Smaller Crowd Still Brings Out Big Hearts, Giving Spirit at Annual ACS’ Relay For Life

Story and photos By Nichole Richardson

Breast cancer survivor Anne Frese and on the left is her friend/supporter Monica Deken at this year’s Relay For Life

Hazelwood Central High School hosted its 14th American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Relay for Life on Friday, Aug. 3 from 6 to midnight this year. The event was celebrated by about 223 participants, with more than 50 of those being cancer survivors. All proceeds went to the ACS for research, testing and education about this devastating disease. And although the crowd was considerable smaller than in previous years, over $30,000 was raised, making it a huge success.

“This event is the single largest cancer fundraiser worldwide and is meant to ‘Celebrate, Remember, and Fight Back,’” said  Eleanor Hungerford, community manager for Relay for Life Corps. Many community members and corporate sponsors came to show their support, including Majic 104.9, Z107.7, 100.3 GenXradio, Oldies 103.3,  the St.Louis Cardinals, SSM Cancer Care and DePaul Health Center.

The event kicked off at Central with the Survivor’s Dinner at 5:30, which was hosted by Atonement Men’s Club. The dinner was held in rental tents in the center of the parking lot where survivors and their caregivers shared a bite before the relay began.

Participants showed support by contributing donations (which began at five dollars) to purchase personalized luminary bags dedicated to cancer victims and by walking laps around the school’s massive parking lot. Laps could be done individually or in teams, so long as at least one member of a team was walking at all times.  There were 19 teams this year with the top grossing team from Christian Hospital.

Christian Hospital employees have had teams at the North County Relay for Life since its inception 14 years ago and the group is always among the top donators to the American Cancer Society event.

Sheryl McClary, Supervisor of Volunteers for Christian Hospital said she has been involved with the benefit for five years now and this year is extra special, being the tenth anniversary of her mother’s death from cancer. “Our fundraising is made up of different departments at Christian and we all started last October. We raised over $17,000 this year!”

Denise Hill, event chair for North St. Louis County, explained that walking the laps represent a cancer victim’s journey. “It starts off with a lot of fight and energy and as the hours wear on becomes more and more difficult to keep going. The final hour represents, hopefully, remission,” said Hill.

There were also activities and entertainment planned for those needing a break during the relay, such as the Sugarettes Baton Twirlers, various vendors like Papa Murphys, and even public Zumba class sponsored by Curves.

Zumba instructor Tracey McGee was all smiles about being invited to participate in the relay. “I am very excited and honored to represent Zumba and myself and also to raise awareness and funds for a cure,” boasted McGee.

At ten p.m. the luminaria surrounding the lot were lit with glow sticks by Boy Scout Troop 829. This particular troop has been volunteering to light the bags for many years now and it has become a troop tradition.

There are currently over 5,000 annual Relay events in the United States and even some overseas and in military camps. ACS volunteer Delilah Morkisz is the Eastern Missouri Regional Relay Council Chair and has 69 relays in her vicinity alone. “We have them from almost to Iowa all the way to New Madrid,” said Morkisz.

No matter what Relay one attends, the goal is always the same: to bring the community together and show support while raising money to fight this terrible disease. For survivors like Anne Frese, the relay is a celebration of winning and yet another way to raise awareness for early detection.

“The Relay for Life is great because everyone can benefit from this because it doesn’t discriminate between different types of cancer. I am a breast cancer survivor of 16 months but there are all types of cancer victims here coming together,” said Frese.

Frese leaves one final comment to those who do not already have the disease and that is “I want people to be aware. If you’re a woman, get a mammogram; it saved my life. Early detection is truly the key to beating this.”

A luminaria at the Relay for Life honors Donna Lou Worden.


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