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Arlington boat company walks to stop cancer at Relay for Life

From left, Kerry Munnich, Jeline Upshaw, Sally Stomberg, Jeannette Espe and Liane Simmons walk the Relay for Life at the Stanwood High School stadium Friday evening, June 6. - SARAH ARNEY The Arlington Times
From left, Kerry Munnich, Jeline Upshaw, Sally Stomberg, Jeannette Espe and Liane Simmons walk the Relay for Life at the Stanwood High School stadium Friday evening, June 6.
— image credit: SARAH ARNEY The Arlington Times

STANWOOD Employees of U.S. Marine in Arlington are sick and tired of losing friends and family to cancer. To prevent more, they spent the night walking around the track at Stanwood High School Stadium, May 30 and 31, at an American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

The boat manufacturing company's six teams were joined by other teams from Arlington, including members of the Arlington Rotary Club and several teams from Arlington School District with Superintendent Linda Byrnes and Board President Kay Duskin leading the pack.

There are 5,200 relays worldwide raising money in the ACS's single largest fundraiser with another local relay at the Marysville-Pilchuck High School coming up this weekend, June 7 - 8.

Funds raised are used for prevention and services for cancer victims.

"I've lost five relatives on both sides of my family to cancer," said Patti Hanson, one of the U.S. Marine participants.

"We need a cure for this thing," said Sally Stomberg. "With Tom's encouragement, we all just wanted to do it," she laughed.

"Tom is the idea man," said Kerry Munnich, who lost both parents to cancer and recruited her fellow Rotarians to add more teams. Munnich sought sponsorship from the Arlington Rotary Club as well as the Stanwood Rotary Club.

U.S. Marine and its mother company, Brunswick, offered to match the fundraising efforts of their employees.

Hohman learned about the Relay for Life several years ago after having surgery for cancer.

He called to find out how to volunteer, assuming he would be setting up tables or something. Instead, they recruited him to walk as a survivor. He learned then that a cancer victim is considered a survivor from day one after diagnosis.

"I was lucky because I didn't have to do radiation or chemotherapy," he said.

The Relay for Life was started in Tacoma in the mid-1980s.

In an incredible feat of planning, the event features many different teams of people who commit to having someone on the track all night, from 6 p.m. until noon the next day.

"It starts with a special lap for survivors," said Hohman.

Participants are encouraged to create a luminaria (candle in a bag with the name of a lost loved one) to be lit at 11 p.m. when organizers read the names as the teams walk.

"Last year it took 45 minutes to read all the names," Hohman said.

"That's when the emotions flooded out of me."

Jeline Upshaw created a luminaria for her mother-in-law, pointing to her picture on the paper bag as the team walked by.

"She was so sweet," said Upshaw, who's husband sat in her team's camp near the starting line.

"We really miss her."

Another U.S. Marine walker, Paul Vansant lost his grandfather to prostrate cancer and his wife was an oncology nurse for four years.

"We've got several friends who have cancer now," Vansant said.

The walk is an acknowledgement to the struggles that people with cancer go through, "because cancer never sleeps."

The team leaders acknowledge that people with cancer often face stigmas that they have the disease because they chose a wrong lifestyle.

"It's becoming less and less, but it's still there," Vansant said.

"People are learning that cancer victims should not be shunned," said Jeline Upshaw, who works in the engineering department. She said it's the cheering for the walkers that makes it so rewarding for her.

Teams include some spouses and friends of employees.

The team leaders hosted a variety of fundraisers at the office for the cause, from a bake sale to the sale of footprints that are scattered along the cubicle walls in the office.

Participants are from all the different departments, from engineering and HR to the production plant and the management office.

"It's the survivors there that make it all worth while," Hohman said.

The theme of this year's relay is "There's No Place Like Hope" based on Wizard of Oz. Movie characters in costume walked the track with all the rest of the teams offering the opportunity to take pictures with the Tin Man, Dorothy and others.

The event raised $10,000 with 10 teams in its first year and three years ago they had 32 teams raise $80,000.

Along with the U.S. Marine teams and the Rotary Club, Arlington was also represented with teams from the Arlington School District. Indeed, it was Superintendent Linda M. Byrnes' sister Jan Schuette who won the fancy new tent from Joe's Sports, complete with a double bed air mattress, heater, table and chairs.

"The high school kids were very willing to join in the effort," Byrnes said. "They were happy to have an excuse to stay out all night."

On Monday following the walk, Stomberg reported in.

"We had such a good time. I think overall the Relay for Life raised more than $202K for the American Cancer Society," Stomberg said, adding that was the latest number she had heard.

Donations can still be sent on behalf of the various teams from Arlington to the American Cancer Society by check or on the ACS Web site at www.RelayForLife.org.

"We accept checks here at the office, too," Stomberg said.

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