By Roberta Olson, Correspondent
It is safe to say that the dreaded “C” word has touched every person you know in one way or another.
Cancer effects young and old, women and children and men, playing no favorites.
Chances are you or a loved one has experienced first hand the diagnosis and treatment for cancer.
Some people win the battle, others lose. But all put up the good fight.
That fight is very evident in June, when the annual Relay For Life of Western Stearns County is held in Sauk Centre.
This year is the celebration of the 20th annual Relay For Life, and co-chairs Audrey Roering and Marlene Mohr are leading the fight to end cancer, through the American Cancer Society (ACS) affiliated event.
While both women worked with the ACS for many years, they became co-chairs for the 2007 relay, following in the footsteps of people like Pat Bromenschenkel, who chaired the first event here; Jackie Polipnick, Sue Kane, and others.
The two volunteers have seen a number of changes to the format and emphasis of the relay over the past 20 years. The event has moved from the Sauk Centre athletic complex to the Stearns County Fairgrounds.
What began as a 24 hour walk to raise money for cancer research has evolved into a one night event, which will run this year from 4:30 p.m. on Friday, June 23, to the finale at 2 a.m. on Saturday, June 24.
The survivors’ lap has evolved, along with activities during the event, such as special music, luminarias, foods and, new this year, the raffle of two hand-made quilts and other items.
Roering sums it up. “We’re here to fight back against cancer and to potentially save lives. We give our time, energy, heart and soul to our loved ones, making sure that they remain strong enough to fight the battle and sometimes, fighting for them when they are too weak to do so.”
Last year the Relay For Life enrolled 18 teams who raised $52,110.46 net for cancer research.
The high team donation was $6,895.
This year about the same number of teams will be registered. Each team raises money and participates in the walk. Each team will be carrying a water-filled balloon, which is a symbolic cancer cell, as they make the laps around the Stearns County Fair 4-H Building during the hours of the event.
Walking begins at 4:30 p.m. on June 23, with the official opening at 6:45 p.m. The Survivors Lap begins at 7 p.m., followed by the caregiver lap, and then the team laps.
The Luminaria Ceremony will begin at 9:45 p.m. Closing ceremonies at 1 a.m. Saturday will be followed by cleanup and the giant balloon release at 2 a.m. for the official closing.
Both co-chairs recall the 2007 relay as their most memorable. “We had 30 teams, teams from everywhere,” Roering said. “I was getting handed money all night long.”
The 2007 relay raised an all-time high of $84,235.36 for cancer research. The highest team amount of the 30 teams was $7,230.
Mohr also remembers, “The year we had to be inside. We met with John Messer, head custodian at the school, and we walked through the school. How are we going to make this work?” Mohr says. Because the luminaria could not be lit, the decorated memory bags were set up in the gymnasium, three rows deep, and lined with Christmas lights.
She remembers that the bad weather blew over and “a lot of people went outside and walked. It was rewarding that we got it done.”
The 20th anniversary Relay For Life is using the song, “Candle in the Wind,” a song by Elton John from 20 years ago, for the theme song.
Relay For Life information can be accessed on the Internet at www.relayforlife.org/saukcentremn. Find how to donate, to purchase luminarias at $10 each, to register teams, and more.
The Sauk Centre event over the 20 years has raised a total of $1,012,257.41 for the American Cancer Society. In addition to research, funds raised are used for lodging at places like Hope Lodge in Rochester for cancer patients and their families, peer support, rides to and from treatment, follow-up in the Cancer Prevention Study-3, patient navigator, and free 24-hour information and support via phone, email and online chats for individuals.
This year’s goal is to raise $54,000. Some of that is already donated via the website. Fourteen teams are signed up, including Larry’s Angels, who have walked 19 of the 20 years.