More than $110,000 raised to fight cancer as community gathers to honor victims and celebrate survivors
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
For 20 years, the Morrison County community has come together during an annual Relay for Life. This year, the people of Morrison County raised more than $110,000 for the cause.
“The Relay is a testament to the power of our community and the commitment it has to supporting the fight against cancer,” said Mary Kline, who with her husband, Rick, co-chaired the July 19 event.
The evening began with a survivor dinner, where cancer survivors and their caregivers were treated to a meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken, received a purple survivor T-shirt and put their names on a flower, which would stand with others in the “Garden of Hope” in the midst of Flyer Field in Little Falls.
Father Joe Herzing led the opening ceremony with a prayer before Bunny Tabatt, a cancer survivor and caregiver, shared her story.
Before taking a victory lap around the track cheered on by the applause of Relay team members, cancer survivors took part in a dove release, provided by Shelley Funeral Chapel.
Ray Stumpf, who is beginning his fourth year battling cancer, took part in the survivor’s lap
“For me, it brings out a lot of joy to see people gathering for such a significant cause,” he said. “It’s just amazing to me how many children and young adults are survivors. I find it pretty joyful to see all the survivors.”
Children, who represent the hope of a future free of cancer, made a lap around the track, followed by the teams, each one introduced to the crowd before their first lap.
Nineteen teams and 206 walkers committed to raising funds for the American Cancer Society. Team members sell luminaries, bags decorated in honor of a cancer survivor or in memory of a cancer victim. The luminary bags are filled with pea rock to hold a candle and line the track at Flyer Field during the Relay event. Luminaries placed on the south bleachers read “Fight Back.”
Not only do the teams raise funds, but they commit to walking around the track all night long, surrounded by the lit luminaries.
Kline explained the symbolism of the all-night walk for the Relay.
The Relay for Life begins during the day when the sun is still shining and life seems normal, said Kline.
“The setting sun symbolizes a cancer patient’s diagnosis, when life may seem dark like an unknown journey,” she said. “During the night, our walkers begin to tire and want to take a break or go home. This represents the beginning of the treatment process for a cancer patient.”
As the night wears on, the mood on the field changes, she said. “Walkers are exhausted, but the end is in sight and they believe they can make it to the morning celebration,” she said. “Just as cancer patients must push through to the end of their treatment.”
Finally, she said, “The sun begins to rise and a bright new day begins, bringing hope that some day there will be a cure to a disease that takes the life of approximately 70 Morrison County residents each year.”
The evening ceremony was moved inside the Little Falls Community Middle School commons as rain showers cooled the night air.
Corporate sponsors play a large part in the fundraising as bronze, silver and gold sponsors donate thousands of dollars.
Before Elizabeth Vetsch shared the story of losing her father to cancer when she was a teenager, sponsors, teams and individuals were honored and thanked for their contributions.
Special recognition was given to top fundraisers the Pierz Knights of Columbus (KC) Isidore Council, who donated $24,195, half of the proceeds from the KC’s buffalo feed held in January.
St. Gabriel’s Hospital, Family Medical Center and Little Falls Orthopedics and Century 21 – New Horizons Realty, were recognized as gold sponsors of the event.
Top fundraising teams included fifth place – Unity Family Healthcare – Family Medical Center, for raising $4,327.34; fourth – Bookin’ It with Kathy, $4,355.05; third – Pat’s Patriots, $5,496.56; second – Jim’s Farmhands, $6,397.96 and in first place – Spirit Lifters, with $7,702.70. Each member of the first-place team received a medal.
“It was our first time being the top fundraising team, so we were pretty pumped and excited,” said Spirit Lifters captain Shannon Holtz.
The top five individual fundraisers included fifth – Kathleen Huebner, Bookin’ It with Kathy – $1,658.75; fourth – Lynnae Gilder, Spirit Lifters – $2,020.65; third – Therese Waddell, St. Gabriel’s Hospital – $2,105.38; second – Mary Ellen Barnes, Jim’s Farmhands – $3,134.12 and first place – Jeri Betts, Pat’s Patriots – $3,386.56;
The traveling plaque recognizing outstanding fundraising by a youth-led team went home with students on the Pierz Honor Society team.
Farmers and Merchants State Bank of Pierz was declared the winner of the new “Paint the County Purple” contest. People were asked to decorate with purple and/or wear purple, the color of survivorship at the Relay. Judges found the bank decorated inside and out on Relay day, with all employees decked out in purple. Staff also gave out little purple ribbons to customers that day.
The Klines led a steering committee of more than 30 volunteers who worked for months putting together all aspects of the Relay.
“The power of this community never ceases to amaze me,” said Kline.
More photos of the Morrison County Relay for Life event can be found on the Record’s website in the photo gallery. Find the photo gallery under the news tab at www.mcrecord.com.