Relay for Life Changes in store for upcoming event

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Ashlyn Scherf shows some of the “Wish bracelets” she made with assistance from her sisters, Delaney and Blair. Proceeds from the bracelets go to Relay for Life.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


Same cause; different format.

Clayton County Relay for Life will be Saturday, June 20, at City Park, Elkader, and while the goal—raising funds for cancer research—remains unchanged, the schedule is markedly different. Previously a 12-hour overnight event that ran from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., this year’s relay starts at noon and wraps up at midnight.

“Our hope is that more families will come out and spend the day and night with us,” said co-chair Jolene Christeleit. “In the past, only a handful of people were there when midnight rolled around. So we’re hoping to bring more people to the event by having it at this time.”

Relay for Life started in May 1985 when Dr. Gordy Klatt walked and ran for 24 hours around a track in Tacoma, Washington, ultimately raising $27,000 to help the American Cancer Society fight the nation’s biggest health concern, cancer. A year later, 340 supporters joined him in his walk. Since those first steps, the Relay For Life movement has grown into a worldwide phenomenon, raising nearly $5 billion to fight cancer. Clayton County has hosted an event in Elkader annually since 1998.

Jolene is chairing the local event with her friend, Marcia Ahrends. This is Jolene’s seventh Relay. She joined the event after her father lost his cancer battle.

“Since then, my drive has become stronger with losing a sister-in-law, grandma, close friend,” she explained, “and my mother and father-in-law are both cancer survivors. Numerous friends are also survivors or are battling it now.”

“When I started, my hope was when my son becomes a parent, he will never have to say the word ‘cancer’ to his kids.”

A new schedule means that some traditional events will be held at different times. For example, the “celebrate ceremony” will start at 5 p.m. This part of the evening includes the caregiver and survivor lap, team and sponsor recognition, a featured speaker and the luminary ceremony at 8:30 p.m. 

Also new this year is a “dove release,” scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Participants can “purchase” a dove in honor or memory of a loved one. Released by a family member or friend, the doves will circle the park area several times in a group before returning to their “home loft” in Epworth. Debbie Hayes, owner of White Water Doves, will coordinate the release.

“We did this for my dad’s funeral,” Jolene said. “My mom let one dove go and as we watched it kept circling around us, up above. My mom then released ‘her’ dove, and the doves flew off together for a minute or two and then came back. Then, my four siblings and I released ours. All of the doves flew in circles a few times and then flew off together. They came back but then one left the bunch and flew off by itself while the other six stayed together, It was a very emotional experience but very beautiful.”

Doves and luminaries can be purchased the day of the event.

A few of the other Relay events planned are a beanbag tourney, face painting, free swim, inflatable rock climb/slide, food stands, kids’ games and performances by the Fusion Dance Team, Guttenberg drill team and Mr. Greenie, the Balloon Guy. The Clayton County Sheriff’s Department will do a demonstration with their K9 officer. The Beauty Bar, Elkader, will assist anyone who wants to donate hair for wigs for cancer patients.

A great deal of work and fund-raising goes into making Relay a success effort. In the months leading up to the event, employees at Wilke’s grocery store have hosted numerous bake sales. Another team donated the profits of their garage sale to the cause. Assisted by friends, sisters Delaney and Ashlynn Scherf, Elkader, have made and sold dozens of colorful “wish bracelets.” Annual fund-raisers like Team Calisa’s ride for vintage cars, trucks and motorcycles have also taken place.

“Unfortunately, everyone has been touched by cancer in some way,” Jolene said. “Relay is our way to help remember those who have lost the battle, celebrate those who fought or are fighting the battle, and raise money to end cancer. We hope many, many people will be part of this fun-filled day!”

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