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Family to honor selfless Rock Island native with cancer foundation

Family to honor selfless Rock Island native with cancer foundation

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ROCK ISLAND — Yolanda Atwater was just 50 when she died from breast cancer last month, but her legacy will live on with the help of her family.

Over 25 years ago, Atwater founded Sisters Hair Salon, 701 9th St., Rock Island, and moved to Georgia with her husband about four years ago. She passed away on Sept. 4, 2019, in Atlanta, and her daughters, Triona and Paris Roberts, are looking to continue her legacy of what she started.

As a visionary and entrepreneur, Yolanda had plans for a new endeavor to provide wigs for cancer patients and to open a holistic education center named in honor of her mother, Rosetta, according to her obituary.

"She gave wigs out for free for cancer patients and people with hair loss," Triona said recently, noting her mom did that years before she developed breast cancer. "She just wanted to create a foundation for that. We want to continue her legacy, make it an actual foundation."

"She had such a big, loving spirit; people connected to her," she said. "They loved her spirit. They said, this is why I come to this establishment."

"She loved people; she wanted to convey that," Triona said. "Live your life and enjoy your life. Her clients became like family and friends."

"She never complained about anything — never once complained about the pain, her symptoms,"Paris said. "You'd never know. They say cancer pain is totally different. She never complained. She had always been like that. That's why everybody loved her spirit. She was always beautiful."

Yolanda was a 1987 graduate of Rock Island High School and a 1990 graduate of Pivot Point International School of Cosmetology (in the Chicago area). After graduating from Pivot Point, she worked in the cosmetology industry for decades, starting her own business, Sisters Hair Salon, at 701 9th St., Rock Island, near the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center.

Yolanda was an expert in her industry and cared immensely for her clients, according to her obituary. Because of her dedication to her craft and business acumen, Sisters Hair Salon became a nationally recognized hair salon.

She also wanted to create a holistic health care center, using the natural herbs she liked to use on her journey, Triona said, noting her cancer was diagnosed about two years ago and she didn't want surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.

"Her treatment was holistic, a lot of things from the earth," she said. "Her faith was very strong. She continued to change her habits into healthy lifestyle habits."

"The health care center was in the plans, even in the hospital bed, we were going over planning, trying to get licensing," Triona said. Her family (who also lives in Georgia) hopes to reopen the hair salon next April.

This weekend, they'll celebrate Yolanda's life and raise money for their foundation. "We're going to display how Yolanda impacted the community, with her love, also having immense care and quality with her work and with her clients," Triona said.

The Flex for the Fight Fit Tour (breast cancer awareness event) and Flex Expo will be 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, at Rock Island High School, 1400 25th Ave. It will include booths, free health screenings, a 10 a.m. basketball tournament and a 1 p.m. fitness boot camp. 

Cost is $150 per booth to display or sell products, and $150 to sponsor a basketball team. All proceeds will go to the Wigs for Cancer Foundation. For booth rentals and sponsoring teams, visit breastcancercamp.eventbrite.com.

A commemoration gala celebrating the life of Yolanda Atwater (a black-tie affair) will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Martin Luther King Center, 630 9th St., Rock Island. Tickets are $25 per person, available at wigsforcancerfoundation.eventbrite.com.

There also will be a memorial walk on Sunday, Oct. 20, starting at 9 a.m., at the hair salon, 701 9th St., Rock Island.

Survivors of Atwater include her husband of 22 years, Frankie Atwater Sr.; daughters, Triona Roberts, Paris Roberts and Aleesha Atwater; and granddaughter, Lillyiona Roberts; sons, Frankie Atwater Jr., Kyellis Atwater; and a bonus son, Cambron Hayslett.

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Jonathan is a reporter for the Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline.com.

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