HOISINGTON - Participants in the 2016 Barton County Relay for Life breathed a sigh of relief Friday evening as each in their turn entered the cool, air conditioned Hoisington Activity Center. As they escaped the heat and humidity outside, energy that was lagging returned. Inside, they were met with a palpable sense of excitement that radiated from team members who had arrived early to set up food tables, team camps and activities for the night ahead.
The event could be described as part fundraiser, part fellowship, with elements of a spiritual gathering. The goal of Relay for Life is to raise awareness about the number of people in the community whose lives are touched by cancer, and the need to fund research to find treatments and ultimately a cure. This year, the goal was to raise $85.000, and the county was ahead at the start of the night according to Mariann Shook, organizer of this year’s event. She said final reports will not be ready until early this week, but she feels positive that they will have achieved success.
Night of ceremony and firsts
The opening ceremony began with the presentation of colors by American Legion Riders, and Pastor Reuben Langat, pastor of Hoisington United Methodist Church and Trinity United Methodist Church in Great Bend, opened the evening’s events with prayer. This was followed by the singing of the Star Spangled Banner by members of the Purple is Powerful Survivor Choir, led by Barbara Schwartz, now going on its third year.
Leonard Nicholson, the emcee for the evening, then introduced the event organizer, Mariann Shook, as well as entertainers that would inspire and enliven the event for the ensuing eight hours until the final closing ceremony. They included local singers Mackenzie Norman, Krista Ball, Alex Cartwright, Ellinwood High School senior Katelyn Robinson, and Lana Henderson’s “Adoration.”
Something new this year was John Makings of Rhythm Makings, who led an interactive drum program, which later in the evening had become a full group of drummers in one room of the center. Down the hall, a children’s craft room ws set up, giving kids an opportunity to get creative and color or just take a break from all the adult fun happening below.
CKLS Relay Readers, captained by Maryann June, were there. This was the 15th year the group of retired and current librarians have participated in Relay for Life. Their camp was decorated like a Seussian landscape, complete with photo booth and props, and youth volunteer Emma May Hill was on hand dressed as the Cat in the Hat, ready for photo-bombing opportunities.
“You put the children’s library together with Dr. Seuss, and you have a pretty good combination,” June said. When asked how they felt about the event being held at the center, June said the team saw the space for the first time when they attended the Chamber of Commerce coffee held there the day before.
“We walked in here and our eyes popped,” she said. “Its really wonderful, and we hope it draws the crowds because its so beautiful.” She added they appreciated that it was air conditioned, with no wind or mosquitoes.
At 9:30 p.m., the Luminary ceremony began. Lights were dimmed, and the luminaries lit, and names read. Teams and individuals began walking around the indoor track, reflecting on each tiny light, lovingly placed in honor and in memory of loved ones who fought or continue to fight cancer.
Probably the most telling part of the evening’s success was the number of people who were still walking the path late into the night.
“For several years now, by midnight there was no one walking at Relay,” Shook said. “This year, there were still several people walking, and it was easy to tell because of the designated indoor track.” she said. Some of those wlkers were from the Dominican Sisters of Peace team. Ten came, Shook said, and they remained right up to the ending ceremony and prayer at 2 a.m.
Shook said even those who had been skeptical about the change of venue and the change of format made a point of letting her know they were pleased.
“We took a risk, making these changes this year,” Shook said. “It was nice to hear so many people tell us they hope we will do this again next year.”
She is quick to point out that a lot of thanks should be directed to the efforts of Vicky Basey, a volunteer from the Hoisington Activity Center, who was available for the entire event to help with lighting, getting extra chairs and tables as needed, and keeping the facility clean and pleasant throughout.
All 26 registered Relay for Life teams made efforts throughout the year to raise funds for the American Cancer Society, and three were given top fundraiser awards. CUNA Mutual of Great Bend came in first, Great Bend Regional Hospital was second, and Breast Friends, a Hoisington breast cancer support group, was the third place winner.
Great Bend Regional Hospital also received the Community Engagement Award, Shook said. The award is given to a business in the Relay Community to recognize the number of years the company has supported Relay, and the level of encouragement and support it provides employees in their participation in Relay. Deena Gregory accepted the award on behalf of the hospital, which has been a supporter of Relay for Life for the past 14 years, Shook said.