By BECKY KISER
“Very, very pleased” is how Ellis County Relay For Life Committee member Mary Ann Randa described Friday evening’s event in the downtown Hays open-air pavilion.
This was the second year the annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society was held at the pavilion and this time the committee tried something new.
“Rockin’ on the Bricks” featured a two-hour concert by “Elvis,” also known as Schoenchen resident Frank Werth, drawing music-lovers who had never attended the local relay in its 20-plus years. Werth kicked off his concert singing “Only The Strong Will Survive” as cancer survivors clad in their purple t-shirts and wearing RFL survivor medals, walked the relay with the Survivor’s Lap.
Purple donation buckets were scattered about the pavilion, adding to the money raised from a silent auction of donated gift baskets.
Luminaries purchased in remembrance of those who died of cancer and honoring others who are battling the disease lined 10th Street next to the pavilion.
A special memorial table was graced with the faces of Hays residents Mary Braden and Lonnie Claycamp, who both died recently of cancer.
Braden started the Ellis County Relay For Life in Hays and co-founded SOS, the support group for breast cancer survivors. Claycamp was a longtime committee member and also served as chairperson. Special remembrances were presented to their families by the committee.
Also honored were longtime Hays volunteers Bob May, who purchases the survivor medals; Brenda Meder, who reads the honorees names during the nighttime luminary ceremony; and Donna Maskus, a 4-H Master Volunteer who organizes 4-H members to place the many luminaries the morning of the relay.
During a prayer offered Austin Lahman, First Baptist Church pastor, he mentioned the colorful t-shirts worn by relay participants and supporters.
The backs of one particular black shirt was emblazoned with “Cancer Sucks” in white lettering. Similar shirts worn by children had a little less harsh wording of “Cancer Stinks.”
The family and friends of Hays resident Clint Froelich were wearing the black shirts in recognition and support of his ongoing cancer battle that began a year ago.
The front of the t-shirts features a quote by Clint, “Cancer, you make me wish I had more middle fingers.”
His mother Marie Froelich says the t-shirts have been sold to members of their large family and to others in support of Clint and for cancer awareness.
Clint thought he was having an appendix attack. The organ was removed and surgeons discovered cancer.
“It was full of cancer,” Marie said. “It’s a very rare type and he’s had about nine surgeries this last year. He’s struggling and we’re just taking one day at a time.”
Marie talked about the up and down battle Clint has faced. “He’s been through the ringer.”
His latest 9-hour surgery and chemo wash yielded some positive results.
“So far things have been clear but he needs to gain weight and get better, ” Marie reported. He also wants to regain his core strength. Clint has been unable to eat normally. Her son is working with doctors in Hays and a specialist in Kansas City.
The 38-year-old is married with four daughters and is a construction worker at Brackney Construction in Hays. The company has also been supporting Clint and his family. “Mark’s been great. He’s been very helpful. If Clint isn’t feeling good he can go home. He just has [Clint] do whatever.”
“Cancer is a scary word,” Marie said. Other family members have also had the disease, including her mom and dad who have both been cancer-free for many years.
“It’s scary how many people have it. I was shocked when I came down here to see the people [who died] that either have luminaries or are in the process – cancer survivors – and how long they’ve been [survivors.] So that gives us hope.”
Prior to the first lap, the cancer survivors introduced themselves to the crowd and said how long they have been survivors. For some, it’s been just weeks; for others, many years.
A Relay For Life fundraising golf tourney organized by Hays Eagle Radio is scheduled for Fri., June 14 at the Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course.
(Editor’s note: Becky Kiser was the emcee for Relay For Life.)