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Annual Kandiyohi County Relay for Life scheduled Friday

WILLMAR -- Every Tuesday during the past school year, the teachers on Willmar Junior High School's two teams for the Kandiyohi County Relay for Life would bring in bars, cupcakes, zucchini bread and other goodies.

For 25 cents, co-workers could help themselves to treats and know they were supporting the American Cancer Society.

Between the Tuesday treats and other fundraisers, the two Junior High Flyers teams -- about 25 people in all -- manage to bring in $5,000 to $6,000 each year, said volunteer Mary Sawatzky.

"Every $5 or $10 just seems to add up," she said. "When everybody does a little piece, you make a hundred thousand dollars for cancer. All of that is pretty rewarding."

The Junior High Flyers are among 40-some teams that have been raising money most of this past year for the Kandiyohi County Relay for Life. The annual event, to be held Friday night at the outdoor track at the junior high, has a goal of raising $160,000 for American Cancer Society research, education and services.

The opening ceremony is at 6 p.m. and will feature the event's three honorary chairmen -- Mary Ann Allinder, Betty Jones and Marcia Quale.

Team members will circle the track continuously all night, until the closing ceremony at 6 a.m. Saturday.

The event is among Kandiyohi County's largest fundraisers, involving hundreds of volunteers who do everything from raising money and enlisting corporate sponsors to setting up tents and placing candle-lighted luminaries around the tracks.

For Mark Slinden and his team, the Crow River Crusaders of New London, this will be the 13th year they've participated in the Relay for Life. Like many of the Relay teams, their involvement is personal. Slinden's mother, Marida Slinden, was diagnosed with cancer in 1998 and died the following year at age 52. Then in 2001 his father, Wayne, was diagnosed with cancer at Christmastime and died three weeks later.

"There can't be anybody around that doesn't have someone in their family or someone they know who's had cancer," Slinden said.

The Crow River Crusaders raise money for the Relay for Life by organizing and hosting the Wayne and Marida Slinden Memorial Golf Tournament each year. This year's golf tournament, their 12th, was held last weekend. It drew 151 golfers and netted $7,000.

"That's just in one day. That's our one big fundraiser," Slinden said.

Other teams host bake sales and garage sales, sell coupon books and whatever else it takes to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

For the Junior High Flyers, "this is kind of a cool year," Sawatzky said. "With this year's fundraising, the junior high has raised $50,000 in total."

At the pinnacle is the Wal-Mart team, which brings in around $20,000 a year.

It's money that can be spent on American Cancer Society-funded research to minimize the side effects of cancer treatment and improve people's quality of life, Sawatzky said. "I don't like people to suffer," she said.

Having a resource where they can get objective information and education also is important for people with cancer, she said. "People can talk to someone."

Slinden's favorite part of the Relay for Life is the survivors' walk, which takes place during the main ceremony in the evening.

The 18 members of the Crow River Crusaders have more than 90 years of cancer survivorship among them, including two people who have survived 18 years beyond their cancer diagnosis, he said. "There are success stories."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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