More than 375 residents raised over $70,000 for the American Cancer Society this past weekend by taking turns walking around an outdoor “track” at Akron General Health and Wellness Center North for 24 consecutive hours.
Members of the 26 teams entered in the Stow-Munroe Falls Relay for Life played games, ran on-site fundraisers, enjoyed live entertainment, camped out, laughed plenty and, at times, shed tears.
Norene Jones of Stow, relay co-chair, is thrilled with the success of the 2011 event — not just in terms of dollars raised, but also because cancer awareness received a huge boost in the community.
The fun was shared by more than 500 non-participants who simply visited the event, said Ron Jones, Norene’s husband, who served as relay logistics co-chair with Joe Vito.
“I could go on and on telling you of the fantastic people, young and old, who gave up a part of their lives to make this event a success,” Ron said. “The bottom line is we have much to be proud of in this community. Our hats go off to all of the participants.”
It was the second year that Norene, a 29-year cancer survivor, served as co-chair with her best friend, Terri Vito, also of Stow. “What’s amazing is that we are still very best friends,” Norene said with a laugh. “We had a ball.”
The event kicked off Saturday morning with a moving and spirited opening ceremony and lap led by 2011 Survivor Ambassador Kim Shull and 75 cancer survivors. A balloon release featured a purple balloon in honor of each of the 75 survivors attending.
The relay was centered around a “track” marked off in the wellness center parking lot. Participants walked the track (five trips around equaled one mile) that was bordered by the team campsites.
Thankfully, Mother Nature was very cooperative.
“We got less then two minutes of rain when it was blazing hot and humid on Saturday afternoon, and it evaporated as fast as it came down. Nobody even stopped,” said a grateful Norene.
The day featured entertainment provided by various community groups, lots of music, carnival games and fun activities, such as the dunk tank where Stow Ward 3 City Councilman John Pribonic and several area school teachers got to cool off ... repeatedly.
The wellness center opened its doors to relay participants, providing access to its rock-climbing wall, indoor swimming pool and gymnasium.
“The kids at relay really enjoyed swimming in the pool at those hours (11 p.m. to 2 a.m.), and they got to play kickball and other games in the gym from midnight to 6 a.m.,” Norene said.
At 6 p.m. Saturday, many survivors and their supporting families gathered for a dinner presented by various community food establishments in the wellness center’s gym.
A survivor/caregiver celebration was at 9 p.m. by the light of more than 1,000 luminarias lining the track. “Survivors each presented their caregivers with a caregiver pin that they placed over their hearts," Norene said. "It was so moving."
Ron Jones said Relay 2011 ended with “a joyous closing ceremony with lots of laughs and awards” at 9 a.m. Sunday. The top team money earner was “Send Cancer to the Showers,” which raised $9,500. Team co-captains were Joan Kudus of Cuyahoga Falls, a retired Stow teacher, and her friend, Roz Frabotta.
Matco Tools of Stow, whose team name was “Pirates of the Caribbean … Aargh,” came in second by raising more than $8,500.
As of Monday, more than $70,000 had been raised for the American Cancer Society through relay, surpassing last year’s 24-hour event total at the same point.
“Last year’s final total was $76,000,” Norene said. “We don’t total until the end of August, so people can still keep giving and the donations apply to this year’s relay total.”
Those who would like to donate may do so here: www.relayforlife.org/stowmunroefalls.
The foursome of Norene and Ron Jones and Terri and Joe Vito will not be running the relay next year “because we always need to have a fresh leadership,” said Norene.
Her husband added, “Joe Vito and I are very proud of our wives who headed up the monstrous event. No one but us knows of the many hours they put in behind the scenes to make this event a classy success. We love them both very much.”