There is something ubiquitous about cancer. If you haven’t fought it yourself, someone you know has been down the road of surgery and/or chemotherapy and/or radiation.
That’s why Relay for Life tends to be one of the biggest and most successful fundraisers in our area. How else can you explain getting 264 people, plus another 50 to 100 volunteers, to come out for 12 hours to walk around a track? And not during the day, but from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.? And have them call it fun?
This year’s Relay for Life took place Friday, and as of Tuesday, the total raised had topped $87,000 and was still climbing.
The event works on lots of levels. There is the celebration of those who have won the fight or are in the trenches now with the survivors’ reception and survivors’ lap. There is the remembrance of those lives cut far too short by some form of the disease with the lighting of the luminarias, which also celebrates the hope that cures will be found. There is music, laughter (Durango DOT Comedy performed), costumes and tent decorations, based on the theme – Hooked on Hope – this year.
And there is perhaps the most powerful ceremony all, the one that takes place in the deepest, darkest part of the night at 1 a.m. called the Fight Back Ceremony, the Power of One.
The fundraising doesn’t just happen that night. For several months, teams hold bake sales, dinners, car washes and events of every stripe and color to raise money for Relay.
One team, and one individual, definitely stood out above all the rest when it came to fundraising. The Knights of Columbus raised the most money – a whopping $28,080, almost a third of the entire amount raised. And team leader Bob Gallegos, was the undisputed champion when it comes to fundraising, bringing in almost $23,000. The rest of his team members included Clarence Abeyta, Barbara Barnes, Donna Barnes, Paul Ketcho, Kathrene Frautschy, Margaret Ledford, Ed Matthys, Sue Ruetschle, Shannon Ruestschle, Cathy Simbeck and Rosie VanCleave.
Sky Ute Casino Resort came in second with $9,250. Team leader Annie McGraw marshaled her team of Alison Aguiar, Bobbie Briscoe, Jordyn Briscoe, Doug Brockett, Sarah Brown, Calandra Castiano, Martha Dailey, Robin Everett, Wendy Houtz, Christine Hudgens, Diane Johnston, Crystal Martin, Brenda Martinez, Krista Rangel, Lori Todacheene, Holly Tracy and Carol Verrill to bring in some big bucks.
Team Ignacio Schools Bobcat Kisses came in third with more than $4,500, and was named the 2014 recipient of the Most Valuable Player award. The team included leader Deborah Otten, Julie Ayers, Ellen Baker, Kim Cotta, Marie Horn, Allyson Kerns, Carrie Kirkpatrick, Kyle Kirkpatrick, Jordan Larsen, Kelly McCaw, Kerry Melrose, Kassidy Otten, Levi Otten, Cindy Phillips, Dustin Sanchez, Jessie Sanchez, Richard Sanchez, Kathleen Smith and Natasha Wilmer.
Other teams who brought in more than $3,000 included Team Zach, walking in memory of Zach Buchanan, Pink Ribbon Coalition’s Flocking Flamingos, made up of bartenders and bar owners, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, BP America, Chemosabes, with many members from Southwest Oncology, and the Atmos Energizers.
Monies raised from Relay for Life go to several of the American Cancer Society’s programs, including research; Hope Lodge facilities and Road to Recovery to help cancer patients with lodging and gas money when they have to travel for treatment; Look Good ... Feel Better for women to deal with the appearance side effects of chemo; and Reach To Recovery, which provides mentors who have “been there, done that” to counsel others newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
As I said, there’s a reason this is such a successful fundraiser.
The town is setting off fireworks for the birthdays of these folks (and our nation’s birthday, too) – Kayte Barnes, Suzanne Zerbe, Mary Santistevan, Elisabeth Leake, Sally E. Silva, Maria Kolter and Lloyd Lasher III.
For Memorial Day, I wrote a substantial story about Medal of Honor recipients who have a connection to Durango. It was a tough story to research, because the Congressional Medal of Honor Society only tracks recipients’ birthplaces and the place where they enlisted, and no recipients claimed Durango in either of those categories.
Which means, of course, that I missed (at least) one. So the column that runs right before the Fourth of July seems the perfect time to rectify the error.
Thanks to Larry Valdez for contacting me about his Uncle Jose F. Valdez, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his valor during World War II. His mother, Juliana Valdez, received the medal from Brig. Gen. John G. Murphy on behalf of President Harry S. Truman. (Valdez was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre.)
The award was given for events near Rosenkrantz, in the Alsace region of France, on Jan. 25, 1945. Pfc. Valdez, a member of U.S. Army Company B, 7th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, was on outpost duty with five comrades when he saw a German tank approaching and drove it away with automatic weapons fire.
Then he saw three German soldiers “stealthily” approaching the outpost, and “scorning cover,” as the citation puts it, raked them with more automatic weapons fire until they were dead. But the Germans had not finished their attack and threw two full companies of infantrymen at the patrol.
Valdez volunteered to cover the patrol’s retreat, firing on the enemy while his fellow soldiers, one by one, ran through the hail of bullets back to the American lines. Valdez was wounded, with a bullet passing through his stomach and out of his back, but despite what must have been agonizing pain, managed to continue the protective screen of bullets until the rest of his patrol was safe.
But he wasn’t done there. He stayed at his post, calling in artillery and mortar fire on the Germans, correcting the range until it was within 50 yards of his position. (That meant it was virtually on top of him.)
With more than 200 of the enemy upon him, Valdez refused to be dislodged until he saw that the barrage had broken the attack and then he dragged himself back to own lines. His injuries proved fatal a few weeks later. Valdez had celebrated his 20th birthday six weeks earlier.
“Nothing I could say or that this military installation could do would sufficiently honor the magnificent, self-sacrificing manner in which your son lost his life for his comrades and his country,” Murphy told Juliana Valdez when presenting the Medal of Honor. “You have the deep and admiring sympathy of your country in the tragic, if heroic, loss of the sort of man to whom this nation owes its greatness. Yours must indeed be a proud grief.”
Valdez was born in New Mexico and enlisted in Pleasant Grove, Utah.
I’m happy to say that his heroism has been remembered in a number of ways.
These are what have been named in his honor: Valdez Elementary School in Denver; the PFC Jose F. Valdez Memorial Highway, 100 miles of U.S. Highway 64 between Tierra Amarilla and Bloomfield, New Mexico; the USNS Private Jose F. Valdez, a technical research ship in service during the 1960s; the Jose F. Valdez U.S. Army Reserve Center in Pleasant Grove; and memorials in Gobernador and Berg Park, New Mexico.
His connection to Durango? He lived here for a time before enlisting, and a lot of his family is still in the area.
It’s so easy to forget and so important to remember sacrifices like his.
And it’s also important to remember those who took the first steps at earning our freedoms on the 238th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In the midst of pancake breakfasts, parades and barbecue, we all need to take a moment of gratitude for every John Hancock on that oh-so-important document.
Hoping for monsoon rains to make their anniversaries more comfortable are Joe T. and Peggy Herrera, Peter and Kelly Cunnion and David and Anna Marie Bishop.
A note to all the Methodists out there – I have traditionally gotten your birthdays and anniversaries from the Drumbeat, but since that publication ended it’s run, I will no longer have a source for the information. If you would like to continue to receive greetings in Neighbors, please contact me in one of the ways listed below, and I will put the dates in my birthday book.
Here’s how to reach me: email@example.com; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact names and phone numbers for all items.
I am happy to consider photos for Neighbors, but they must be high-quality, high-resolution photos (at least 1 MB of memory) and include no more than three to five people. I need to know who’s who, left to right, and who to credit with the photo. Candid photos are better than posed.