Handprints of Hope

Cancer survivors Keith Wittemore, left, and Everett “Shank” Marquart carried a banner with survivors’ handprints in the opening lap at the Franklin County Relay for Life. The overnight event was held Friday and Saturday, June 7-8, at the Washington Fairgrounds. More than $110,000 was raised for the American Cancer Society. About 600 people, including about 175 survivors, participated in the Relay. Missourian Photo.

The Franklin County community, Relay for Life committee, survivors and caregivers can mark another successful Franklin County Relay for Life.

The overnight event, held this past Friday and Saturday at the Washington Fairgrounds, raised $110,222 for the American Cancer Society.

Just $18,000 shy of the $128,000 goal, Wendy Wildberger, Relay chair, said she remains positive that the goal will be met, as several companies have grants to submit and some funds have not yet been turned in.

With more than 600 people to “pack the track,” Wildberger said she’s very pleased with how the event turned out.

“I’m ecstatic,” she said. “We have a great community that comes out to support such a wonderful cause — the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life.”

Opening Ceremony

“From the very first Relay in 1997 in Union, Mo., to Relays at Washington High School and now to the wide open spaces of the Washington Fairgrounds, the Relay for Life in Franklin County has come a long way,” said Wildberger, speaking at opening ceremonies Friday night.

“Each year I look forward to that survivor lap and celebrating one more birthday,” she added.

This year, Brad Hildebrand with KSLQ was the emcee for the ceremony.

Washington VFW Post 2661 and American Legion Post 218 color guard presented the colors and Doris Dimaya with Mercy Personal Care said the opening prayer.

The St. Gertrude Kids Choir sang the national anthem during the ceremony.

Hero of Hope

Each year, a local Relay for Life Hero of Hope is selected. This person is a caregiver or survivor who fought cancer.

“This person provides strength, hope and encouragement for all cancer patients, newly diagnosed, or even a 50-year survivor,” said Tom Aholt, survivor chair.

Sylvia Peterson, the 2013 Hero of Hope, spoke about her experience with cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer on Valentine’s Day in 1995.

Peterson’s cancer required lymph dissection and radiation, but did not require chemotherapy, which she was thankful for.

Because she had two previous benign lumps removed, she thought the third lump was another false alarm, but found out that wasn’t the case.

Peterson said she is amazed to this day at the outpouring of love and support she received during her fight with cancer.

Later, Peterson’s mother developed breast cancer and at age 90 her treatment was stopped.

Her brother developed leukemia about three years ago and before he died, the two walked side by side at a previous Relay.

Peterson is celebrating her 18th year of remission and has been with Relay for Life of Franklin County since it began.

She worked for CG Power Systems before retiring in 2012. Prior to her retirement, she trained a new Relay team captain.

“I have met many new, lifelong friends through my experience and feel that everything happens for a reason,” she said.

God always has a plan and I believe my experiences have guided me when others are in need of care or support during their illness,” she added. “I love helping others through their journey whether they are a patient or a caregiver.”

Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy also spoke to the crowd.

“Cancer is a reality that many face daily. It’s a reality that some of you are facing today and a reality that some of you have faced and conquered, but we need to keep fighting so that many more will win the battle,” Lucy said.

Each step, she said, brings us one step closer to helping eradicate cancer.

Committee members were recognized during the ceremony. The committee includes:

Wildberger, chair; Karla Frank, co-chair; Tom Aholt, survivorship chair; Kristy Dewert, luminaria chair; Tina Hampton and Janice Humphrey, luminaria ceremony; Bob Overschmidt and Bill Kuhlmann, logistics co-chairs; Suzie Kuhlmann and Shirley Thoms, hospitality co-chairs; Terri O’Rear, accounting chair; Wildberger and Chris Eckelkamp, corporate sponsorship; Rhonda Mueller and Pam Williams, entertainment and activities co-chairs; Kristi Dewert, track signs chair; Nikki Harrison and Kelly Harrison, public relations; and Dave Dieckhaus, security chair.

Following the mayor’s speech, 175 survivors walked together in the survivor lap to throngs of supporters clapping and yelling to show their support. Halfway around the track, they met up with their caregivers, who started the lap in the opposite direction.

Hand in hand, survivors and caregivers finished the lap together.

Like last year, the Relay again set a record for the number of luminaria bags sold, almost doubling last year’s total. About 1,100 bags were purchased to honor or in memory of loved ones.

‘Flowed Smoothly’

Wildberger said the entire event flowed smoothly, from weather, to the crowd and the funds raised.

She thanked everyone who helped with the Relay in any way and noted that even though attendance was down, people stayed longer than in the past. Many, she said, stayed past the luminaria ceremony.

That ceremony continues to be a favorite part of the Relay for Wildberger.

“You get to have a quiet moment. We turned out the lights on the track and you’re walking by candlelight, surrounded by all the bags with names of people who have fought cancer,” she said. “You can reflect on how far you’ve come or remember the loved one you lost.”

This year’s theme was “Surviving More Holidays” and booths were decked out in holiday gear, from Halloween to Easter, Christmas and other holidays.

Wrap-Up Meeting

A team captain wrap-up meeting will be held Monday, June 17, at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Center. Awards will be given out at that time.

Planning for the 2014 Relay will begin in about December, said Wildberger, who serve as the 2014 Relay chair. The co-chair has not yet been determined.