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Ford City Relay for Life keeps memories alive

| Sunday, June 9, 2013, 12:31 a.m.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Sisters Sherry Stillwagon (left) of Chicora, who has been cancer-free for 18 years, and Dona Toy of Worthington say a prayer on Saturday, June 8, 2013, for their mother, Phyllis Reichard, who passed away from cancer in May 2012, as they watch the balloon release during the Ford City Relay for Life.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Caleb Matus, 8, opens the Ford City Relay for Life on Saturday, June 8, 2013, by “shooting for a cure” in honor of his cousin, 7-year-old Sydney Bryson of Ford City, who is fighting leukemia.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Dona Toy of Worthington said she was saying a prayer from her mother, Phyllis Reichard, who passed away from cancer in May of 2012, as she watches the last balloons go out of sight at the Relay for Life on Saturday, June 8, 2013 in Ford City.

Amanda Bouch is a woman missing her grandma.

Bouch, 23, of Adrian looked sad and hurt as she kneeled in the grass in front of a poster bearing an image of her grandmother, Mary Ann Bouch, at the Ford City Relay for Life on Saturday.

Last year, Mary Ann Bouch of Ford City and her family took part in the relay's survivors lap, held at the Ford City football field. It was her request that they start their own team for this year.

She died from cancer at 71 on April 12, less than two months before the relay.

Amanda got happier, animated, and even managed to smile as she spoke of her grandmother — of how everyone who knew her loved her, of how she fought cancer, and what a tremendous baker she was.

Everyone on their team — Grandma's Nest — was there for her, she said.

“This is what my grandmother wanted, and this is what she got. I know she's looking down smiling,” Amanda said. “I miss her. She was closer to me than my mom. That woman raised me. She's the reason I'm the person I am today.”

Their team was one of about 40 taking part in the 16th annual Relay for Life of Ford City this weekend. It began Saturday morning and was scheduled to wrap up Sunday morning.

While one of several relays in the Alle-Kiski Valley, the Ford City event stands out in the region, the state and even the nation.

Last year, the relay netted $655,000 for the American Cancer Society, said Molly Walsh, income development representative for the society. It was third behind first-place Pottstown and second-place Lancaster.

On a per capita basis, the Ford City relay ranks first in the nation for fundraising, she said. This year's goal is $660,000.

“It's a year-round fund-raising effort from all these people,” Walsh said. “It's a fantastic group of very passionate volunteers up here.”

It also has the nation's top fund-raising team in the form of Rosebud Mining, which last year raised $400,000, Walsh said.

Wendy Powell, captain of the Rosebud team, said their contribution would be down a bit this year because the company is directing some of its money toward the Wounded Warrior Project, which benefits veterans.

Her daughter, Megan Latham, was captain of B.J.'s Brigade, a team named in honor of her son, Brandon, who died in 1996 at 15 from bone cancer.

B.J.'s Brigade raised about $10,000 last year — not as much as Rosebud's, but not bad for a small team, she said.

But for Powell, relay isn't about the money.

“It's our little way we can keep his memory alive and maybe prevent someone from going through what we went through,” Powell said.

The theme for this year's relay was holidays. A walk around the track found tents with themes such as St. Patrick's Day, New Year's and Valentine's Day.

One team posted a notice declaring independence from “the tyranny known as cancer.”

Team captain Darlene Walker of Worthington lost her husband, Kurt, to lymphoma in 2001. She said she wants to show her teenage son and daughter that something good can come from their loss.

“It's such a positive experience. It's more like a family reunion,” she said. “It turns out to be a positive effect, rather than thinking of what cancer has taken from us.”

The holiday being honored by the Grace-St. John's Lutheran Parish team was a birthday — for Sydney Bryson, of Ford City who turned 7 on May 8, said Kathie Olinger, of Manorville. Sydney is fighting leukemia; her aunt, Paula Matus, was on the team.

Olinger is a breast cancer survivor; she was diagnosed in March 2012.

“I swear if you live long enough you're going to end up having it at some point,” Olinger said.

Jerry Lenavitt, 82, of Kittanning lost his wife, Catherine, to lung cancer two years ago. His legs aren't up to walking the track, so instead he was “spinning for a cure,” spinning wool into yarn as part of the Slate Lick Saints team.

“What I'll make from this, I haven't decided yet,” he said. “I figured it might be an attraction and help us make a little more money. Anything for the effort.”

He's been a part of the team from Slate Lick United Presbyterian Church for about five years.

“It's a way to help folks that have cancer and help try to find a cure so people don't have to suffer with this disease,” he said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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