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'It's just inspiring.' Otter Tail community fights cancer at Relay For Life

West and East Otter Tail County came together on Friday, July 8 for the Relay For Life of Otter Tail County, where they raised money for the American Cancer Society in the fight against cancer.

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Beau Johnson and Ron Anderson, the Relay For Life honorary co-chairs, lead the survivor's lap around the Perham track.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
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PERHAM — The Perham track and field was filled with tennis shoes and purple shirts on the evening of Friday, July 8 as people from across Otter Tail County attended the area Relay For Life, with the goal of raising $150,000 for the American Cancer Society. Food booths, a silent auction, a bouncy house, photo ops, educational activities, and more sat on display across the track as those who attended enjoyed an evening of fun for a good cause.

"We're here to celebrate, remember, and fight back against cancer," said Sherri Maanum, a senior development manager at American Cancer Society. "Perham is the No. 1 fundraising relay in the state of Minnesota. They are huge."

She, along with American Cancer Society's Jen Evans and Britta Babel, came from their respective Minnesota cities in order to witness and speak at the Relay For Life of Otter Tail County.

"It's fun to see this community still come together," Evans added. "You know, a lot of communities kind of fizzled after COVID to be honest with you. So, to see the energy still alive and well here in Otter Tail County — it's just inspiring."

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A group of kids release the doves during the Relay For Life's opening ceremony.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
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Sherri Maanum, Britta Babel, and Jen Evans with the American Cancer Society stand together at the Perham track during the Relay for Life.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Activities began that evening at around 5:30 p.m. with luminarias decorated in honor of cancer survivors and in memory of those who lost their lives to it around the track. Even larger crowds gathered for the opening ceremony at 7 p.m.

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There, members of the American Cancer Society spoke and thanked those who came.

"Thank you so much for everything that you do in supporting the relay and coming out throughout the year — all the fundraisers and bringing awareness to everybody and fulfilling the mission and just bringing it to life," Maanum later addressed the Otter Tail community in an interview. "I think showing up goes a really long way, like showing up tonight but then also showing up (for the fight against cancer) throughout the entire year."

Following the speeches, doves were released into the air in honor of those lost to cancer. Then, survivors took to the track — led by Honorary Co-Chairs Beau Johnson and Ron Anderson — for the survivor's lap, set to upbeat and motivational music. Afterward, all the fundraising teams also took to the track for their first laps of the evening, donning costumes and purple for the relay.

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Perham Health's Relay For Life team wear purple capes as they prepare for their first lap on the track.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
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The Relay For Life team, Peggy's Crew, pose for photos in preparation for their first lap on the track that evening.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

At 9:15 p.m., Johnson and Anderson spoke to the crowd, and the luminarias were lit, shining bright as the sun set below the sky. Throughout the rest of the night until 6 a.m. the next morning, activities and fundraising continued. After the closing ceremony, the relay was cleaned up, but that doesn't mean that the time to raise money to fight cancer is over.

As of Monday, July 11, the Relay For Life of Otter Tail reportedly raised about $126,689; but they're still counting, and several thousand more dollars in donations have yet to be turned in. Lisa Peterson with the Relay For Life board is optimistic they'll still reach their goal of $150,000. Fundraising isn't closed yet, either. Though the event is over, those who wish can still donate money at relayforlife.org/ottertailmn until the end of August.

Donations go toward the American Cancer Society, an organization that funds for cancer research and treatment.

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"Star Wars" characters march with Team Arvig on the Perham track during the Relay For Life.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

"I went to my first Relay For Life was in 2003 when I was nine years old," Babel with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network shared. "I feel like the joy I got from my first 10 years of Relay For Life in my hometown — the energies of those — I also feel permeates here (in Perham), which is just really cool. It's truly like that authentic Relay For Life feeling of a community coming together, showing up for each other, thinking of survivors, cheering their loved ones on, and also knowing that they're going to be here again next year."

To learn more about the American Cancer Society, go to cancer.org . To learn more about the Cancer Action Network, which advocates for cancer research, funding, and care at the statehouse and in Congress, go to fightcancer.org .

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Babel concluded, "I think (the success of Otter Tail's relay) is really beautiful, especially for a community of this size and part of this state."

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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