Park Rapids Relay marks 25th year striving to end cancer
The 25th anniversary Hubbard County Relay for Life represented an "evening of hope" for people diagnosed with cancer and their loved ones.
It also marked the moment fundraising by the local Relay passed $1 million mark.
"We've been here for 25 years, and we will always be here because we are a community that cares," said event lead Laurie Conzemius.
The main program, held in the Park Rapids Area High School auditorium, included an opening prayer by Pastor Joel Newton, U.S. colors presented by the U.S. Marine Corps League, a parade of cancer survivors, recognition of caregivers, an introduction of this year's 17 relay teams and the reading of a poem "My Shining Star" by a mother whose child died of cancer.
"My Shining Star" was also the theme of emotional remarks by parents Leo and Lynn and aunts Ann and Rose of Scotty Gartner, who finished his four-year battle with leukemia in 1994 at age 13. Hubbard County's first relay for life was held in Scotty's honor.
"We are here because of Scotty," said Conzemius. "We are here because of incredibly courageous people, and because of the love and the hope of their family and their friends. If there hadn't been a first Relay for Life, there could never be a 25th Relay for Life. What an incredible legacy."
"According to the American Cancer Society," one of Scotty's aunts noted, "over the past 25 years, there has been a 27 percent drop in the overall cancer death rate. How great is that?"
Also among the speakers were Judy Garbo, Danielle Safratowich and Tina Grewe, each speaking about "Why I Relay." Each recalled why she became involved in the Relay for Life tradition and reminisced about past years' events.
"Coming together as a community has been really important," Safratowich said. "I'm here to support family — a grandfather, a grandmother — they've all been affected by cancer — as well as friends, friends' children, and currently as a nurse in the hospital here in town, a lot of patients that we've seen."
Grewe, who currently lives in Perham, was a team member in the Hubbard County Relay before she moved away and later helped for 14 years with the Relay for Life in Pine River. She recalled losing a friend to liver cancer when she was in high school. The boy died before her group of friends had a chance to visit him at the hospital.
"That taught me two things," said Grewe. "First of all, don't wait. Do it. Second of all, cancer sucks. When the relay came to Park Rapids, I'm like, 'I'm in.'"
Members of the Park Rapids Classic Chorale performed the musical numbers "Be Still" and "I Believe" and led the crowd in singing the national anthem, and Shelly Franklin and Linda Pihlaja performed a ceremony of lighting memorial candles.
Toward the end of the ceremony, a slideshow the past 25 years of Relays played to a medley of "Fight Song" and "Amazing Grace," and Conzemius urged guests to view the luminary path laid out in the high school gymnasium.
Concessions and activities in the gym, the commons and the school grounds also included burgers and fries, pie and ice cream, brownies and root beer floats, T-shirt sales and opportunities to play carnival-style games.