Planning for June 2016 Relay for Life underway

Published 9:51 am Thursday, January 28, 2016

After the mix-up in format at last year’s event, organizers with the local Relay for Life are falling back on tradition for this year’s fundraiser — as well returning the event to its former home.

The leadership committee with the Cass County Relay hosted its annual kickoff meeting
Tuesday night at Southwestern Michigan College’s Foundation Room, where the members discussed initial plans for 2016 event, which takes place from 6 p.m. June 17 to 6 p.m. June 18 at the Cass County Fairgrounds in Cassopolis. This year, organizers are looking to bring “Cass County” back to the Cass County Relay for Life, by reaching out to more communities in the county for participation, said Event Chairperson Gary Peffley.

The change in strategy comes due in part to the fact that, for the first time since 2009, Edwardsburg will not be hosting its own Relay for Life this year. As a result, many of the regular participants in that event have shown interest in signing up with the Cass County event, Peffley said.

“Our thought was to try and bring the county back as one whole unit,” he said. “That would help boost our attendance, fundraising and just bring more awareness to the Relay in general.”

In addition, Peffley has been reaching out to communities like Marcellus and Union to garner interest in the annual cancer fundraiser, which will adopt the American Cancer Society’s national theme of “Paint Your World Purple,” he added.

Since the spilt between Cass County and Edwardsburg, the Cass County Relay has been hosted at the Dowagiac Union High School running track. This year, though, organizers voted to move the event back to the more centrally located Cass County Fairgrounds, where it was held from 2004 to 2008, Peffley said.

Planners have also gone back to the traditional 24-hour format, after last year’s smaller 12-hour failed to generate increased participation.

“The event is more of a celebration of a year’s worth of work,” Peffley said. “For us to try and put all that into a 12-hour Relay just doesn’t work.”

Like other Relay for Life events in more than 20 countries every year, the walkathon collects donations to the American Cancer Society, helping to pay for the organization’s cancer research as well for the support and recovery services it provides to patients of the disease. The Relay for Life also honors cancer survivors and those who have lost their lives to the disease through different ceremonies held during the 24-hour event.

Last year, the Cass County Relay brought in more than $10,000, collected by eight teams participating in the event.

This year, with participation already on the rise (10 teams have signed up for this year’s event thus far), organizers are setting their sights on raising $27,500. So far, teams have raised nearly $7,000 in donations.

This is the first year that Peffley, a resident of Dowagiac, has helmed the planning for local fundraiser. Like countless others, Peffley’s life has been forever changed by the devastating effects of cancer — since losing his mother to the disease in 1997, he and two of his brothers have all had bouts with cancer, though today they are all cancer-free, he said.

Feeling as though he was allowed to survive his fight with cancer for a reason, Peffley has dedicated much his own time since his recovery toward the Relay, in hopes of preventing others from going through the same ordeal, he said.

“There’s not many people in this world who haven’t been affected somehow by cancer,” Peffley said. “If you’re one of those people, you’re few and far between.”

Over the next few months, organizers will begin to hammer out the details of June’s Relay, lining up the entertainment, ceremonies and other details, Peffley said.

People who are interested in joining the planning committee, signing up a team for the relay or simply wish to donate can do so by visiting the Cass County Relay for Life webpage at