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Relay returns to fairgrounds Saturday

The Kiwanis-Butler County Fairgrounds will be filled with colorful tents this Saturday, June 23, as teams from across the county gather to celebrate, remember and fight back against a deadly foe.

This year’s Relay For Life for the American Cancer Society is set for 2 p.m. until 10 p.m. Its theme is “America for a Cure” promising plenty of patriotic stars, stripes and spangles on display.

“Because our event ended up falling so close to July Fourth, first of all we thought it would be a fun theme for all our teams to work with – lots of resources out there to use in decorating tents and so forth,” Relay Event Leader Gerri McGinnis said. “But in reality, it takes everyone who is willing to work at it to fundraise for cancer. So the color scheme and the reality of the need for a united fight against cancer came together as ‘America for a Cure.’”

There are a total of 19 Relay team that will have tents around the track Saturday. They’ve been raising and will continue to raise funds towards this year’s goal of $65,000.

“We actually posted $31,300 raised on Monday afternoon and more keeps coming in,” McGinnis said.

It’s definitely a year of changes for Relay in Butler County.

“Changing from the long-set date of the Friday night of Mother’s Day weekend was a hard decision for us to make,” McGinnis said. “It’s been on that weekend for as long as any of us can seem to remember, but there are so many activities on that same weekend it was becoming difficult to make Relay a priority. So we kept checking the calendar and found an open date past Father’s Day . . . the move to Saturday was to make the event more family-friendly and allow people to get home a little earlier than our previous end time of midnight. By starting earlier, it also gives us more time to celebrate. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about – celebrating our continued efforts to raise funds and raise awareness of the fight against cancer, and to celebrate all our survivors.”

Joann Mathews, who heads up Luminarias and Torches of Hope for the RFL Committee, said this solemn ceremony during Relay never fails to touch her heart.

“When the fairground lights go out and the only light is from the candles in those Luminarias and then from the Torches of Hope lit by family members in memory of loved ones – well, it’s very emotional for me,” Mathews said. “Every person who has passed away and is remembered by one of those many bags out there, will have his or her name called out during the ceremony. You hear those names, and you remember family members, friends, neighbors, classmates, people who were part of your childhood. It’s a reminder that cancer has touched us all in one way or another.”

Those who have not yet ordered their Luminarias or Torches of Hope will still have the opportunity to do so at Relay on Saturday.

“The Luminarias in honor or memory of a loved one are $5 each and the Torches of Hope are $100, and we will have a table set up at Relay with forms,” Mathews said. “We’ll likely cut that off at 7:30 p.m. to allow time to get the names added to the bags and to the list to be read out.”

While the Luminaria Ceremony is time of quiet reflection, Relay is largely filled with smiles and laughter and lots of fun activities – a time for attendees of all ages to bond within the community, according to Relay Team Development Leader Casey Rogers.

“I’ve been attending Relay For Life my entire life,” Rogers explained. “I remember as a child it being one of the biggest community events that really brought our town together.”

Rogers has also experienced several members of her extended family dealing with various forms of cancer. However, it wasn’t until her own mother was diagnosed with the disease that the message of Relay really hit home for her.

“Cancer is something that affects everyone,” she said. “And now I’ve seen first-hand the impact medical research and advancement can make in the lives of cancer patients. I’m really looking forward to another successful fundraising event.”

On a lighter note, there’s one other thing Rogers would like to add.

“I’m looking forward to defending my title as Relay Twister champion – bring it on, Abbie Gardner!”

Gardner, a former committee member and Team Captain for her State Farm Agency, has lost one parent to cancer. Another is a survivor. She declares herself ready to do battle with Rogers – and with their common foe of cancer.

“It’s all about coming together – to remember those who’ve lost their battle, to encourage those continuing the battle and celebrate those who have won,” Gardner said with a smile.

As for McGinnis, the words of a friend and survivor shared this week reverberate with her.

“She said, ‘I appreciate you because of what you do with Relay, I have a chance.’ That’s all it takes. Just one person, and you know all the hard work and long hours are worth it. Please come out and join us at the fairgrounds on Saturday as we celebrate the survivors and remember those who fought that valiant fight and been divinely healed. Remember, it takes a village to find a cure.”