Relay for Life: It's all about inspiration -- and perspiration

By Louis Hoglund Another severe blow to cancer was delivered on a hot July night, as Relay for Life participants raised more than $70,000 in the war against the disease. "This is as much a celebration for cancer survivors as it is ...

By Louis Hoglund

Another severe blow to cancer was delivered on a hot July night, as Relay for Life participants raised more than $70,000 in the war against the disease.

"This is as much a celebration for cancer survivors as it is a fundraiser," said Ron Anderson, an East Otter Tail Relay founder, weary but smiling, the morning after the overnight pledge walk. "If we focus on the survivors, we find that the money follows."

The American Cancer Society East Otter Tail "Relay" has become a summer tradition in Perham--and one of the top ten events of its kind in the nation, based on a "per capita" population and funds-raised basis.


Some 65 "survivors" were on hand for the inspirational event, according to committee member Judy Kunza. East Otter Tail has the distinction of organizing the largest survivor program in the state.

"It's about a community that takes up a fight," said chair Lisa Peterson, who mustered less that two hours of sleep during the overnight event. "The purpose is not just to raise funds for cancer research, but also celebrate victories, a chance for people to get offer hope."

Message of hope resonates

After dark, the message of hope is sent in immense letters, shaped from luminaries on the football field bleachers. "That's what our message is--to offer hope for those afflicted with cancer," said Anderson

The Perham event raises the equivalent of $4 for every person in eastern half of Otter Tail County, said Anderson.

It is the inspirational "rally" aspect of the event that promotes such dedicated involvement on the part of volunteers and walkers.

"There is an emotional dimension to the relay that offers something beyond the dollars" said Anderson.

One of those compelling and emotional moments was during the dusk "lighting of the luminaries" ceremony.


Relay chair Bob Perszyk, a cancer survivor himself, passed the torch to Shelly Rehm--who is battling breast cancer and is confined to a wheelchair. Perszyk pushed Rehm around the track, as they lit the luminaries that lined the path for the Relay walkers.

Cancer "survivors" introduced

The opening ceremonies introduce cancer survivors from throughout the area. These survivors; who have overcome or battled cancer from two to more than 30 years; were introduced during the ceremony as the crowd applauded and cheered.

Every year, Relay organizers promote the event to the general public--as well as those who are waging the war against cancer.

"We want to get people out to experience the event...but iits often difficult for the public to fully understand the relay," said Peterson. "If they came once--they'd be back."

General public participation may have been down somewhat because of the heat, said Anderson. But with more than 300 walkers and another 300 or more volunteers and visitors, the weather was only a minor factor.

"The key to a relay's success is participation," said Anderson. "When you have more people out there, enjoying themselves, celebrating victories...everything falls into place."

2006 theme "More than Conquerors


"More than Conquerors" was the theme for the 2006 Relay, and it is a time to "celebrate them, and their victories," said Chairperson Peterson during the opening ceremony.

"Cancer can't" was an inspirational message delivered by Peterson, listing the things that cancer "can't do.... "shatter hope...destroy minds....kill friendships...suppress memories.....conquer the spirit."

Honorary co-chairs for 2006 were Bob Perszyk and Dorothy Eskeli, who lead the group of survivors in the opening ceremony and also lead the way in lighting the hundreds of luminaries at sundown.

A near-record number of teams, 32, participated in the walk this year. Activities and fundraisers included sales of souvenir items like pins, bookmarks, bracelets, massages and haircuts. The Silent Auction featured a tent full of merchandise--donated by area businesses and organizations.

Relay helps support "Road to Recovery;" volunteer drivers needed

Money raised at American Cancer Society Relays for Life are contributed, in large part, to cancer research. But funds are also used to directly benefit cancer patients and families in Otter Tail County.

For example, Cancer Society funds operate the "Road to Recovery" program, which provides rides for cancer patients to and from their appointments.

There is a present need for drivers in East Otter Tail County. For information on how you can be a volunteer driver, call 346-4714.

What To Read Next
Get Local