Hundreds of local residents from David City, Butler County and the surrounding area came together to honor, fight and remember on Sunday afternoon.
Each had their own specific reasons for being there. For some, it was as a survivor. For others, they've been touched in the role of caretaker. For others, it was simply a way to get involved and try to make a difference in memory of those lost to cancer.
The 2019 Relay for Life of Butler County featured stories aplenty on Sunday afternoon at the David City Park. For the second year in a row, it was in the park location after previous years at the track west of the auditorium.
The event, which began at 3 p.m. and ran through 8 p.m., featured a silent auction, musical entertainment, an opening ceremony with color guard, national anthem and prayer, cancer survivors recognition and group photo, caretakers recognition and group photo, a 'dove' release, food and fellowship.
Relay For Life of Butler County 2018 was recognized with the Innovation Award by the National Cancer Society for its release of nearly 300 inflatable and also biodegradable doves. They made quite the impression on travelers who saw the flock still floating in the sky near Highway 81 later in the evening.
The doves were back for 2019. Right around 200 were purchased and imprinted with the names of loved ones lost to the fight with cancer. Nearly 1000 luminaries, normally plastic bags filled with candles, were also made with the names of departed friends and family as well as survivors.
The bags dotted the landscape every couple of inches at the park and covered the full length of the path just north of the lake.
"It’s just important to honor the survivors. It just brings tears to your eyes when you see all the luminaries in your name and the people that are praying for you. So, I’m here to pass it on," said Geri From, a 22-year breast cancer survivor.
She remembers back to a phone call in 1997 in which friends, knowing she had just received her diagnosis, encouraged her to become involved in the event.
Although she survived, her own mother was taken six months after it was revealed she had contracted ovarian cancer.
From now lives in Lincoln but was back Sunday as a representation of what winning the fight looks like.
"To see some of the people here that are over 20-year survivors, and some of the research that’s going on, it’s just amazing," she said.
Annette Glock hasn't been touched by such a powerful loss but said she sees the struggle every day as a nurse at the clinic in David City.
"I get to know a lot of people. It’s just a good cause. I’ve been involved since the beginning, since it started," she said.
Glock estimated the first Relay was in 1999 or 2000. She's only missed two, and that was due to band trips for her children.
"It’s just fulfilling. It’s that feeling that you did something good for somebody," she said. "We’re trying to raise more money so we can have a world without cancer. It’s nice to see all the survivors because you don’t get to see them that much."
Along the path that covered a couple of hundred yards was Jenny Beaver, observing all the names on the luminaria.
Beaver and her husband own Kobza Motors in David City, once owned by her father, Jim Kobza, until lung cancer took him two years ago.
Beaver herself is a 28-year survivor of liver cancer who needs a transplant to beat her diagnosis.
"I come out here to support all the families that have been touched by the disease," she said.
"It’s a scary moment, (when you find out you have cancer) and it’s almost harder when you’re on the other side when you hear about someone you love. With you, you’re kind of in control. With somebody else, you have no control whatsoever. That was hard, and (Jim) was such a tough man."
He was taken at 74 years old.
Helping shuttle event goers around the park grounds was 88-year-old Fred Vandenberg. Co-chairperson Barb Petrik called Fred's wife, who offered his services for the afternoon.
"I’ve been lucky. I’m 88, and the only thing I’ve lost is my hearing," Vandenberg said. "I lost my wife’s mother to cancer. I’d have to sit down and think about (all the others). There’s been quite a few."
A couple of hundred yards to the west was Petrik and a group of four others putting the final touches on the 'doves' inside the basement of the auditorium.
Despite a worldwide helium shortage, there was just enough for 2019. But while Petrik and helpers that included Nicki Brigham, Lisa Ruth, Stephanie Stephenson and Barb Zeilinger were filling and decorating the balloons, they were also brainstorming new options for next year.
The group came together around noon, completed the luminaria bags in just over an hour and had been at work on the balloons for just over two hours.
Petrik said the recent flooding has definitely put more of a strain on people's pocketbooks and likely resulted in just about 100 fewer doves. But while the 2019 version of the event may take a hit in terms of dove sales, Stephenson said there will always be enough assistance from citizens of Butler County to keep the event going.
People here want to make a difference.
"The cool thing about Northeast Nebraska, people will come forward and ask if they can help. You don’t have to ask them," she said. "That is the coolest deal. You have a need, they recognize it, and they say, ‘I can help you.’"
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor for The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at DVDsports@lee.net.