The 10th annual Vinton Relay for Life took place on May 5 at the Vinton War Memorial. The event is traditionally held at the track at William Byrd High School, but due to renovations at the track and stadium it was moved to the War Memorial for 2017.
The William Byrd High School Air Force JROTC cadets conducted the traditional Flag Retirement Ceremony which takes place each year at Relay– a deeply moving ceremony in which retired American flags are committed to the flames. During preparations for the ceremony, the cadets save the grommets from the flags.
Each year the grommets are framed as mementos and presented to cancer survivors and families of those who passed away from cancer. The grommet plaques for cancer survivors say, “The grommet of a retired American flag is presented as a token of good luck and as a testament to your courage in fighting cancer.”
This year grommets were presented to seven cancer survivors: Sally Sboray, Roger Saunders, Dee and Ralph Royal, Carol Fulcher Booth, Carol Binkley, and Karla Turman. Sboray was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1985 and after treatments has remained cancer-free for 32 years. She champions breast cancer and other cancer survivors through Relay for Life events.
Saunders was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002. He has become vital to the “Paint the Town Purple” cancer awareness event held each year the week before Relay.
The Royals are the parents of William Byrd teacher and coach, Eric Royal. Dee Royal was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in 2015, complicated by a stroke last November. Ralph Royal was diagnosed with cancer in 2015.
Booth was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in 1999, followed years later by a skin melanoma in 2015, and a cancerous polyp in 2016. She is a vital part of Relay for Life with the support of her sister-in-law, Suzanne Bell.
The grommet plaque for Carol Binkley was accepted by her daughter, Bridget Ensor. Binkley was diagnosed with breast cancer early in 2017 and is currently undergoing aggressive treatments.
Turman works for the Town of Vinton. In February she was diagnosed with a cancerous lesion which has spread to her lymph nodes. She has been referred to oncologists for treatments.
Survivors were honored at a reception in the ballroom of the War Memorial, sponsored by Dr. Kimberly Horn, chaired by Jo Brooks, with dinner prepared and served by the Thrasher Kitchen Committee.
Bootie Chewning emceed the event as usual. Vinton Mayor Brad Grose, William Byrd High School Principal Tammy Newcomb, and Relay for Life Co-chairs Carolyn Williams and Angie Chewning spoke at the opening ceremony. Newcomb said that the William Byrd campus has been “hit hard by cancer with four students currently battling the disease or in remission.”
William Byrd senior Savannah Amos read the Dr. Seuss book, “The Lorax” to the crowd. The theme for this year’s Relay “Cancer: Not Here, Not There, Not Anywhere,” is based on the Dr. Seuss book series.
The Survivor’s Walk officially opened the 2017 Relay with the banner carried by Sam Cundiff, who has been an inspiration to the community with his courageous battle against cancer for several years, along with his wife Terri. The Survivors took their lap around the High Ground Monument before being joined by caregivers for the Caregivers’ Lap. Then came the Relay teams, walking laps around the perimeter of the parking lot.
The always-poignant Luminary Ceremony started at dusk with presentations by Williams, Chewning, and American Cancer Society Community Manager for Relay for Life Courtney Baker. The Luminary Ceremony included hundreds of decorated white bags representing friends and families who were or are cancer victims. The ceremony was especially heart-rending this year, with luminaries encircling the High Ground Veterans Monument.
As of May 9, the Vinton Relay had raised $67,922 towards the 2017 goal of $100,000 with 25 teams and 269 participants. The fundraising year continues through August.
The top fundraising teams thus far are Team Hope with $38,144, the Flower Children with $10,654, and Battle at Byrd with $7,000. Top individual fundraisers at this time are Gerald Simmons with $34,539, Carolyn Williams with $6,310, and Carol Simmons with $3,605.
The fundraising goal for 2017 was set at $100,000. These funds go to cancer research, education programs, treatments, and services to those diagnosed with cancer.
The Vinton Relay for Life was first organized in 2008 by cancer survivors Carolyn and Don Williams. Don passed away in September 2015.
This year a host of sponsors contributed to the success of the Vinton Relay including: Blue Ridge Dental, Willie and Janet Leffell, R& R Automotive Specialists, Oakey’s Funeral Service, L.T. McGhee & Co., Vinton Veterinary Hospital, Cyndi Beach Stultz/Virginia Mountain Mortgage, Chris McCarty, Gerald D. Simmons, the Town of Vinton, Dairy Queen, Vinton McDonald’s, Pat Simpson/Julian Ferguson Lighting and Associates, the Kelly Family, the Clarence Pace family, Sav’On Signs, Carilion Family Medicine, Greenway Construction, American Efficiency Inns, David E. Snyder, Bill and Pam East, Vincent R. Light & Co., Dominion Tree Care Specialists, Dr. Kimberly Horn, Pizza Hut, Parkway Veterinary Hospital, Dill Insurance Agency, In Memory of Sharon Mraz Kirby, Roanoke Golf Cars, Dunkin’ Donuts, The Landscape Store, Joey Nicely, Thrasher Memorial UMC Mary Martha Circle, and Vinton Computer.
“I must admit that having to make the transition from William Byrd High School, that had been our home for nine years, to a new location was scary and disappointing,” said Williams. “There were so many logistics to be considered that at times it was overwhelming, but as usual we had great assistance from so many. The Town of Vinton kindly donated the Vinton War Memorial as our venue which allowed us to move the Survivor’s Reception inside and use the beautiful grounds for setup and also provided the help of their staff.
“The High Ground Monument made a wonderful backdrop for the Air Force JROTC Flag Retirement Ceremony,” she continued. “Since we lost the sound system and the scoreboard at WBHS, we thought of the electronic sign at the Bypass and we were allowed to run our sponsors names on there during the day and night of Vinton Relay for Life.
“DJ Joey Nicely provided a great sound system and the music was perfect throughout the evening,” said Williams. “Probably what we missed the most were the outstanding students at WBHS who always came up to the stadium on the day of Relay and helped in so many ways– filling luminary bags with sand and candles, hanging banners, putting up track signs, running errands and just being ‘our legs.’ When they heard how badly we needed them at the Vinton War Memorial, the ones who could made the effort to be there as soon as their classes were over, and others came right after school.
“Relay is love, tears, remembering and hope,” Williams added. “Thanks to everyone who contributed. It takes a village–it takes VINTON. By the end of the evening, my heart was overflowing.”
See more photos from the Vinton Relay on The Vinton Messenger Facebook page.