Wilsonville Relay For Life raises money for cancer research

by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Walkers circle the Wood Middle School track as Luminaria bags honor cancer victims during an earlier Wilsonville Relay For Life. Cancer can sneak up on anyone, even the healthiest among us.

That’s why Gordy Klatt, a Tacoma surgeon, created Relay For Life back in the 1980s.

Looking for a way to support his local American Cancer Society office, Klatt decided to raise funds doing an activity he enjoyed — running marathons.

Thus the Relay For Life was born. The first event was held in 1985 on the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound. Klatt walked 83 miles in 24 hours, raising more than $27,000 in the process.

Relay For Life has continued and grown, with the more than 5,000 Relay events that now are held around America each June.

Including one in Wilsonville.

Wilsonville hosts its own Relay, this year’s Wilsonville event will be held from 10 a.m. June 28 through 10 a.m. June 29 at Town Center Park in Wilsonville.

Holding the event at Town Center Park in recent years really seemed to propel things to a new level, said Pat Wolfram, a member of the Wilsonville Relay For Life executive committee.

“Two years ago we moved to Town Center Park, and it turned out to be wonderful,” Wolfram said. “Usually these things are at high school football fields, which is nice, but they are still high school football fields. What’s nice is the city opened up the park to us; it’s perfect, it’s right there in the hub of the community so we get a lot of kids and families that come over.”

by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - 2012 Wilsonville Relay For Life participants celebrate at the finish line in Town Center Park, the first year the event was held at that location. This year, said committee chairwoman Kathy Johnson, the theme in Wilsonville is the board game Monopoly. It’s befitting the event’s status as the American Cancer Society’s largest fundraiser each year, she added, and lends itself well to decorations, costumes and other fun.

“We’re making fun stuff for this, and people can use the Monopoly theme if they want to,” she said. “They can decorate with Monopoly pieces, use the fake money; we’ve told teams to do something fun with that theme if you can think of something.”

In addition to teams of walkers spending an entire day walking around the park course, there will be food, entertainment and wellness booths, as well as a host of events unique to Relay, such as the display at nightfall of candle-lit Luminaria bags honoring cancer victims.

“We have a keynote speaker before the Luminaria, and a bagpiper who leads the Luminaria walk,” she said. “And people are in tears. The whole path is lit up with bags lining the path; it’s amazing to see how many people have been touched in many ways by cancer.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Cancer survivors take part in the ceremonial survivors walk at an earlier Relay event at Wood Middle School in Wilsonville. Johnson unfortunately counts herself among them.

“It’s a horrible disease that we need to eradicate,” she said. “My mom died of cancer, and I have several uncles who have died of cancer. But I think my mom was probably the trigger because with my uncles I didn’t have as much contact with them. But when my mom got cancer and it took her out in six weeks, it was horrid, and after that I started getting involved in the fight against cancer.”

In Wilsonville, she was introduced to Relay For Life by neighbors who were part of an active Relay team. She joined and ultimately took part in several different teams before joining the Wilsonville Relay For Life committee four years ago.

Now, as committee chair, Johnson would love to get the entire city involved in the annual Relay effort.

“It would be nice eventually if this would be an event where everyone in Wilsonville would say, ‘Oh, Relay is coming, let’s get involved,’” she said.

Participation in Wilsonville is down just a hair this year, Wolfram said. But that’s not unusual for an event with fluctuating membership and fundraisers. What’s more important is that the event seems to have reached something of a critical mass where it now is firmly entrenched in the community — this year so far features 16 teams and 134 fundraising participants, with the likely addition of more as the event draws closer. That’s nothing to scoff at, Wolfram added.

“It fluctuates from year to year,” he said. “This year I think we’re down a little bit, but we still have the same good group of core people.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - 2013 Relay walkers circle the course at Town Center Park. Among those is Wilsonville resident and Clackamas County Commission Chair John Ludlow, who will serve as emcee. In addition, entertainment will come from Radio Disney, while Wilsonville Rotarians, Wilsonville High School students and American Red Cross members will provide volunteers to staff the event.

“It will be a cool day of music and entertainment,” Wolfram said. “We feed everybody, so it’s something like a festival; it’s a good community-centered event. You’re going there to do a good thing, and it’s a visible showing to the people you love that you’re out there in the community supporting those who have cancer.”

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