By Ed Runyan
Adversity seemed like the last thing on the minds of a huge throng of cancer survivors and their supporters Friday evening as the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life kicked off on Courthouse Square.
The evening featured weather that was nothing short of perfect — with blue skies and cool, sun-filled breezes putting the crowd in a happy and festive mood.
The relay, considered the largest in Ohio because of funds raised and number of survivors participating, will most certainly keep its top billing this year, given the huge turnout, said ACS events manager Pam Marshall.
“Normally, we have 1,200 to 1,400 survivors,” Marshall said. Some years, the event has had the most cancer survivors of any relay in the country, Marshall said.
With Friday’s crowd, it’s likely Warren had the most again, she said.
Mayor Doug Franklin, announcing the start of the relay for the first time as mayor, said it’s perhaps not a coincidence that Warren brings out survivors each spring in record numbers.
“If anybody wants to know about survival, they need look no further than downtown Warren,” Franklin said.
The city was hit hard during the great recession of 2009-10, and its manufacturing base and downtown have taken hits over the years, only to bounce back.
Downtown Warren, with its tree-filled and historic Courthouse Square, was a celebration of life and of the arrival of the festival season.
It was clear that Lori Elston of Champion, walking in the survivor’s lap for the first time after being diagnosed with lung cancer at this time last year, was enjoying the moment with her husband, Ron, and son, Brian.
“You don’t realize how much it will affect you,” Lori said of the walk around the square, thousands of people clapping and cheering, many dressed in zany costumes.
“I’m not a vain person, but it felt like they were clapping for me,” Lori said.
“I’m a positive person, and it makes you want to be even more positive,” she said.
Part way around the square, her grandson unexpectedly came out of the crowd, walked up and gave her a big hug.
“That was really special,” she said.
Among those cheering were the workers in the radiology department at St. Joseph Health Center, who raised $11,500 through bake sales, basket raffles and lots of sponsors.
They stood out because they dressed up like characters from the movies — Shrek and Princess Fiona and Princess Leia from Star Wars, for instance. Their theme this year was “Picture It: A World Without Cancer.” The T-shirts they designed have movie film running through them.
“All of us have been touched by cancer,” said one of the employees, Dee Dee Kramp of Warren.
The relay continues today through 6 p.m.