Snow covers the ground as volunteers don heavy coats and trek through freezing temperatures to get together on a January evening to begin planning an event that takes place on a sweltering August night.
Volunteers give their time and dedication to be part of the annual Relay for Life.
There is much more to the event than joining together for 12 hours and walking around in circles. In fact, preparation for the event begins in January and lasts until the day of the walk.
Phyllis Kreutziger, a member on the committee, said, “It’s a lot of work. It doesn’t just happen. There are a lot of people, a lot of committee members, that really, really come through and work. And that’s what it takes.”
Committee members in charge of planning have a lot of work set out for them. The planning process includes ordering T-shirts, finding entertainment, gathering supplies for luminaries, finding someone to serve supper, filling balloons with helium, and of course organizing teams to collect donations.
Preparation for the big event might start eight months before the event, but many of the details are last-minute.
Luminaries are filled Thursday, the day before the event. The luminaries are built in Relay for Life sacks. Two-liter pop bottles are cut in half and filled with sand. They are then placed in the bags and stored overnight. The day of Relay for Life, 4-H members help the committee set the luminaries around the track — both inside and out. “Last year we had around 1,800 to 1,900. We’re hoping for more this year — not that we want more people touched by cancer, but that people are becoming more aware (of the event),” said Kreutziger.
To start the evening, a meal is served at 5:30 p.m. Kreutziger said the committee is asking for $5 from everyone except survivors — who eat free.
At 7 p.m., the opening ceremony begins. The Boy Scouts will raise the flag and the national anthem will be heard. A prayer is said and then survivors line up for the traditional “survivor lap.” A memory lap follows.
Kreutziger said survivors can register prior to the opening ceremony and receive their free T-shirt and free meal ticket. “At that time they can eat their meal and usually go down in front of the stadium and start gathering their balloons.”
Survivors also pick up a T-shirt. Kreutziger said the committee has more than 400 T-shirts ordered. They include survivor, committee, team, and captain shirts.
Each survivor receives a purple or white balloon filled with helium. “There will probably be about 100 balloons. Most times there are around 80 people,” said Kreutziger. “It’s getting to be more known so we’re hoping to have around 100.”
Throughout the night, entertainment is relied on to keep people up and moving. The purpose of walking through the night is so people can experience the darkest hours that a cancer victim experiences daily.
Gene Winkler will provide musical entertainment. Winkler has been providing music for several years. “I usually quit before 12 (midnight),” said Winkler. “Last year I was there all night long and the year before that. I’ll stay all night again this year.”
This year, Winkler will provide karaoke.
Kreutziger said Winkler is terrific. “At 2 o’clock (a.m.) he plays something roaring and it gets us going and we start all over again. He’s fantastic.”
Probably the most emotional time of the event occurs at 9:30 p.m. Teams are asked to go around and light luminaries. After that time, three people will begin to read the names of survivors and deceased cancer victims. “Everything goes dark except the luminaries. They read all those names. Sometimes that takes up to an hour. It’s a lot of people,” she said.
After the reading of names, some of the lights are turned on.
At midnight, pizza is delivered by Pizza Hut. “It’s part of Pizza Hut’s donation,” said Kreutziger.
The morning after the event, breakfast consisting of donuts and juice will be available, and then the cleanup efforts begin. “Saturday at 7 a.m. the 4-H kids come again to start cleaning up. It’s like putting Christmas decorations up,” said Kreutziger. “After Christmas, it’s not as fun to take them down.”
Kreutziger said the event is fun. “It’s well worth it. We get tired but we’re very dedicated so it’s very well worthwhile.”
This year’s goal for the Relay for Life is $45,000. Kreutziger said, “Ours (contribution) is a drop in the bucket. But if it’s the drop in the bucket that fills it, then it’s all worth it.”