Phil & Karen Hudis, Fredricksberg, TX at the Peach Haus (2021)

All philanthropy starts with a story. We’re honored that our donors entrust IECF with their funds so lives can be changed for the better, and it’s a distinct privilege to learn about the events that led them to create a legacy fund at IECF. Phil and Karen Hudis shared their compelling story with us.

In 1994, Phil and Karen Hudis were both employed in successful sales positions with S.E. Rykoff, a food distribution company in Los Angeles. Karen was a Chicago transplant, busy with a career that enabled her to forge pathways in a male-dominated field. Phil, a native Californian and Vietnam veteran of the Air Force, was working and raising his son and daughter from a previous marriage.

Karen & Phil on their wedding day (1996)

At a business meeting in Santa Barbara, mutual colleagues suggested that the two might enjoy going out. Although Phil was not particularly interested in a relationship at the time, Karen tells us she was quite literally invested from the beginning. Phil invited her for what he thought was a casual bike ride. Karen laughingly says, “I didn’t have a bike, so I went out and spent $750 on a new bike and clothes for the outing!”

They enjoyed the day together, had four “official” dates, and were married a little over a year later. “Best thing that ever happened to me was going on that bike ride,” Phil says. Karen sees it as an investment that has paid off beautifully.

Karen & Phil, London Bridge, Lake Havasu City, AZ (2021)

Long vacations were difficult to take in their line of work, so the couple purchased a motorhome that they kept in the Coachella Valley, using it for short trips as they found time. Now retired, they reside permanently in the valley, having fallen in love with the “peaceful, other-worldly feel of the area,” as Karen aptly describes it. She notes that they’ll occasionally consider moving to a place they visit in their travels, but “We always come back to the valley. It’s really special. You can just feel your blood pressure drop as you pass Morongo.”

Phil, Karen and Cathy in La Jolla (2014)

In 2004, the Hudises received distressing news: Cathy, their daughter from Phil’s previous marriage, had brain cancer. For the next 13 years, Phil and Karen were her support team as she braved two operations, chemotherapy and radiation. Cathy continued to work as a special education teacher during much of her illness, motivated by her passion for kids and young adults with learning disabilities. “Cathy had a special gift for people who faced challenges. She was a magnet for them, and could talk with and serve them very comfortably,” they remember. Her compassion extended to selfless work with those experiencing homelessness in San Diego, where she lived. “Most people would just keep walking, but Cathy knew them by name and she wanted to comfort them.”

During this time, in an unfathomable blow to the family, Karen’s brother and sister-in-law lost their only child, Sascha, to an acute asthma attack in 2011. Sascha was 19 years old and attending college in Colorado, with plans to become a pediatric surgeon. As a teen, she had spent many hours volunteering at the Kapiolani Cleft and Craniofacial Clinic in Hawaii, her home state. In memory of Sascha’s passion for bringing smiles to children born with cleft palates, her parents set up a legacy fund for patients of the clinic.

Tragically, six years later Cathy Hudis succumbed to brain cancer. The Hudises were determined to honor her charitable, loving spirit and turned to Karen’s brother for advice about setting up a memorial fund. Based on his experience in establishing Sascha’s fund, he said, “Look locally.”

Because the Hudises were relatively new to the Valley, they made inquiries and spoke to a number of their friends while researching organizations that could support the creation of a legacy fund.  IECF was recommended to them, so Phil and Karen reached out to our staff in the desert for more information. After many conversations, they made the decision to honor their daughter Cathy and their niece Sascha by creating a memorial fund with IECF.

In 2017, the Hudises decided that, upon their passing, funds would be made available through their trust to establish The Cathy Hudis/Sascha Franzel Life Fund. Grants from the fund will support a local medical center cancer hospital and the Coachella Valley Fund at IECF.

Phil and Karen are always on the lookout for ways to give back to their community through personal involvement and the gift of time. They volunteer with the local food bank, distribute books, toys and supplies to children through the Jewish Men’s Outreach Group of the Desert, and they support Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital. “When we help our community today through an activity that Cathy and Sascha would have been passionate about,” they reflect, “their good work and love for people lives on.”

IECF is grateful to Phil and Karen Hudis for their generosity. Today and in the years to come, their gifts will extend hope to people who need it most. If you would like to learn more about creating a legacy for yourself or someone you love, contact our Charitable Giving Team at

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