“Relay For Life is a lot more than just another fundraiser. It is about being a community that takes up the fight against cancer, coming together for a common cause. It serves to remind us that, although progress continues to be made in the crusade against cancer, so much more needs to be done.”
Those words are part of the guiding principles that help inspire members of the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church Grays Harbor Relay for Life team — make that two teams.
“They are mighty people, and with the help of God we can do anything,” said Father Dale McQueen, St. Andrew’s pastor, who marvels at his congregation’s dedication to the annual Relay For Life, which will be held next Friday night and Saturday in Hoquiam and Elma.
Although the two St. Andrew’s teams likely will raise more than any other local groups or organizations on the Harbor for the fight against cancer, team co-captain Bette Worth still feels she needs to help raise another $20,000 by the time of the event.
“I’m trying to sell bracelets and we have raffle tickets to sell,” Worth said. “It’s kind of a crazy time. I need to find another $20,000 if we’re going to exceed the amount we raised last year.”
The reason Worth is a little behind schedule this year in her own personal fundraising says even more about the team’s dedication to the cause. Worth, for the past several months, has been helping care for her longtime best friend, Nina Morean, the noted local actress and SouthShore Mall manager, who recently died after a long battle with colon cancer.
Although Morean was a member of another church, she also was counseled right up until her death May 4 by McQueen with Worth constantly at her bedside, too.
“Cancer has touched all our families one way or another. Many of us have lost loved ones so we take it pretty seriously,” McQueen said of what drives the passion behind St. Andrew’s at Relay For Life.
The St. Andrew’s Relay For Life team was started in 1999 by Shari Hyde and Denise Cox. The first year, the team raised $1,834.
Cox moved away when her husband was transferred to Longview with Weyerhaeuser, but the family returned last year when Rob Cox, an abdomen cancer survivor and longtime Relay participant, landed a job back with Cosi Speciality Fibers. Her daughter Claire also has battled thyroid cancer and is one of the 24-hour walkers along with her husband. The family has not missed the event since that first year, even when they lived out of town, and Rob is the pasta cook at the annual spaghetti feed.
“I had never been to Relay until the year we formed that team,” said Cox, noting that her husband’s diagnosis was 15 years ago this spring. “It was about four or five years after his diagnosis that I finally went. It took me a long time. It just seemed like the thing to do.”
That first year was “a huge learning curve because we had never been involved in anything like that,” she said. “But we had people who volunteered to bring a tent or to do this and that, and so had people walking the whole time and it just went from there. I fell in love with it. I was just amazed by the support and the number of people who participated. There are no words to describe it.”
So Denise Cox is back as a co-captain with Worth, along with Annette Pinckney and Bobbi McCracken.
“Those ladies have really led us in fabulous ways,” McQueen said. “They are just inspiring people. They call us to do more and we seem to be able to do more.”
McCracken is in her first year as a co-captain after former captain Kori Miller moved to the Olympia area. McCracken had been part of the silent auction in past years and decided to take on added responsibility this year.
“I guess if you go to St. Andrew’s you are just a part of everything,” McCracken said. “It’s just something I have a fire for.”
In the past two years, McCracken said her husband’s mother and step-father died of cancer within a few weeks of each other.
“Relay and cancer really touches us personally,” she said. “Everybody knows how horrendous and scary it is. Just the word itself puts you to your kneees, and to see what happens at Relay takes your breath away. There are so many people out there trying to do something great.”
Pinckney’s father died of cancer and she also had several good friends stricken with cancer, which is what compelled her to volunteer with the Relay team.
“We work hard all year round,” she said.
Like Pinckney, this is the sixth year that Worth has been a captain and she recalls when raising a few thousands dollars seemed like a lot.
“Back then, the teams weren’t raising the money they are raising now,” she said. “They weren’t doing year-round fundraisers. We had one big fundraiser where we did our spaghetti dinner and auction.”
The first-place team that year was Ocean Shores Curves, another top fundraising group, too, year after year. The St. Andrew’s team and the Curves team share spaces at the Hoquiam High School track where the event is held.
“That first year we came in second, and it just devastated me, and we didn’t even think we would do as well as we did,” Worth said.
Through year-round fundraising efforts, the team raised the bar forever when it came up with $61,580.04 in 2008 and won two awards at the Grays Harbor Relay: Highest Fund Raising Team and Most Inspirational Team. That also got the team an invitation to the American Cancer Society Great West Leadership Summit in Reno, Nev. St. Andrew’s also has been recognized as a National Team of Excellence.
In September, the St. Andrew’s teams will be given an American Cancer Society award known as the “Sword of Hope” for its fundraising in the Western Washington region. Currently, the team is ranked as the second highest fundraising organization in the region, said Sabrina Thatcher, community relationship manager for the Cancer Society.
“We’re very fortunate to have all the support that we have, but we’ve got the fire,” McCracken said of the team’s dedication to fundraising.
In addition to all the events the teams sponsor, the St. Andrew’s team members sell “Hope” bracelets throughout the year. Recently, the teams topped the $100,000 mark in bracelet sales.
“We sell them internationally,” Worth said. “One thing I do and have asked my co-captains to do is always have bracelets with them. You never know when someone is going to see that bracelet and want to buy one. It’s just amazing.”
Worth said the first shipment of bracelets was for a total of 50. “And we were scared to death we weren’t going to sell them. But they went like hotcakes, and probably within a week, we had all 50 sold.”
After the bracelet success, the team started planning Bingo games and raffles. One year, Father Dale even donated a vacation home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and someone else donate the air miles.
“Every year it’s grown, and I think success breeds success. We pack in the people and people actually donate outside of our church for the silent or live auction,” Worth said.
With a congregation of about 150 people, St. Andrew’s is located in the heart of downtown Aberdeen.
The church, however, has no trouble getting volunteers – enough to hold down two spots at Relay.
“Everyone on the team participates, whether it’s the annual garage sale that we have or making bracelets two or three times a year, or Bingo night.”
The two St. Andrew’s teams also plan a number of activities throughout the 24-hours of Relay to keep things upbeat and loose throughout the event, and to raise money, too.
“We just have a great time,” Worth said.
One of the new plans for the team this year is to have a “flash mob” at the track, where they will break into dance steps at a time flashed via cell phone or Internet. There is a You-Tube video already online to show people the steps.
“We wanted to so something to add a little bit of spice to Relay,” Worth said.
McCraken noted the teams likely will fall a bit short of the amount raised last year – $64,367.
“We struggling this year like everything. Our area is struggling and we will probably not be where we were last year,” she said. “But we’re working hard at it. It’s going to be touchy this time.”
In her return as a captain, Cox marvels at the St. Andrew’s team’s ability to raise funds.
“Bette is really good at asking people to do things, and when I first started the team I was not always the best at that. But I’m learning,” Cox said. “It has been amazing to watch.”
The spiritual heart and soul of the team is Father Dale. He announced last week that the team this year would sell hot dogs on site. Father Dale will provide the cooking and he’s already rounding up donations for the hot dogs and the buns.
Worth noted how important it was to have McQueen visit her friend Morean through her battle with cancer.
“From day one, when she was diagnosed, he was up there with her that first day,” Worth said. “He was with her ever since.”
He would lead a prayer group for her before each treatment.
“But it was more than just praying. He wanted to know about her, how she was feeling, how her kids were doing. He was very, very supportive,” Worth said of Father Dale’s role.
He even came home from a vacation when he knew she was going to have surgery.
“Father Dale was her rock,” Worth said.
McQueen noted that for the past seven years, he’s watched Nina walk around the track at Relay “with a huge smile on her face. Sometimes, her feet were hurting so bad that she could hardly walk. But she put on her actress’ face and just did a fabulous job of giving us all hope.”
“It was an honor to pray for her.”
McQueen noted that Morean also was involved in a separate prayer group for another cancer patient.
“The lady was new to the fight against cancer, and she just took so much hope from Nina,” he said.
For the congregation as a whole, the involvement in Relay For Life has elevated the awareness of cancer and its impact on the community.
“There is always something monthly that we’ll do. We have a bulletin board in our church dedicated solely to Relay For Life, and we’ll post articles or events that are coming up,” Worth said. “The church, like a lot or organizations and a lot of people, has been affected by cancer. Everyone seems to rally around our involvement.”
McQueen lost his own son, Mark, to kidney cancer three years ago. The first person to visit his home after that was Nina’s husband Gary Morean.
He knows the toll that cancer takes as well as the joy in being able to help in the effort to find a cure. He pointed to the care that Nina got in her final days from the local hospice where she was treated right up until her death at home.
“She was able to die in her silk pajamas in her own bed with Gary and Bette hugging on her, and her two sisters rubbing her legs,” McQueen said.
Even in the midst of such personal experience, McQueen looks forward to Relay next weekend as much for the lighter side of the event as anything.
“The whole congregation goes out there and we have a potluck to start it,” he said. “We just party through the whole weekend.”
He sees it as something that touches everyone on Grays Harbor.
“What goes on out there are hard-working people who just do fabulous things,” McQueen said.
Angelo Bruscas, a Daily World writer, can be reached at 537-3916, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
St. Andrews Relay For Life Team
CO-CAPTAINS: Bette Worth, Bobbi McCracken, Annette Pinckney and Denise Cox.
HISTORY: Team was started in 1999 by Shari Hyde and Denise Cox. The first year, the team raised $1,834. There are now two teams from the congregation.
FUNDRAISING: The St. Andrew’s team raised $61,681 in the 2009 Relay For Life, $62,926 in 2010 and $64,367 last year. The team has been honored as a National Team of Excellence by the American Cancer Society.
BRACELETS: St. Andrew’s continues to sell special “Hope” bracelets for $20 each that come in all colors for each color associated with a type of cancer. Locally, the bracelets can be found at Curves, Headlines Salon, Radiant Care, Passions Salon and Coastal Internal Medicine.They also can be purchased online at http://standrewsrfl.info/Hope_Bracelet/
QUOTE: From St. Andrews pastor, Father Dale McQueen: “Relay For Life exemplifies all of Grays Harbor. What goes on out there are hard-working people who just do fabulous things.They raise an amount of money that the American Cancer Society is just in awe of. And this is from a community that is supposed to be depressed.”