Relay raises hopes and funds
Annual event at SUNY Cortland helps to _support the American Cancer Society.
Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Tom Ardis carries the torch as he leads the cancer survivors lap during the Relay For Life Friday night at SUNY Cortland. Survivors all wore purple shirts as they walked one lap around Davis Field.
Twin brothers Keegan and Reilley Mastroe, of Homer, light candles during the luminaria ceremony at the Relay For Life Friday night at Davis Field on the SUNY Cortland campus. The boys lost both grandmothers to cancer.
CORTLAND — Hope pays. Relay for Life’s Flame of Hope symbolizes the absolute need for families and friends to keep that fire alive, especially in the coldest hours of the night when it can burn its brightest.
Luminaria lined the track at SUNY Cortland Friday night, each white paper bag holding a candle and weighted down with sand. Many had pictures pasted to them, and were designated either “In Memory of,” for those who have died, or “In Honor of,” for those who’ve survived.
When the time came, a single candle was lighted from the Flame of Hope and that fire was passed from person to person as they ignited the candles in each luminaria. The names of those for whom a bag was lighted in memory were read aloud over the public address system.
Cortland County’s liaison with the American Cancer Society, Alison Knoth, said there were about 5,500 luminaria around the track last night. Each bag sold for five dollars.
“This is the fifth year, and this community has just so embraced Relay for Life,” Knoth said as the candles were being lighted. “This is incredible.”
Mary Ellen Ensign, one of the chairs of the event, said more than 1,100 people had signed up to participate in the event and there were 59 teams. There’s no way of telling how many people actually attended the event, and Ensign noted that not all of the survivors participating in the event were team members.
The event began with the Survivors March. Hundreds of cancer survivors, wearing purple T-shirts and white sashes, walked around the track in a show of their strength. After they had made their round, those who had supported someone with cancer — caregivers — joined the survivors for the walk.
“I know that when we first started the event five years ago, there were people who didn’t want to say they were survivors because of the stigma, but now they want to say that they’re survivors because they know they’ll be celebrated and supported,” Ensign said. “My grandfather died of cancer in 1948, and my grandmother said they never even talked about it.”
Survivor Bob Jacoby of Binghamton said he had participated in the Relay for Life for the past two years. He fought his battle with cancer in the 1960s.
“A friend of mine had it a couple of years, maybe five years ago,” Jacoby said. “Back when I had cancer, you didn’t talk about it.”
Jacoby said the attitude now is “a lot more positive.”
This year’s Relay for Life raised about $180,000, Ensign said this morning. This is the combined total for all of the fundraisers and events leading up to and including last night’s event, she said.
Last year’s event raised $146,000.
By 1:30 a.m., many people had gone to sleep on the grass inside the track, but others continued to walk, run or just sit and talk with friends. Some played guitar.
Devon Hines, 14, of Marathon, was awake and sitting in a camp chair at the High Hopes tent. High Hopes was the Cortland County Relay for Life team.
“I’ve been here since the start,” Hines said. “I’ve probably walked a good four or five miles. My mom and dad are around here somewhere. I think they went to bed for a little bit”
Both parents attended the event, and Hines’s sister Amber was the High Hopes team captain and was still working at the late hour.
“A couple people in the family have fought cancer, and are fighting it now,” Hines said
3 generations find strength in their battles with cancer
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Gary Smith, of Homer, walks next to his son Elijah, 3, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. The pair participated in the Relay for Life event Friday at SUNY Cortland. Relay for Life raises money for cancer research.
“It’s sort of a powerful little walk,” Gary Smith said Friday night as he walked on the track at SUNY Cortland.
Smith, of Homer, his wife Bonnie Smith, his son Elijah, and his wife’s father, David Ellison of Syracuse, walked the track during the Survivor and Caregiver March at the 2006 Relay for Life.
OK — Elijah rode. The blue bicycle (with training wheels) had been a present for his third birthday in April.
Elijah and his grandfather both wore the white sashes of cancer survivors, the proud title stitched in purple lettering.
“It’ about a year and a half since I was operated on,” Ellison said, having undergone surgery for lung cancer.
“A year ago, I never would have thought that this year we’d be here for Elijah. It’s been an overwhelming six months,” Gary Smith said as he walked the track.
Elijah had been diagnosed with leukemia in January.
Bonnie had walked in honor of Ellison at last year’s event with the Cortland Central School District.
“Cancer affects every family,” Bonnie Smith said. “Everybody has a story.”
She teaches second grade at Smith Elementary School, and her husband is the director of youth and young adult ministry at St. Margaret’s Church in Homer.
“He’s doing great,” Gary Smith said of Elijah. “He’s in remission. He’s got two more years of chemotherapy to do, and then we just hope the cancer won’t return.
Gary Smith said that St. Margaret’s has been exceptionally supportive, allowing him to stay home and take Elijah to his weekly appointments since February.
“My father died when I was 10, from cancer, and not having my father for most of my life — It was all I ever wanted. With Elijah I’ve been able to be what I’ve always wanted, and it’s brought us together, and we have bonded. Of course I wish there was some other way we could have done it.”
Gary Smith stood next to the track after a couple of laps while Elijah smiled at the attentions of his grandparents and Bonnie.
“I do feel kind of silly carrying a stuffed dog around,” Gary Smith said laughing. “This is Snickers, he goes everywhere, and when Elijah plays doctor, Snickers is the patient.”
He said that he had researched leukemia data from the 1970s, and that he found that there was only a 2 percent survival rate.
“Now, it’s a very curable cancer.”
According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, from 1970 to 1973, a person with leukemia had a 22-percent chance of living five years, compared to someone without leukemia. Today, the overall survival rate for some types of leukemia is as high as 70 percent.
“It’s amazing what Relay for Life is doing to make money for cancer research,” Gary Smith said.
“They told us about it last year, and it didn’t really sink in,” Ellison said. “Maybe we’ll try to get some donors up in Syracuse and we’ll bring them down here next year. I didn’t have any idea about the number of people who came — The turnout is great. People can have a good time and I assume that most of them have made donations. It’s probably raised quite a bit of money.”
Gary Smith said that St. Margaret’s had raised over $1,100 for the American Cancer Society through personal donations alone.
And Elijah’s care-page, which is a Web site that keeps people updated on Elijah and his progress, has also raised contributions.
“It’s challenged my faith, and both deepened and changed my relationship with God,” Gary Smith said. “The outpouring of support from the church community has been phenomenal. This has gotta be the most prayed-for kid in the world.”
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Empire Zone OK'd by state
Cortland County is among the first applicants in the state to have its application approved for a newly configured Empire Zone.
The state Empire Zone Designation Board has approved the county’s application to reconfigure its Empire Zone, which will allow the county to offer incentives based on the size of the investment a company makes in the area.
The zone will be authorized as an “Investment Zone,” which allows for up to four separate and distinct contiguous areas.
“This new designation will allow us to extend benefits to parts of the county we haven’t been able to in the past,” said Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp.
Those areas include the village of Homer’s central business district, the Route 11 corridor that connects the city to Homer, a business park in the works along Route 13 in Cortlandville and the home building business park that surrounds Barden Homes in Preble.
The state’s Empire Zone program had effectively ended in December, Hartsock said, and the state had asked all Empire Zones to reconfigure and reapply for the program.
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