Nearly $150,000 raised for ACS during Relay

‘Believe’ becomes theme running throughout the community event

Although it was not intended, the theme for the 19th annual Relay for Life became “Believe.” Both speakers touched on believing, not knowing the bleachers on Flyer Field would bear the word “Believe.” Pictured in the foreground above, Nettie Emblom, left, puts an arm around Wendy Zylka, while their husbands, Steve Emblom, left, and Greg Zylka, offer a hug of support. Both men shared their stories dealing with cancer during the Relay for Life event.

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

In 1994, Greg Zylka co-chaired the first Relay for Life in Morrison County with Dr. Jim Fitzsimmons and would continue to do so for the next four or five years. The Relay for Life is an event that raises funds for the American Cancer Society (ACS).

“The Relay flourished because of great people, a great organization and a great community,” he said.

Zylka became involved, not only because he was asked, but because cancer had impacted his life; he and his seven siblings lost both their father and mother to the disease. It now threatens a sister-in-law, he said.

This year, however, during the 19th annual Relay for Life, he wasn’t a chair, but a speaker, a cancer survivor himself.

The top fundraising individuals were honored during the 19th annual Relay for Life event, held July 13. They included (from left): 11 – Cindy Haagenson, Julie’s Team; ninth – Cindy Molitor, Spirit Lifters; eighth – Therese Waddell, Unity Family Healthcare; seventh – Lynnae Gilder, Spirit Lifters; sixth – Laura Hansen, Bookin’ It For Life; fourth – Kathleen Huebner, Bookin’ It For Life; third – Jeri Betts, Pat’s Patriots; second – Rachel Schlumpberger, Julie’s Team and first – Jim Kasella, Ben’s Battalion. Not pictured are 10th highest fundraiser – Nancy Olson, Unity Family Healthcare and fifth – Mary Ellen Barnes, Jim’s Farmhands.

And without realizing it, he continued a theme that became evident throughout the evening — “Believe.”

It hadn’t been planned, but luminaries spelled out the word “believe” on the bleachers at Flyer field, July 13.

The first speaker of the evening, Steve Emblom, shared his struggle with cancer and said, “Believe and let God … a gift from God is the ability to believe.” He ended his time at the podium by singing the song, “I Believe.”

And at the 10 p.m. luminaria ceremony, which had to be held inside due to the threat of lightning, Zylka commented that the message “believe” was woven throughout the evening.

Among his words of advice to those who are faced with cancer, he said, “Believe, truly believe, you are going to get better and that you are going to make it.”

Jeanne Davis, front left, and Dr. Susan Okoniewski, took their turn getting a haircut, courtesy of Kelsey Kaauwe, back left, and Amanda Leisenheimer. Both stylists with Head First Salon and Spa of Little Falls donated their time and talents during the Morrison County Relay for Life event, July 13. Those who had at least eight inches of hair to donate to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program received a free haircut. The Pantene Beautiful Length program makes wigs specifically for those who have lost their hair due to cancer treatment.

During the late afternoon, it had rained some and drizzle continued while the survivors, children and 34 teams made a lap around the track. While some of the luminaries didn’t look as pretty as they did when they were set up, once lit they still glowed around Flyer Field, honoring cancer victims and celebrating survivors.

Co-chairs for 2012 Tracy VanHercke and Kris Jackson Fregin, who led a steering committee of 34, announced the community raised nearly $150,000 for 2012.

Most of the money was raised by teams and individual team members, and a large amount through corporate donations as well.

The top six teams raising the most money were Jim’s Farmhands – $4,465.23; Kickin’ Cancer I – $4,772.21; Julie’s Team – $5,457; Spirit Lifters – $5,508.45; Bookin’ It For Life – $5,762 and the top fundraising team was Ben’s Battalion with a total of $6,363.

The top five individuals who raised the most money out of the 389 team members included Mary Ellen Barnes – $2,121; Kathleen Huebner – $2,395; Jeri Betts – $2,593; Rachel Schlumpberger – $3,000 and Jim Kasella raised the most money as an individual with – $3,546.

Those donating $1,000 included the Lindbergh Lions, Upsala Lions, Sobieski Lions, Little Falls Lions, Swanville Lions, Coborn Cancer Center, Ashley Popp, Little Falls Machine, Emblom Brenny Funeral Service and the Norris S. Mattson family.

Unity Family Healthcare, including St. Gabriel’s Hospital, Family Medical Center and Little Falls Orthopedics, was a gold sponsor, adding $5,000 to the Relay’s total.

The largest contribution announced that night was made by the Pierz Knights of Columbus (KC), St. Isidore Council 3982. Traditionally, the Pierz KCs donate half of the proceeds from the group’s buffalo feed fundraiser held in January. This year, $22,200 was donated to the Relay.

“I feel so privileged to be a part of a community where year after year an outpouring of love for family, friends and neighbors is displayed. Congratulations Morrison County, we have a lot to be proud of,” said VanHercke.

The American Cancer Society uses funds raised by Relay for Life events, now held globally, in its work to create a world where cancer will no longer threaten or take lives.

Since 1913, when the American Cancer Society was founded, the survival rate for cancer is now at 67 percent, thanks to research and new treatments.

“We have come so far thanks to the generous donors and volunteers we experienced first-hand this past weekend,” said VanHercke.

Already, Rick and Mary Kline have stepped up to co-chair the 20th annual Relay for Life in Morrison County, which will be held Friday, July 19, 2013.