Celebrating survival

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Relay For Life raises funds for cancer cure

Folks in stove-pipe Seuss' hats, red-blooded men in blue sequins, a pharmacist kissing Petunia' the Piglet-sights not exactly typical to the average weekend in Greenville, most would say. A little of everything was on tap for the throngs of people who came out and supported the American Cancer Society's annual fundraiser, Relay for Life.

The entertainment-filled event, co-sponsored by Pioneer Electric and Acme Propane, was held last Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12, in its new location at the Butler County Fairgrounds.

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An oval dirt track was laid out allowing joggers and walkers to put in a few laps-or in the case of local pediatrician, Dr. Gary Copeland, hundreds of laps over a period of several hours-all in the name of a cure for cancer.

43 local businesses, churches, schools and other organizations served as Relay teams with tents decorated to fit various themes.

Visitors could stroll and visit a colorful Hawaiian luau, a festive Mardi Gras, a country hoe-down', a "Cat in the Hat" party or one of many other sites.

Delicious smells abounded as team members grilled hot dogs, burgers and lip-smacking ribs, served with all the fixins' to hungry Relay participants. Ralph Stacey served as the jovial master of ceremonies for the entertainment portion of the event, ably assisted by DJ Funky Frank' (a.k.a. Frank Phelps). Kay Scruggs and Laurie Martin were in charge of the entertainment and activities for the evening, and rarely was there a dull moment to be found.

Hula hoop contests, a talent competition, cheering contests, karaoke sing-a-longs, dancing, ski walks and more, kept energetic folks of all ages going into the wee hours of the morning.

Organizer Scruggs commented, " I left at about 2:45 a.m. and there were still some folks going strong . . . they just didn't want to pack up."

Scruggs explained the committee works hard yearly to "add something new and different to the activities and keep it fun for the whole family . .

next year we hope to add a cooking contest."

Arguably, the most popular event of the evening was the traditional "Dude Looks like a Lady" pageant, with a bevy of "beauties" strutting their stuff across the stage.

Winner of this coveted title was an exotic hula dancer dubbed "The Polynesian Princess", better known as Keith Duke.

Duke was sponsored by the Curves for Women team.

First runner-up was Chris McPherson of FDA, and Demetrius "Big D" Bennett of Super Foods was the second runner-up.

Misfortune almost ruined the moment many had been waiting for Frank Thigpen's solemn promise to kiss a pig.

The pig they initially planned to use for the special moment actually ran away and a replacement had to be found.

"[It's an] absolutely true story.

The first pig was older and wanted a lot of special concessions made-then it ended up backing out of the deal and running away.

So we had to find a younger pig that wouldn't argue," explained Thigpen, part of the CVS Drugs Relay team.

The replacement piglet, decked out in a lovely ruffled dress, was cooperative and allowed the popular local pharmacist to fulfill his pledge.

While there were certainly lots of laughs, Relay for Life also had its solemn moments.

While millions have fought and won the battle against cancer, many have also lost their lives to the disease.

Local victims of cancer were remembered during a special luminaria lighting ceremony held at 9 p.m. Friday evening.

Surrounding the dirt track was bag after bag with a glowing candle flame inside, each one shining in honor or memory of a cancer victim or survivor.

The names of those memorialized were called out over the loudspeakers-a list heart-breaking in its length for those present.

"Research is the answer . . . and we have come a long way over the years," said Bennie Payne, retired teacher and breast cancer survivor of 26 years.

"Back when I was ill, cancer was still something you just didn't talk about.

There wasn't much information or assistance out there.

"Now we talk about it and we FIGHT it. I am so grateful to be alive-I don't know of anyone who hasn't been touched by this disease." Payne paused and smiled as she looked around at the festivities surrounding her, then added, "This is fun.

This event tonight is a celebration, not of the disease itself-but the fact we are surviving and we are working for a cure."

The teamwork of the many Relay participants paid off.

By late Friday night, Event Coordinator Juanita Poole was able to make this announcement: "Our funds raised come from sponsorships, luminaria sales, donations. . . our goal seemed unattainably high to some this year. It's my pleasure to say we have MADE our goal of $120,000-plus some few cents. . .

You all deserve a big pat on the back."

Joan Reynolds, for one, was not surprised to hear Poole's announcement. "We have had such wonderful support from our communities in this county," said Reynolds.

She, along with Angela James, Ethelyn Watson (as luminaria chairman), Lucy McGowin and Poole, served on the event coordination team.

"We have a few teams that drop out each year, but there is always someone else who will come in and take over that spot. It's amazing how it all works out," she added.

In the meantime, Gary Copeland was joined by people of all ages continuing to make laps around the track- some running, others strolling-everyone racing together to find a cure.