Ronald B. Hager, the challenger in the Arlington County sheriff's race, has received significant financial assistance for his campaign and some for living expenses from an 83-year-old Arlington widow.

The woman, Minnie Stevens, said Hager helps her clean her apartment, wash the dishes and cook meals, often three times a day. He also takes her to the doctor and to visit relatives.

Stevens is an invalid, and her relatives say they approve of her arrangement with Hager. He said she has helped him out financially. She also gave him a $4,000 campaign contribution earlier this year because, she said, "I had it, so I wasn't going to throw it away."

Hager and Stevens said they have known one another since he was 7 years old. They have been friends since, she said.

Hager, 33, the Republican-backed independent and former chief deputy sheriff, has been unemployed since he left the post in March. He declined to say how much money Stevens has given him to help cover living expenses over the past few months.

"Yes, financially she's helped me out considerably," he said. ". . . I'm a full-time candidate, it's rough. I've considered going to work several times."

Last year, Stevens was admitted to the Washington House, a nursing home in Alexandria, after she broke her foot. She spent seven months there and one employe there remembered her as "very alert."

During her stay in the nursing home Stevens gave Hager her power of attorney so that he could help manage her financial affairs.

"There were lots of times when bills were piling up and they needed to be paid," explained Hager. "Any {financial} decisions are discussed with her. Her mind is sound."

Hager said Stevens signed the campaign contribution check, and that he does not write checks from her account for his living expenses.

Stevens' relatives, a niece who lives in Annandale and a sister-in-law from Culpeper, Va., praised the relationship. Though they see Stevens infrequently, both said they were aware that she had given Hager the power of attorney.

"He looks after her," said Gladys Cooke, Stevens' sister-in-law. "He's awfully kind and good to her."

Hager said of his longtime relationship with Stevens, "Her family feels comfortable with the fact that I take care of her. The relationship will continue and I don't make excuses for her.

"Anyone who says my relationship with her is based on money, that's distorted," he volunteered.

Hager said he is supporting himself, his wife and his two children on his savings, ongoing help from Stevens and about $4,000 he received from the county for unused vacation and sick leave when he quit his job in March. Hager was earning $49,601 a year when he resigned his position to run for office.

According to his May 1 campaign contribution statement, Stevens gave the candidate $4,000 in April. Asked about the donation in an interview in her apartment last week, Stevens did not remember the amount she had donated. "$1,000, I believe," she said.

Asked again several days later whether she realized she had actually given him $4,000, she responded: "I did at the time. When you're as old as I am, you don't keep things that much in your mind." She said she gave the money because "I had it, so I wasn't going to throw it away."

A number of county officials said the contribution was the largest they could remember for a local campaign. It accounts for more than one-fourth of the total $14,602.79 Hager had raised by the last filing deadline, which was Aug. 15.

Under Virginia law, adults can give other adults the power to handle their financial matters, including check signing and money withdrawal, without restrictions, said Lois Atkins of the Department of Human Services in Arlington.

Only individuals who are judged by a court to be incompetent have legal guardians appointed to look after their affairs, she said. The guardians are usually relatives or close friends, and any financial arrangements between them is established in court.

Stevens said she attended Hager's wedding and saw him infrequently until sometime in 1984 when Hager came to visit her after learning that she had broken several bones in a fall. It was at this time that Hager began to attend her on a daily basis.

In 1984 Hager bought Stevens' house for $100,000, she said. According to county property records and to Hager, Stevens lent him $35,000 for the purchase.

According to an Aug. 16, 1984, Deed of Trust, the promissory note Hager and his wife signed for the loan was due in full last month. Hager said last week that he had not paid Stevens back.

"I don't anticipate ever having to pay it back," he said.

Stevens said the money was meant as a gift. "For some reason I think he got a little behind," explained Stevens. "You know, with a family. I thought to myself, 'Miss Stevens, you're not going to live very long.' "