In happier times, Christie Hess held her daughter, Grace, now 15 months old.

By Donald Wittkowski

They remembered her radiant smile, her adventurous personality and the way everyone’s eyes seemed to focus on her when she entered the room.

Christie Hess certainly had a mesmerizing quality, but perhaps most notable was her inner strength that allowed her to battle cancer with dignity and courage up until the very end, her friends and family recalled.

“She had moxie. She was fearless,” said Megan Balinge, 36, of Vineland, who remained one of Christie’s closest friends after they graduated together from Ocean City High School in 1998.

Friends, family members, political leaders and many others celebrated Christie’s life Sunday during a fundraiser at Yesterday’s restaurant in Marmora that benefited her daughters, Vivienne, 2, and Grace, 15 months. The girls have returned to California to live in San Diego with Christie’s husband, John Ennis.

Christie, 36, who had been living in Ocean City while undergoing cancer treatment, died on April 25 at Shore Medical Center in Somers Point. Her mother, Debbie Golding, sister, Kelly Hess, and brother, Adam Hess, were at her bedside.

Golding, 59, of Ocean City, spoke of a spiritual-like moment she experienced when Christie was near death. She said she looked at the rapidly throbbing pulse in her daughter’s neck and was reminded of when she carried Christie as a fetus.

“I had a rush of emotion in me,” Golding said. “I was crying and put my hands up to my face. When I pulled my hands away, she had already passed. That moment brought me to a new place. She came into the world through me and left through me.”

Kelly Hess, 34, of Ocean City, said Christie was cremated and her remains will be scattered in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, which is symbolic of her ties to the East and West coasts.

From left, Christie Hess’ friends, Megan Balinge and Jeniffer Battersby, her mother, Debbie Golding, and her sister, Kelly Hess.

At the fundraiser, friends and family members noted that Christie’s adventurous side took her all over the country and the world. At times, she lived in the Netherlands, Bangkok, Thailand, and the Caribbean island of Curacao. She resided in San Diego the last nine years.

Her initial diagnosis for breast cancer came in 2013, but in 2015 she learned it was terminal. Her chemotherapy treatments in 2015 coincided with her studies in California to become a nurse. When her condition became worse, she returned to Ocean City to receive radiation treatments.

As she mourns her sister’s death, Kelly Hess said she and others who were close to Christie are numb with grief.

“I think all of us feel like a shell of a person,” she said.

Jeniffer Battersby, 37, of Upper Township, one of Christie’s closest friends since eighth grade and their days together at Ocean City High School, said she felt as though “I lost a piece of me.”

“Christie will always be in my heart and in my memories,” Battersby said.

Gift baskets donated by local businesses were raffled off during the fundraiser benefiting Christie Hess’ two young daughters.

Battersby was among the people who recalled Christie’s magnetic personality. Ocean City Councilman Bob Barr spoke of Christie’s brilliant smile and the way she would light up a room, attracting everyone’s attention when she walked in.

Barr, 35, who knew Christie when they attended Ocean City High School together, said he will always remember her passion, energy and zest for life. Barr was among the local and state political figures who attended Sunday’s fundraiser.

“Too often the word ‘hero’ is overused to describe movie stars, sports figures and other celebrities. But Christie was really a hero,” Barr said. “She still lived her life as she would have normally. She wouldn’t let cancer change her life. Now that’s a hero.”