Thirty years ago, Gordon “Gordy” Klatt, MD, logged the first 83.6 miles of what has since become the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraising event. Relay for Life, which was founded in Tacoma in 1985, has grown from one man’s mission — and his grueling, 24-hour journey around the track at the University of Puget Sound’s Baker Stadium — to an annual effort of nearly four million people nationwide, walking together to end cancer.
Founded on the belief that one person really can make a difference, Gordy singlehandedly raised $27,000 in the event’s first year. By 1986, Gordy’s effort had inspired the community and 19 teams formed to participate in the day-long event. The teams raised $33,000 that year.
Today, Gordy’s vision has grown to include more than 5,000 events nationwide, earning nearly $5 billion in the fight against cancer — and that number continues to grow. Funds raised from Relay for Life go toward everything from providing support and resources for newly-diagnosed cancer patients to funding ground-breaking cancer research and more.
As the birthplace of this national event, the South Sound takes its Relay for Life very seriously. With multiple Relay for Life events spanning Pierce County annually, there are many ways the entire community can participate and make a difference in the lives of cancer patients everywhere.
For the past 17 years, the City of Sumner is one South Sound city that has participated in Relay for Life in a big way. Desaree James is an organizer for the annual event and says it takes the entire community to make the fundraiser as successful as it is. Everyone always steps up to the plate.
“Our volunteers and sponsors make our event what it is today,” says James. “When you walk the track, everything you see — the track, the stage, the tables, the chairs, the big tent and even down to the t-shirts we wear — are because of the funds raised by volunteers and the donations received from sponsors.”
It is this community support and involvement that allows Relay for Life of Sumner to put on a great event and maximize the money that is raised. And it really does require the participation of the entire community to make it happen. “Relay brings all members of the community — neighbors, businesses, organizations, school groups, churches, community groups and family — together for a common cause,” says Desaree.
One community sponsor that continuously contributes to the success of the event is Sunset Chevrolet. “Sunset Chevrolet has been involved with the Relay for Life of Sumner for a long time, and they are one of our top sponsors,” says Desaree. In addition to sponsoring the event, Desaree says the dealership also has an active team that participates in the relay, which takes place at Sumner High School’s Sunset Stadium, a venue named after the dealership.
“All of our sponsors are amazing,” Desaree adds. “Without companies like Sunset Chevrolet stepping up and helping, our event would not be as successful as it is.”
All who participate in Relay for Life of Sumner, from volunteers and sponsors to teams and everyone in between, are there because they want to be. “Cancer seems to touch almost every citizen’s life at one point or another,” says Sunset Chevrolet’s Mike Conley, whose own mother is a three-time cancer survivor. “Just this last year we lost one of our employees to this terrible disease. We walked this year to celebrate Chad’s life and the all who have lost their battles with cancer, and to celebrate the survivors, too.”
Conley says supporting and participating an event like Relay for Life is important. Sumner is a tight-knit community of neighbors. “We go to the same local grocery stores, churches, restaurants, schools and more.” Supporting an event like Relay for Life of Sumner is just another way for Sunset Chevrolet to support the people it shares the community with.
And being a part of and supporting the community is important for Sunset Chevrolet — after all, it’s the community that supports this local business. “The loyalty extended to our dealerships is tremendous,” says Conley. “We are humbled by this. Therefore, we have an obligation —that we really consider an honor — to support the families in this region. This includes not just giving money, but actually participating in events like Relay for Life,” Conley explains. “We had over 25 employees and friends walk this year. In fact, my legs reminded me I got my 10 miles in,” he adds with a chuckle.
This year’s Relay for Life of Sumner, which took place on Friday, July 24, raised more than $110,000. To learn how you can get involved with Relay for Life of Sumner or your city’s chapter of the national event, visit Relay for Life’s website.