Attendance on the Fairgrounds was noticeably down for the Rice County Relay for Life event Friday night into Saturday morning.  Despite the low turnout when all the numbers are tallied about $90,000 could be raised.  I say could be because the final silent auction numbers were not in yet at closing ceremonies time.

Approximately $78,000 was the number going into the closing Saturday morning.  Last year $108,000 was the final number.  Still a successful event for sure but all the numbers have been going down in recent years leaving Relay Committee members scratching their heads.

A number that was again impressive was the combined survivor years at the Relay.  The stage was moved to the north side of the bathroom building this year and it was a popular move. Survivors did not go to the east end of the fairgrounds with their paper rings representing their years of survival and place them on the Keith Shaffer Memorial Survivor Tree.  Instead they made a shorter walk to what is the Bingo pavilion where Emeralds Dance Team members stapled them all together and made a huge circle in the infield around survivor luminaries.

The total number of rings (each ring represents one year of survival)  was 1,538.  In 2018 the number was 1,648.  During opening ceremonies Honorary Caregiver Chair Charlene Chambers spoke about the struggles her family dealt with when her husband Dale went through his lung cancer journey and passed away four years ago.  Chambers said the couple approached the battle as a family with their son 13 years old at the time.

Chambers added, "It's true when people say they gain a new respect for life when going through something like this."

During the opening a moment of silence was given in honor of longtime Relay supporters Lloyd Grandprey and Glen Kodak who passed away in the last year.  Grandprey played taps during the Luminary Service for a number of years and also assisted with the raising of the flag during the open.  He also played music with May Bottke during opening entertainment for many years.

Kodak did maintenance for the Rice County Fair and assisted the Relay Committee each year with set up and tear down.

Rice County Relay 2019 Opening Ceremonies View from Stage. Photo by Gordy Kosfeld


The number of luminaries placed around the fairgrounds has also been steadily falling.  This year 3,033 was the final tally. In 2018 there were 3,679, 2017- 3,301, 2016- 3,499.

Rice County Relay 2019 Luminary. Photo by Gordy Kosfeld

Cancer Survivor Honorary Chair Katie Wren shared her story during the Luminary Service.  Her journey began in September of last year when she was watching television with her daughter one night and felt a shot of pain in her left breast.  Wren felt a lump and went to the doctor.

The diagnosis was breast cancer and they immediately sprung into action.  Her final chemotherapy treatment was in May and she was told they did get all the cancer removed.  Wren said , "I could not have gone through this without the support of my family and friends."

Mark Hedenstrom and Mark Juniman Perform at Rice County Relay about 10:30 p.m. Photo by Gordy Kosfeld

The Rice County Relay had 12 consecutive years where over $100,000 was raised each year.  That string ended in 2014.  Since then last year's event has been the only one to go over what the American Cancer Society calls a mega rally six figure number.

Rice County Relay 2019 Team Results Board. Photo by Gordy Kosfeld

I spoke with a number of people on the grounds about the lack of attendance.  Next year will be it's 28th year.  I've been involved in over 20 of them and believe a generation has passed of individuals who attended every year.  Many of the luminary sales came from churches and church attendance is down considerably over the last 5 years.

We need to find a way to get the next generation to attend and help raise funds that ultimately benefits them and future generations.

The American Red Cross Bloodmobile also experienced a significant decrease in people stopping by to give the perishable lifesaving liquid.