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Seniors decorate Relay for Life luminary bags

From left, Eleanor Cirks, Betty Bruckelmyer, Elaine Wagner, Kornelia Folkestead and Nancy Christman volunteered to decorate luminaries for the 22nd annual Hubbard County Relay for Life. All have family members who’ve been affected by cancer. They reside at Heritage Manor. Not pictured is Gail East. (Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)1 / 2
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While battling pancreatic cancer, Mike Wagner had just finished a chemo treatment at Essentia Health’s infusion therapy center when he approached his mother with a handful of white paper bags.

"Here, mom. If you really want to help, decorate these. They need hundreds," he told her.

So she did.

And Elaine Wagner has continued to do so for three years straight, honoring both her son and husband who were lost to cancer.

This year, Elaine and her cadre of volunteers decorated 490 luminary bags for Hubbard County’s Relay for Life.

They also raised a record $725 in donations from fellow Heritage Manor and Park Villa residents.

The decorated bags are given to the infusion center’s "ChemoSabes" Relay for Life team to raise money for cancer research.

"We were helped during very tough times with Earl’s and Mike’s treatment. I feel indebted to them," Elaine said of the Park Rapids clinic staff.

Luminaria can be purchased before and during Relay for Life. They are lit as a symbol of hope for those fighting cancer and in remembrance of those who died.

The 22nd annual Hubbard County Relay for Life will be held at the Park Rapids Area High School track from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday, June 10.

Caregivers, survivors and fundraising teams walk laps around the track. Food, games and other entertainment build camaraderie at the community event.

Over 200 people, about 50 of whom are survivors, will be participating.

Filling a void

All six women – Elaine Wagner, Betty Bruckelmyer, Kornelia Folkestead, Eleanor Cirks, Nancy Christman and Gail East – have been touched by cancer, losing husbands, sons, daughters or other family members to the vicious disease.

"I’ll never forget the day my son stopped by and said ‘I have lung cancer,’" recalled Eleanor. "What do you say?"

Kelly Cirks died a year ago on June 2. A memorial fishing tournament will be held for him and his brother, Gene, on June 11 in Nevis.

Nancy’s daughter, Debra Tennant, died of pancreatic cancer. She was diagnosed in November 2015 and died this February.

"I lost my husband to pancreatic cancer," said Betty.

Breast cancer runs on Kornelia’s husband’s side of the family.

Volunteers vary from year to year "because that’s how life is," Elaine says, but the powerful urge to help and to remember those lost to cancer is constant among members.

"It’s something you believe so strongly," Eleanor says.

"It fills a void for me," said Elaine.

"I feel a connection with the people I work with," adds Nancy.

"We are kindred spirits," agrees Elaine.

None of them claim to be artists – "farthest from it," admits Betty.

"I like to do crafts," Kornelia says.

"Maybe we are budding artists?" says Elaine.

Around the end of April, the ladies gather around three large tables, filled with craft supplies and glue sticks, in the Manor’s community room.

They meet once a week.

Colorful scenes from calendars or cards, scrapbooking paper, stamps, stencils and other embellishments are used to personalize each luminary. They are adorned with children, moms and dads in mind.

Animals, birds, flowers are popular. 

Some write inspirational quotes.

They leave a 4-inch blank space so that a name may be written across the top of each luminary.

They all admit that, in their exuberance, they sometimes forgot and bedecked the entire bag.

Elaine, a retired elementary teacher, constantly reminded everyone of the 4-inch rule.

"I think it was our enthusiasm that we just kept going!" she said, adding "I’m finding a lot of similarities between us and kindergartners!"

Some of the volunteers plan to attend Friday’s Relay for Life ceremony.

"It’s nice to walk around and see the candles burning. It’s a beautiful walk to make," Eleanor said.