A celebration of life will be held Saturday for Barbara Honeyman James, who is being remembered for her grit, positive attitude and efforts to rescue horses from slaughter.
The Warrenville woman died in February at age 60 in the home she and her husband bought last year in Hudson, Florida, after she fought breast cancer.
"We kind of knew it was going to be our last trip," said Lonny James, her husband of 17 years.
Barbara Honeyman James co-founded two equine rescues, Casey's Safe Haven in Elburn and 3 Amigos Equine Rescue Project in Waxahachie, Texas.
She had a hand in helping rescue thousands of horses destined for slaughter, said Janice Ross, co-founder of the Texas rescue.
"You never said 'no' to Barbi," said Ross, who will be attending the memorial Saturday. "Barbi was an amazing woman."
Her husband said saving horses from slaughter gave James newfound passion when she didn't have enough energy for things like riding her beloved Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
She contributed financially to save horses from so-called "kill lots" and send them to live on rescue farms. Most importantly, she worked tirelessly to prod her vast social network of friends and acquaintances to do that as well, her husband said.
"She was working with rescues all over the country," he said. "She would start sending out text messages and getting on Facebook to notify people as fast as she could to get donations to get that horse out of there before it was too late."
She got involved with horses later in life after taking riding lessons as a little girl, but always loved animals, her husband said. She had rescue dogs, guinea pigs and rabbits, and volunteered at animal shelters including the Naperville Area Humane Society. She also collected hundreds of elephant figurines.
James was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension about 10 years ago and battled leukemia and autoimmune hepatitis, her husband said. Before disease struck, she worked two jobs for a long time, doing office work by day and bartending or waiting tables at night.
She bought a condo and then a house.
"She was very independent and hardworking," said Lonny James, who retired early to take care of her.
James got involved with horse rescues and co-founded Casey's in 2011 with Sue Balla. The two met when Balla was involved in a different horse rescue organization and encouraged James to adopt a horse even if she couldn't ride it. Within a week, James had adopted a 29-year-old horse named Dell, the first of several.
"She was a spitfire," Balla said. "She was awe-inspiring. She really was."
Her husband said she fought her disease with all her might. She never stopped working out, getting on the treadmill and elliptical trainer when she wasn't too wiped out by chemotherapy.
One of her doctors was so impressed that when the doctor's own mother was diagnosed with cancer, he asked James what she did to stay alive, her husband said.
"She was a fighter through this whole thing," he said. "She didn't give up. She kept a positive attitude."
A "celebration of life" memorial will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the St. Charles Moose Lodge, 2250 W. Route 38 in St. Charles. In lieu of flowers, you can donate to the equine rescues.