The Rice County Relay for Life Committee really didn't know what to expect when they planned this year's event in the middle of a pandemic.  They knew they couldn't have a large crowd so a drive thru was planned.  No entertainment.  No stage.  No silent auction.  No kid's games.  Committee members said they would be happy if they were able to sell 50 luminaries.

The total when I left before 10:00 p.m. was over 3,000.  Total dollars raised are not known yet but going into the Luminary Drive Thru event $50,000 to $60,000 dollars had been raised.  Not bad when you consider many relays decided not to try due to COVID-19.

The brief opening ceremony carried on Facebook live started with a prayer by Pastor Dan Ford of the Faribault Evangelical Free Church.

"Heavenly Father we come to you the God of comfort, the God of healing, the God of strength, the God of encouragement, the God of hope, the God of light.  We invite you Lord we ask you to come and make your presence known in a powerful way.  Lord we pray that you would touch the hearts of every individual that's able to join us both virtually and live tonight.  We pray that your peace and your power would just fall upon them, so that they would experience your comfort in such a real and tangible way. Lord as you are the God of light we pray that each one of these lights can light up the sky tonight to be a reminder of the light in the darkness.  The light that we can be for you.  The light that you bring into the darkness that darkness cannot extinguish.  No matter what circumstances.  No matter what may come."

"Oh Lord we cling to you and we thank you for all your good and wonderful gifts.  In your holy name we pray Oh Lord.  Amen."

Mikayla Bohner then sang a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem to kick off the night.

Rose Holz provided Honorary Chair remarks concerning her double journey with cancer.  Her daughter Melissa was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of 10 in 1997.

"She went through six months of chemotherapy that made her extremely sick with lots of up and down days.  Some very, very scary days.  In November of '97 she had a stem cell transplant, her 9 year old brother David was her donor.  While she was in Rochester she was in isolation most of the time.  I was able to stay right with her through all of this.  Carl (her husband) would come over on the weekends and give me a break so I could spend time with our other 3 kids."

She went on to describe the terrific support they received from their extended families.

"We never gave up hope with Melissa.  We just knew she was going to be okay.  We are so blessed that she is doing great because God answered all of our prayers.  The following year 1998 we got involved with the Relay for Life.  Melissa was actually the Honorary Chair then at 11 years old and we started out team Marching for Melissa.  We continue to raise money for this cause that we hold dear to our hearts."

"Praying that someday there will be a cure for this terrible disease.  As we rejoice for Melissa every day we know so many more aren't so fortunate.  Fast forward to December of 2018.  My husband Carl was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer.  Talk about a shock.  Something we just never expected to hear.  He had been sick with a cold and had a terrible cough that just wouldn't go away.  He had been on different antibiotics and just wasn't getting any better."

Holz added, "So they order an x-ray and it showed he had a couple spots on his lungs.  So we were obviously concerned about the spots but the doctors didn't think there was too much to worry about.  In the meantime he developed an umbilical hernia.  He was feeling better.  The cough got better, but they decided to check his lungs again.  The technician accidently, that's what they say, I say through the grace of God while looking at his lungs and hernia scanned his pancreas."

Holz explained the Doctor at Mayo in Rochester thought he needed a better look so ordered Carl to go to Rochester for more testing.

"We didn't know they were suspicious of pancreatic cancer at the time.  We just thought that there wasn't something right.  They did mention cancer but they also mentioned pancreatitis so we just assumed that's all it was and he would be okay.  He was told to come back December 3rd for more testing and to do a biopsy."

"The next day we certainly didn't expect the call we got.  It was cancer.  Initially the oncology team felt it was at it's early stage and they were very optimistic that with chemo and radiation they would be able to successfully remove his tumor."

Holz explained, "He endured many rounds of chemotherapy in Rochester and had five weeks of radiation.  He was getting so weak and so tired from all the chemo.  They finally did a test to see if all that chemo and radiation worked.  It showed it hadn't changed the tumor at all but they would still go ahead with the surgery anyway.  Still very optimistic they could get the tumor and he would be okay."

She added, "The surgery was scheduled for June 10, 2019.  We were all so optimistic.  As they wheeled him down the hall he said, 'Don't worry, I got this.'  Shortly after the surgery we got a call that the surgeon wanted to talk to us.  They had discovered the tumor had spread to his liver.  The only option now was to try more chemo to possibly give Carl more time which is what we all wanted."

"He wanted quality of time not quantity so he would try the chemo.  We switched the chemo from Mayo in Rochester to the Cancer Center in Faribault and this was a great decision. He was so comfortable with Amy and the nurses were fantastic.  They had agreed to be real and open with Carl.  Nothing was going to be sugar coated.  During his chemo we were able to have some great times and made some wonderful memories with family and friends."

"We've had such unbelievable support from our families, friends, Carl's work at Northfield Bus Lines.  My brother and sister-in-law brainstormed the Carlabration which was a fabulous event.  Carl was so happy.  We had lots of people there and they could share stores with Carl.  Something he really needed at the time.  We had a couple long weekend getaways to visit some dear friends that are so special to us."

"Holly and Kate, two of my daycare moms were planning a benefit.  Carl so badly wanted to be there. God had different plans.  He took Carl home on October 10th exactly 4 months to the day from the surgery.  No more suffering for Carl but a hole in our hearts that will never be filled.."

Holz shared, "The hardest part about being a caregiver is losing the person you love a little bit each day.  Carl was always so strong.  Mentally and physically.  To watch him slip away and become so frail and fragile was so painful.  I promised him we would fight this battle together to the end and we did.  I was able to hold him in my arms up until his last breath."

She concluded, "My hope is that we have more stories about Melissa and less stories about Carl."

Scores and scores of vehicles came through the Rice County Fairgrounds.  Many from the Car Cruise held downtown.

No count was taken but  the vehicles had to number over 400.

Rice County Relay 2020 Shirt. Photo by Gordy Kosfeld