Community left to grieve

Man who loved to help dies of rare cancer

By Heather J. Carlson

ORONOCO — Diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 23, Drew Hewitt knew how he wanted to spend his final days — helping his community.

Hewitt served with the Oronoco First Responders and fire department, responding to more calls in 2007 than any other member.


"He is definitely a hero to our town and to all of us. I don’t think I know any other person that would do the things that he did and that would give his life for his community and his department," said Tina Stolp, assistant director of Oronoco First Responders and fellow volunteer firefighter.

On Monday, Hewitt lost his battle with a rare form of pancreatic cancer. A memorial service is planned for March 28, which would have been Hewitt’s 25th birthday.

Friends and family say Hewitt was known for his outgoing nature, ever-present smile and eagerness to help.

"He had a very wry sense of humor that everyone recognized and was willing to do just about anything for anybody to a fault," said his mother, Jamey Shandley.

Hewitt was born March 28, 1983, in Rochester and grew up in Oronoco. He graduated from Century High School in 2001 and went to North Dakota State University. He spent the past five years serving on the volunteer fire department and with the emergency responders.

Hewitt was often the guy behind the scenes, working on mechanical glitches or picking up equipment, Stolp said.

Last June, Stolp helped organize a benefit for Hewitt to help raise money for his medical expenses. Hundreds of people showed up, helping to raise more than $20,000.

Despite the cancer, Hewitt continued to respond to calls until early January. News of Hewitt’s death spread quickly in this town of fewer than 1,000 people 13 miles north of Rochester.


His death has been tough for his fellow firefighters and emergency responders.

"The fire department and First Responders are a second family," Stolp said. "When we lose one of our family members, everybody grieves together."

For more information, go to

City of Oronoco

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