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Rockin' Relay rolls to $45,750

June 20, 2012
Crawford County's 12th annual Relay for Life rocked its way to raising $45,750 for the American Cancer Society.

Beginning Friday evening at 7 and continuing through 8 on Saturday morning, this year's Relay, held for the first time at the Crawford County 4-H Community Park south of Marengo, lived up to its "Rockin' Around the Clock" theme.

Featuring poodle skirts, slicked back hair, 1950s-style campsites and even a Chevy, the fundraiser had participants rolling all night long.

Although the amount raised is shy of their goal of netting $48,000, officials are pleased.

"If you think about it, that means that about $4.50 was raised for every person living in Crawford County," Autumne Baker, community representative of the ACS's Great Lakes Division, said.

Jean Melton, who for the second consecutive year served as co-chair with her daughter, Alicia Lutz, said that, with the ACS's fiscal year not ending until Aug. 31, there is still time to meet the goal.

"We're just hoping that each team will raise another couple hundred dollars and we'll be at (the) goal," she said.

Melton admitted some participants were apprehensive about having the Relay at the 4-H Park instead of the Crawford County Junior-Senior High School track across the road like it was for the first 11 Relays. However, as the hours passed so did those concerns, she said.

"I feel very good about the event. I think it went very well," she said. "I think people enjoyed the new venue."

The "track" was inside the livestock barn, which made the walking distance much shorter. Plus, whereas campsites in the past were away from the track, they were set up in the middle of the barn.

"It just made it real neighborly," Melton said, noting people were able to visit much easier.

Baker said reaction to the change in venue was "almost completely positive" with "just a few things to tweak for next year."

Melton said they hope to get a sponsor to put down industrial mats on the concrete floor to make walking easier.

This year's Relay featured 17 teams — up two from a year ago — with about 200 members, Baker said, adding she was pleasantly surprised by the number of survivors and caregivers who participated.

"We (had) over 80 survivors registered," she said.

One of those caregivers, Jessica Stepp, spoke during the opening ceremony about her experiences after her mother and best friend, Rita Thevenot, was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer.

She told about how shock turned to fear and then hope and courage before turning back to fear and finally acceptance.

"While it was my 48-year-old mom experiencing the illness, it was our family that was crumbling apart because of it," Stepp said.

Stepp talked about how hopeful she was when her mother didn't get sick from the chemotherapy and how distraught she was when Thevenot finally did. However, it was when the oncologist said the cancer was terminal that Stepp didn't want to face reality and pulled away from the situation.

For months, Stepp avoided her mom until one day Thevenot sent her a simple text message: "I miss my best friend."

Realizing her time was near, Thevenot wanted to do something they had never done: take a family vacation. So, in August 2009, the entire family went to Myrtle Beach, S.C. Then, that Christmas, Thevenot spoiled her grandchildren with presents, but told them not to expect Santa to be that generous the next year.

During Christmas dinner that year, Thevenot, with her immune system weakened, wore a mask and ate alone in the laundry room. From that low, however, came a high just the next month.

"The cancer had disappeared, showing absolutely nothing on her test," Stepp said.

Unfortunately, that excitement didn't last long. Thevenot began having severe headaches in late February, and tests revealed that the cancer had spread to her brain.

Thevenot's family, wanting to honor her wishes to not be placed in a nursing home, took turns caring for her, until she said she didn't want anyone staying with her any longer and would text Stepp if she needed anything.

On June 14, Thevenot, although tired, cooked a large birthday celebration meal. It would the last time she would be with all of her family at home.

The next day, with Stepp's aunt staying with her, Thevenot began having severe pain and was taken to the hospital. Stepp said she knew it was just a matter of time when her mom, whom she described as a fighter, hugged her and said, "Baby girl, I can't do this anymore. I've tried, but the pain is just too much. So sorry."

Thevenot, at age 49, died on June 19, 2010.

Stepp issued everyone in the audience the same challenge that Thevenot issued to everyone she knew before her death: stop smoking.

"You're not the only one affected by that bad habit," Stepp said. "I can promise you that."

Planning for next year's Relay, with Angela Crecelius to serve as chair, already is underway. However, persons who want to help this year's event meet its $48,000 goal may still do so by mailing a donation to Relay for Life of Crawford County, 5250 Vogel Road, Suite A, Evansville, IN 47715.

"The amount of work that goes into putting on an event of this magnitude is enormous, and I just want to thank everyone that had any part in it, from the committee, to the team captains, team members, survivors and caregivers," Baker said.

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