By Konstantine Fekos
“Family Affair” is more than a team name for the several Saegertown natives and their countless supporting members taking an active role in the fight against cancer through Meadville’s Relay For Life.
The registered team, comprised of several cancer survivors and their immediate family members, has spent at least four years fundraising, baking and walking for the summer event, which raises money for the American Cancer Society.
Sisters and cancer survivors Jane Gable and April Archacki essentially brought the team to fruition.
“We’re not only a blood family, but a cancer family,” said cousin and cancer survivor Carol Norton of her participating relatives and friends. “Cancer has affected every member in one way or another.”
Collectively, the founding members of Family Affair have lost at least one family member to cancer from each of the past three generations, including parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
As a result, Gable and her family have pooled their energy and resources into raising funds and awareness for the Relay in honor of their late family members and in support of fellow survivors and caretakers.
Family Affair is at its busiest in the weeks leading up to the 24-hour event, which runs from 11 a.m. June 22 to 11 a.m. June 23 this year. This team’s prerogative, however, turns the event into a year-long process.
“The reason for 24 hours is that cancer never sleeps,” said Laura Kimmel, Carol’s daughter. “We’re very busy from now until Relay weekend. We have our tent to decorate.”
Each team registered for the Meadville Relay For Life can set up a tent, decorated to fit the annual theme. Tents can offer a variety of food and activities for participants and attendees. This year’s theme is “Aloha to Cancer.”
“The Relay ceremony itself is very emotional,” said Archacki, referencing specific elements including the survivors’ walk and the night-time Luminaria during which candles are lit and placed in bags around the track in memory of loved ones lost to cancer. “The only lights are those around the track at night.”
In addition to providing and maintaining its tent, Family Affair keeps busy year-round with two major fundraisers which serve to spread sweet treats around the community, according to Gable and Archacki’s mother, Phyllis Baer.
“We make pumpkin rolls around Thanksgiving and chocolate eggs for Easter,” Baer said. “We used to do it at home, but it got too cramped.”
In support of its hometown team, Saegertown United Methodist Church allowed the family use of its kitchen for large-scale baking.
“We couldn’t do it without our support system,” Baer said.
Family Affair averaged 360 pumpkin rolls and 600 chocolate Easter eggs this past season, fundraising an estimated $4,700 from the community’s generous.
“People have been asking for (baked goods) already,” Norton said. “We kind of have a reputation now.”
“We cleared $8,600 last year overall,” Gable said. “We increase a little bit every year.”
The team’s smaller fundraisers include Christmas fudge and other bake sales to support their cause.
“We try not to focus on one cancer because our family’s been hit by so many different kinds,” said Archacki, mentioning some teams may focus on raising particular cancer awareness.
Family Affair encourages the public to attend and support the various teams participating.
“You don’t have to be on a team to get involved; the community is more than welcome,” Gable said. “There’s something going on for all of the 24 hours. There are activities for all ages.”
“And the money stays local,” Norton said. “It’s like a festival; a celebration of camaraderie.”
The fellowship is evident, said family friend and loyal teammate Nancy Markwood, once her fellow members hit the track in a flash of neon green, which they affectionately dubbed “PennDOT green.”
“We wanted to be seen and recognized,” Gable said. “We know when we’ve got somebody out on the track.”
Although the team’s year-long preparation can be exhausting, its members agree the end result is rewarding and worth every effort.
“The Relay is like a celebration of our year-long accomplishments,” Archacki said. “It’s broadened our family. We rely on one another.”
“It’s brought us closer as a family,” Kimmel agreed. “We keep a list of our supporters, too.”
Family Affair takes the time to recognize its honorary members, usually with an annual gathering to show appreciation, Gable said.
“We get together for a picnic and have a nice time before we start the season all over again,” she said.
The Meadville Relay For Life will be held at the Crawford County Fairgrounds, Gate 4 from 11 a.m. June 22 to 11 a.m. June 23.
So far, 38 teams are participating and have raised approximately $43,115, according to the Relay For Life website.
- More information and for future updated schedules: Visit relayforlife.org.
The Meadville Relay For Life is June 22 at 11 a.m. to June 23 at 11 a.m. at the Crawford County Fairgrounds, Gate 4.
- 11 a.m. — Opening ceremony
- 6 p.m. — Survivor lap
- Dusk — Luminaria ceremony
- 10:15 a.m. — Closing ceremony
- TBA — Fight Back ceremony, entertainment and activities
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.