By Paul Downer
By Paul Downer
The 8th Annual NYA Relay for Life arrives next Friday, July 20, and though progress has been made in the struggle against cancer, there is still a long way to go.
While the Relay is a fun evening that involves games and attractions for visitors provided by the local Relay teams, it also has a deeper purpose. At its most basic level, it is a tool to help in the struggle between life and death by raising funds for cancer research undertaken by the American Cancer Society (ACS).
As Relay chairs Pat Zellmann and Dar Mondor looked back on what has been accomplished in the first seven years of the local event, that truth was undeniable.
On the positive side, the NYA Relay has raised a total of $696,219.26 for research done by the ACS since its inception in 2005. That first year, 30 teams raised about $75,000, and the Relay has averaged nearly $100,000 raised during each of its years.
"I’m quite frankly amazed that our small community has been able to raise that kind of money for this cause," said Mondor.
On the other hand, while there are numerous stories of survival to celebrate, cancer has also claimed more victims. Seven individuals have been named the Honorary Chairperson for each year of the event, and two (Dick Schwirtz and Lois Zellman) have passed away since receiving that honor.
In addition, one of the local Relay’s primary organizers has begun her own battle against cancer. Cheryl Anderson undertook the daunting task of being the sole chairperson for the event in 2008 and 2009 before sharing chair duties in later years. While she was not a survivor herself when she began pouring her time and efforts into the event, she now stands to benefit from the help she had previously worked so hard to bring to others.
"She’s been so involved in the process of getting the Relay up and going to the point where she was the only chair, then she was the co-chair, and now she is fighting cancer herself," said Mondor.
Individuals honored as the Honorary Chairperson since the event started included Irene Yaeck in 2005, Pat Stacken in 2006, Jodi Cushman in 2007, Zellman in 2008, Schwirtz in 2009, Elaine Wischnack in 2010 and Bruce Mathwig in 2011.
Honorary Caregivers recognized over the years at the NYA Relay have included Julie Olund in 2009, family members of Austin Harms in 2010 and the family of Monique Stuewe in 2011.
Though the Relay is now in its eighth year in NYA, organizers are still putting together new events and attractions with the help of the participating teams.
This year, in addition to the usual carnival games, visitors will be able to enjoy a magic show, music by the CHS jazz band and Vern Elke, and a head shaving event for a number of local residents who volunteered to have their heads shaved in return for donations to the Relay. Kody Teslaa, Pat Krueger, Steve Noll and Jerry Lhotka have been collecting donations, and will have their heads shaved the night of the Relay. Anyone who is interested in committing pledges to those individuals can contact them directly or stop by KleinBank in NYA.
The Survivor Tent will also have a new attraction this year. A video showing photos of people who have been lost to cancer or who have survived cancer will be shown. Anyone with photos to contribute can contact Alyssa at [email protected].
A number of new carnival games will also be available, including the head toss bucket game, the oreo slide, junk in a trunk and a sucker tree. And Lulu the Clown, a favorite from past years, will make another appearance this year.
Anyone who would like to contribute toward the Relay’s cause that is not a part of a team can make monetary donations by purchasing a luminary bag in honor of friends or loved ones impacted by cancer, or by stopping by KleinBank in NYA or Cologne.
"Some people think they have to be there the night of the Relay to give money, but they really don’t," said Mondor, who added that people shouldn’t necessarily get too wrapped up in the dollar amount raised. "It’s not so much the total dollars, but it’s the effort toward the cause. Every little bit helps."
In the excitement of the Relay’s early years, up to 35 teams participated in the event. This year there are 15 dedicated teams, many of which have been involved in the Relay every year since 2005. In addition, many of the organizing committee members have remained the same since the first year.
"We’re still doing great for our little town. No matter what we raise, it’s all going to ACS," said Zellmann, adding that the NYA Relay is somewhat unique in the amount of fun activities it offers for all community members who stop by during the evening but are otherwise unconnected to the event.