Ron Etzler, Beth Offerle and her son, Steve Offerle, were this year’s honorary survivors of Relay For Life of Paulding County. They carried the banner leading the survivors’ lap on Friday evening to begin the 26th annual event, held at the fairgrounds. Andrea Agler/Paulding County Progress
Ron Etzler, Beth Offerle and her son, Steve Offerle, were this year’s honorary survivors of Relay For Life of Paulding County. They carried the banner leading the survivors’ lap on Friday evening to begin the 26th annual event, held at the fairgrounds. Andrea Agler/Paulding County Progress
By ANDREA AGLER

Correspondent

PAULDING – After weeks of rain and gloomy weather, it seemed as though the clouds parted with perfect timing to bring the sun shining down on the 26th annual Paulding County Relay for Life last Friday night. Over $55,000 was raised, with more coming in at present time.

The Relay began with the presenting of colors by the VFW Post 587, and a wonderful rendition of the National Anthem by Brooke Lelonek. Following was the survivor and caregiver lap, the first official lap of the Relay. It was an amazing display of strength and courage as so many men and women took their lap with their heads held high. All others in attendance clapped as they made their way around, and a great sense of admiration and respect were felt.

As the Relay progressed through the evening, so many fundraisers took place all around the track, run by the various teams and organizations. Each tent, big or small, had something to offer.

The Crew 4 A Cure team, led by Stephanie Hull, has been a fixture at the Relay for 10 years. Hull started the team with some work friends, and it grew from there. They occupy a large area and sell several items, including shirts, jewelry, greeting cards and concession items. Their shirts are unique in that team members started printing names on the back to honor those they know who have fought cancer.

Hull stated, “We never remove a name. Once it goes on, it never comes off.”

She wears her shirts everywhere, and has been asked many times about the meaning. Sharing the story of the shirts has prompted strangers to share their stories with her.

“Those stories are what keeps me coming here. I love Relay,” said Hull.

Another long-time team at the Relay is the Doster family. They are well known for selling strawberry shortcake each year. Jean Porter, part of the team, has been coming to the Relay for 12 years. She is a cancer survivor and has had many other family members who have fought cancer as well.

“I feel very fortunate. I love being here with all the other people who have gone through the same thing I have. They understand.”

Conveniently placed by Dosters every year is the Paulding Church of the Nazarene tent. They offer the Grover Hill Lion’s Club homemade ice cream. The Lion’s Club donates the ice cream each year to the church so they can raise money for the Relay.

Church member Angela Laker indicated, “Jean Porter goes to our church so we of course do this for her. But, we also have many others in our church who have faced cancer, so we do it for them too.”

The Marathon Moms have been going strong as a Relay team for 15 years. Sue Young is a daycare provider who started the team by recruiting some of the moms she met through her business. The moms sell tacos in a bag, hot dogs, drinks and glow lights.

They come back each year in honor of Sue’s husband Ken, who has fought cancer five times. “We do it for him,” said Sue.

Racks and Rhinestones is a newer group, in their third year. Team captain Melissa Betts started the group as a way to honor her mother, who is a breast cancer survivor. They were on hand selling snow cones, coffee, shirts, as well as items for kids.

Other teams selling items included Campers 4 A Cure, Cousins Against Cancer, Night Owl Designs, Paulding FFA, St. Jacob’s Reform Church of Payne, Paulding County Hospital and Paulding County Exempted Village School Mini Relay team. Lucinda Horstman donated cupcakes again this year as well.

In addition to all of the fundraising and good food at the Relay, there were other activities to keep attendees occupied. There was a silent auction, raffle, frozen T-shirt contest, water balloons, scavenger hunt, ring toss games, chair massages, and, of course, music from longtime Relay DJ Larry Colley.

Moreover, anyone in attendance paying close attention was likely to spot a very tall man with long blue hair and a blue goatee walking around.

That blue-haired man was local resident Dick Warner. Warner is a longtime Relay participant. Last year, he set a goal to raise $1,000 for the Relay, and challenged his friends on Facebook to help him. He said he would dye his hair purple if he met the goal. The goal was met and Warner made good on his promise.

This year he set the same goal and decided to go blue. As an added bonus, he agreed to have his hair and goatee dyed during the Relay. The goal was met again, and Warner was a good sport, showing off his new hair with a smile.

“I have lost so many family to cancer – my mom and dad, two uncles, and my father-in- law. I want to be part of this, even if I have to dye my hair!” said Warner.

Looking around at the Relay, the sense of community and togetherness was unmistakable. There were people on the track walking and chatting, some sitting in chairs visiting, and even a friendly game of football in the center of the track. Hugs, laughter, tears and smiles were present throughout the event. So many of the teams seemed to know each other’s stories. Most evident was a sense of grit determination and hope.

The Luminaria ceremony truly captured that sense of hope.

Participants were asked to light their luminarias to honor and reflect on those they have lost, as well as those who are fighting. Set against the darkened sky, it was a beautiful reminder of the reason everyone was there.

For Sharon Peck, five-year cancer survivor, it was her first Luminaria ceremony experience.

“I’ve been to the Relay before, but never stayed for the Luminaria,” Peck said. “It really hits home and is very touching. I lit some bags around mine that weren’t lit yet and realized I know all of the names on them. It was pretty amazing. It’s definitely an experience everyone should go to at least once.”

Jillene McMichael, event chairperson, feels the Paulding County Relay is unique, in that, “The Relay is not a community event. It’s a sense of community. Our community truly is its own support group. The smallest communities truly have the biggest hearts.”

It has often been said that cancer is the great equalizer – everyone is affected by it either themselves or through loved ones. It does not discriminate. It is an equal opportunity offender. However, those who fight against it with everything they have and join together with others fighting, represent a microcosm of humanity at its best. That is what took place on a small track in Paulding County last Friday night.