Chippewa/Yellow Medicine Counties Relay for Life returns to an in-person event this summer

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

The annual Relay for Life of Chippewa/Yellow Medicine Counties took place in 2020 as a virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic but returns this year as an in-person event. Because of the community events and obligations, the event in 2021 will be moved from the usual date in May to August 13th. “This year, we are again following CDC and ACS guidelines as we plan our events and bring people together in a safe environment,” says one of the organizers, Dustin Citrowske. “We are very fortunate that we can have in-person events. There are so many states that cannot.” Last year, the Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota counties joined together for the virtual event as one team on August 1 and raised a little over two million in funds. “Our events may have been canceled, but our efforts, passion, and drive to beat cancer never will!” Citrowske said.

As many businesses had to change how they conducted events because of the pandemic, so did the American Cancer Society. In the past, Relayers raised $100 and received their t-shirts before the event, however, this year when they raise $100 or earns 100 points to qualify to receive a shirt, they are emailed instructions on how to order their shirt. For every 100 points, they can order an additional shirt. That change in process is positive, as it saves the American Cancer Society an estimated $1.9 million so that more of the funds raised can be used in the society’s mission. 

This year’s fundraising goal for the Chippewa/Yellow Medicine Counties Relay for Life event is $50,000 while the state’s goal is $4,807,110. The event will be held on Friday, August 13th at Smith Park in Montevideo beginning at 5 p.m. through 11 p.m. As of June 28th, there are 10 teams registered for the return to an in-person event. “We are still in the process of planning activities,” says Citrowske. “In the past, Jennie-O Foods has served supper and then other teams sell bottled water, pop, hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, etc.” There is also traditionally entertainment provided throughout the evening, and a full list of those events will be on the Relay flyer and program handed out the evening of the event. There will be a silent auction from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., with items displayed on tables near the entertainment area. Nearby will also be a table for the split-the-pot drawing which will be held directly before silent auction winners are announced. Throughout the evening luminaries will be available for a suggested donation of $10 each. Individual teams will also host games throughout the evening.

The first lap of the walk will begin at 6;15 this year, led by the designated Honorary Survivors, who will be named at a later date. During the second lap, the cancer survivors attending and their family members will join the group. For the third lap, the teams are introduced and the evening’s walk begins. Each year, the Relay aims to have as many survivors attend the event as is possible, and so any cancer survivors in Chippewa and Yellow Medicine Counties are encouraged to attend. The Chippewa/Yellow Medicine Relay for Life Event was noted for being second in the nation for most survivors attending the 2019 relay per capita. Teams involved in the walk consist of individuals representing various corporations, organizations, clubs, and families. “The most impressive part of the evening is when the luminaries are lit and dedicated to honor all cancer survivors and to remember those who have lost their lives to cancer,” says Citrowske. The luminaries will be lit at dusk, which will be approximately 8:30 p.m., with a caregiver walk beginning after. 

This year marks the 28th annual Relay for Life event for Chippewa/Yellow Medicine Counties, but the organization began in the mid-1980s after Dr. Gordon “Gordy” Klatt walked and ran for 28 hours around a track in Tacoma, Washington to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Klatt spent those 24 hours raising funds to fight cancer on the track at the University of Puget Sound. The local event began as a Chippewa County event but combined with Yellow Medicine County several years ago. 

Relay for Life is a major source of fundraising for the American Cancer Society each year. “it offers everyone in their community an opportunity to participate in the fight against cancer,” says Citrowske. “Teams of people have campsites at Smith Park and take turns walking or running around the path. Each team is asked to have a representative on the track at all times during the event.” Annually, more than 3.5 million people in the United States participate in the Relay for Life events, whether to celebrate the lives of those who have battled cancer, or remember loved ones lost to the disease. One in three people will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime, and the money raised through these events is used by the American Cancer Society in many ways. According to the American Cancer Society website, the funds used are for empowering activists, delivering breakthrough research, and more. Funds can go to a variety of specific needs including providing lodging to cancer patients and their caregivers in Minnesota to help ease the financial burden when travel for cancer care is needed. They also provide funds for volunteer drivers to give rides to cancer patients in Minnesota at no cost to treatment. “There is always room for anyone who might be interested in becoming involved with the Relay in any way,” says Citrowske.”Cancer touches so many of our friends and family members, and the American Cancer Society Relay for Life is a great way to help fight this terrible disease. Please help support this worthy cause. Together, we can make a difference in the fight against cancer.” Interested persons may contact Sherri Maanum, Senior Development Manager, Relay for Life North Region at 218-205-0698 or or call or text local contact Dustin Citrowske at 320-226-6697.