Despite the wilting heat Friday evening, the 27th-annual Relay for Life of Barton County stepped back in time to the 1980s, a decade when words like righteous, bodacious and gnarly were more common than COVID-19, pandemic and social distancing.
The cancer-fighting event took place Friday at Jack Kilby Square in downtown Great Bend. The emotional evening included opening ceremonies, a survivor walk and the luminary ceremony at dusk during which the names of cancer victims were read.
But, there was a lighter side. Between the more serious moments, there was a wide variety of food, activities, games live music and dancing.
“What era was better,” said Chairperson Kandi Wolf of the theme “Back to the ’80s”. “I know it’s hot. I know it’s miserable. Thank you all for being here.”
The relay opened with Rev. Bill Johnson’s invocation. “We pray for those who suffered from cancer and we pray for those who are suffering from cancer.”
He also recited the Pledge of Allegiance as the American Legion Riders Post 180 presented the American flag.
Next was original poem written and read by MaKenna Dirks entitled “We came here to fight.” “This is our war. This is our fight.” she said, making references to a knock-down, drag-out boxing match,
But, despite faltering, we will find strength from others. We will be victorious, she said.
Then, the stars of the show, took center stage with the survivors’ ceremony and opening walk.
“We are here to celebrate you,” said Margaret Dirks, who along with Donelle Brungardt were the survivor chairpersons for the event. The survivors came to the front and stood behind signs with the number of years they had been cancer free.
“We want to be there for you from the very first step,” Dirks said. She reminded them they are not alone, and groups like the American Cancer Society were there to help.
With Dirks and Brungardt holding a large relay banner, they took a lap around the square. Other attendees lined the route, cheered and clapped.
It was Mariann Shook and Connie Lowe who brought the crowd to tears as they related stories of Lowe’s sister Nancy Conde who they lost on New Years Eve two years ago.
“Nancy would have been here today,” Shook said, noting she was a avid relay supporter. “Nancy is an angel looking down on us.”
Around the square were the relay teams with their campsites decorated to pay homage to the decade of excess. Team members took turns walking around the park, symbolic of the journey taken after one gets a diagnosis of cancer.
“It’s a scary thing,” Wolf said of cancer. But, she urged everyone to look around and said no one has to suffer in silence.
As darkness fell on the square, the mood turned more somber once again with the luminary ceremony. Luminaries are small white bags decorated with the names of those lost to cancer or have survived the ravages of it.
Those names were then read aloud in the otherwise silent plaza.
Then, the other activities resumed until the exhausted participants gathered for the final lap and closing ceremony at 1:30 a.m. Saturday. It was another time for reflection.
The fundraising goal this year was $22,000. It was $20,000 last year and despite the pandemic, they exceeded that.
The pandemic nearly forced the cancelation of the 2020 relay, which finally took place on a Sunday in September (they historically occur on Fridays in June).
Since 1985, the ACS’s Relay for Life has grown from Dr. Gordy Klatt, who walked, jogged, and ran around a track in Tacoma, Wash., for 24 hours raising money for ACS. The following year, 340 supporters joined Klatt (who died in 2014 of heart failure) and it grew from there.
Relays are now the ACS’s major fundraiser and take place in 5,000 communities in the United States. And, each year, more than 4 million people in 26 countries take part.