PAOLA — They may have been walking around an indoor gym instead of an outdoor track, but the participants in this year’s Miami County Relay for Life were still fueled by a desire to put an end to cancer.

Teams featuring residents from throughout the county gathered at Paola Middle School on Friday, June 7, to raise funds for the American Cancer Society, honor those who have lost their lives to cancer and celebrate with caregivers and survivors of the disease.

This year’s event had a game theme, with much of the decor centering around the board game “Life.” As in year’s past, there was a survivor’s dinner, opening ceremony, survivor/caregiver walk and balloon release, and a luminaria ceremony.

Renee Bowman took a lead role in organizing the event, and she said having it indoors this year in an air-conditioned gym allowed more of the survivors and caregivers to be able to attend and stay longer.

Cancer survivor Dixie Forney of Osawatomie, who walked around the gym with the assistance of a walker, said having the event indoors absolutely made a difference in her ability to attend this year.

In honor of the event, Forney dyed her hair purple, which is the official color of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. She was joined on her walk by her caregiver Christina Duncan and Duncan’s 2-year-old son, Randy.

A dozen Miami County teams helped raise more than $20,000 for cancer research thanks to the event.

Wayne and Paula Minckley were part of a first-year team called AWANA. Paula said the team was organized through the youth group at Let There Be Light Fellowship in Osawatomie. The team members sold food items at the event and donated the proceeds for cancer research.

One of the veteran teams was the Block Walkers, which was celebrating its 18th year at Relay for Life. Team member Lori Schlegel said the team was established by Nina Gerken after the death of her husband, Leland.

Another long-standing team was Team Ulanski. Karen Ulanski of the Paola Adult Education Center was joined by sisters Pat Lacy and Dee Conrad-Frerich, along with several other friends and family members at the relay.

Karen lost her husband, Chuck, to cancer in December 2017, and multiple other family members also have battled cancer. Several luminaria bags set up in front of the team’s booth paid tribute to family members and friends who have lost their lives to cancer, as well as those who are cancer survivors.

Their bags were joined by hundreds of others, which lined the gym and formed a walking path. At the end of the evening, the bags were illuminated during a special ceremony that has become a tradition at the Relay for Life event.

Bowman said every year it seems she sees more purple survivor shirts and fewer tributes to those who have died from cancer, and that’s a trend she hopes continues moving forward.

Editor and Publisher Brian McCauley can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or

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