Jean Wilson has immersed herself in Relay For Life of Butler County for the better part of two decades.

It was a breast cancer diagnosis in 1997 that initially got her started with the annual event, but it was her understanding that so many people benefit from the American Cancer Society gathering that kept her involved even after she went into remission later that year.

“When I went for the first time (to Relay) I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Wilson, who serves as a co-leader with Liz Ostermier and Lisa Ruth in terms of working with cancer survivors for various Butler County Relay activities. “I went and I saw all of those survivors and I decided that I couldn’t stay away after that. I had to make other people see what I saw, that people do survive from this for many, many years.

“Yes, we do lose some, but there are many, many survivors. And I had that great feeling that I could be a survivor, too."

This year’s campaign for the second time is being held in the David City Park located south of Kansas Street between Seventh and Ninth streets. Traditionally, the event has been held over on the track area and inside of the David City Auditorium.

“We just went across the street to the park, because you know, we had been doing it at 6 p.m. on a Friday afternoon and there people go camping, there’s baseball, soccer and softball – it’s Friday, people want to get away,” Butler County Relay For Life co-leader Barb Petrik said. “And I had more people tell me, ‘Oh, we are going camping but we always get back by noon on Sunday so that might work for us.’”

So in 2018, Relay For Life of Butler County was moved to being held on Sunday at the park, a move which ultimately paid dividends in terms of overall community response and event success. Petrik estimated that 300-350 county residents – survivors, caretakers and others – made their way to the David City Park to soak up the festivities.

This year’s campaign is being held from 3-8 p.m. on Sunday, June 9, and Petrik and her cohorts once again expect a solid response from the community. Last year, Relay For Life of Butler County was such a hit that it was recognized by the American Cancer Society for its innovative thinking in terms of hosting its first ever Dove Release Ceremony where biodegradable, helium-filled ‘doves’ were released to honor those who ultimately lost the battle with cancer.

After being named a regional winner for innovation, Relay For Life of Butler County was submitted for consideration at the National Relay Level and ultimately was presented with the National Spirit of Relay Award.

“We were shocked,” Petrik said. “Little Butler County, Nebraska, won a national recognition for our Relay in the Park!”

This year’s Relay will feature many of the same staples as years past. A silent auction with bidding and numerous children’s activities will start right around 3 p.m. at the park. At 4:30 p.m. the Oak Creek Sporting Club is hosting its annual meal for survivors and Butler County Health Care Center will be grilling out burgers for the public. In addition, a local corn taco truck vendor will be set up in the park to provide tasty cuisine, with a portion of proceeds going toward benefiting the American Cancer Society.

The opening ceremony of Relay For Life of Butler County is being held at 6 p.m. with a flag presentation, national anthem and prayer with the assistance of community members. Survivor and caregiver recognition ceremonies will follow and the goal is to once again have a Dove Balloon Release. This, however, may not be in the cards this year due to unforeseen circumstances.

“They are biodegradable doves, and I have to admit, we are a little nervous about whether we will get helium because we have been told already that there is a huge shortage so we may not be able to get it,” Petrik said … “We are still selling the doves, though.”

The response to the Dove Release last year was pretty incredible, Petrik noted.

“I have to tell you, we released them in this open area of the park and everything just got so quiet,” she said. “Those doves went up and everyone was just like, ‘oh my gosh.’ And then we had people in the community the next day coming up to us and saying, ‘what in the world were those things going up over town last night?’"

Petrik said the Relay offers a little bit of something for most people. The event will also be accessible to people who aren’t as mobile as they once were with golf carts once again shuttling them around the park throughout the afternoon.

Proceeds raised throughout the day will go directly toward benefiting other people and families affected by cancer. Not only is the Relay an important fundraiser, but it’s also a vital morale booster for many survivors and those still battling for their lives, Wilson said.

It’s a reminder for people struggling that they aren’t alone and that they very well might get through this rocky spot in their lives.

Wilson recalled how the initial diagnosis from her physician was a gut-punch, but that she was able to regroup and fight for her life. Twenty-six radiation treatments later she found herself in remission.

“I got the phone call (from her doctor) and my heart dropped for a minute,” Wilson said of her diagnosis. “But then I just went on with my business and asked God to help get me through this. And between him and myself and all the other prayers I got and support I received, we got through it.”

For more information regarding this year's Relay For Life of Butler County, those with questions can reach Petrik at 402-367-2275.

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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