’s been through a lot,” Boone said.

Bunnie Alexander lives in a house her husband built himself. Started in May 1974, the house on their 10-acre lot took almost a year to complete. She clings to her house and said her husband would die if they were ever to leave.

John Alexander fell down the stairs in his wheelchair and broke his collarbone two years ago. Though he can move around the house today, his injury brings physical and emotional trials. Bunnie Alexander recalls the day her husband came home from the hospital and tried to sing again.

“We have a baby grand piano, and he got on and started playing, and he started to sing. His voice was horrible. It was very sad,” she said.

Bunnie Alexander has shed many tears as she dealt with the pains of losing her husband to his injury. Despite the heartache, she stays actively involved in the community. She was part of the PTA for 39 years and was PTA president multiple times. She helps organize the Provo Christmas parade and meets with a craft club and book club monthly. She works on the committee for the Provo Dollhouse Festival and the Mad Hatter Tea Party each year.

In her 60s, Bunnie Alexander ran the Disneyworld marathon with some of her children. She says running makes her feel closer to God. She put off running for a while in order to help her husband.

Though she doesn’t get much free time, Bunnie Alexander said she enjoys decorating, party planning and spending time with her grandchildren. Her family lives nearby and helps around the house. She recently returned from her fourth Europe trip with some of her family members. When she came home, her husband was “really pleasant” and asked her all about her trip.

As she looks to the future, Bunnie Alexander said her main job is to make her husband’s life as easy as possible. Her life motto is “learn to have patience.” She said her friend gave her a rock with the word “patience” inscribed on it that she has kept for 25 years.

When her husband got angry, Bunnie Alexander would cling to the rock. Her young women also used the patience rock at girl’s camp after learning from her example. When asked what her most prized possession was, Bunnie Alexander immediately said it is her faith in God.

“My testimony is the only thing that has gotten me through. I know He loves me. It has literally sustained me through my life,” she said.

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