Local talent to perform at Eagles Cancer Telethon

TCR/KRISTIN BURDEY The Rushford Lutheran Church Praise Team will be performing at the Eagles Cancer Telethon on January 19. The team is scheduled to perform a 20-minute set at 7:30 a.m. Front row (L-R): Maddi Ingvalson, Isaak Michel, Mannix Darr, Haylee Eddy, and Alannah Skalet. Middle row: Aubrey Ingvalson, Shelby Tesch, Giselle Kahoun, Daisy Darr and Gibson Darr. Back row: Annika Bakkum-Ekern, Cassandra Boyum, Beatty Darr and Emerson Bunke. Not pictured: Aleksa Phillips and Ariana Bettinger.
Kristin Burdey

The Rushford Peterson Valley will be well-represented at the 5th District Eagles Cancer Telethon in Rochester, when the Rushford Lutheran Church (RLC) Praise Team makes their debut on live television. The telethon will be broadcast on KTTC from 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19, with the RLC Praise Team set to perform at 7:30 a.m. as the 71st act.

This is the 66th year for the Eagle’s Cancer Telethon, the longest-running local event of its kind in the nation. Participants will be raising money for cancer research, as well as supporting people who currently battle the disease and remembering those who have passed.

 In 2019 the total donations raised by the telethon topped $1 million. “All of the money raised during the telethon stays local,” said Dawn Peck, citing three local cancer research centers as recipients. “We very much enjoy seeing where they go with the research, and it is amazing to see how much knowledge they’ve gained over the years. To know that we’ve helped to raise funds for that is very rewarding.”

Peck and her husband Ron have worked behind the scenes at the telethon for over 25 years. “We are now in our fourth generation,” she says proudly, explaining that her children and grandchildren will also be involved this year. The Pecks serve on the Talent Committee, which helps to audition potential acts as well as writing the show, this year fitting 132 different acts over the course of the 20-hour program.

The idea to get the RLC Praise Team involved was inspired by Rushford’s Brenda Tesch, whose daughter has been a member of the group for four years. “Growing up, I have fond memories of my family staying up late to watch the telethon together,” Tesch recalled. “In those early years, I didn’t know anyone with cancer, but now everyone knows someone who has had cancer.”

As an adult, Tesch came to appreciate all the volunteers and performers who put their time into the event, and realized she knew a group that could help. “As a parent, I’ve been seeing this group grow in numbers and in confidence. They are a very talented group, and I felt they would be a good fit as an act at the telethon.”

Tesch’s daughter Shelby was inspired after attending with her family. “After I saw it, I knew that one day I wanted to perform at the telethon, too.” The group submitted an audition video this fall and waited to receive word that they had been accepted. When the kids learned that they would in fact be on TV, much rejoicing occurred.  

The Praise Team, which is open to youth from third grade on up, provides special music once a month at RLC, and has begun leading the congregation in song as well. The group has grown to 16 members this year, many of whom have been playing together for years. They are excited not only for the chance to perform on live television but also to be able to share the message of hope found in the gospel with those who will be watching.

Seventh-grader Emerson Bunke, a fifth-year member, is both excited and nervous. “I’ve never been on TV before,” she smiled. “I hope the Praise Team sends a strong message to people to keep fighting. Our songs are very uplifting, so I feel like my grandma is going to be dancing when she sees us.”

Classmate Beatty Darr, who has played lead guitar for the group since third grade, concurred. “We are glad to have the opportunity to help raise money for cancer research.” Eighth-grader Aubrey Ingvalson, a percussionist in her first year with the group, agreed. “I hope this brings joy to those out there that are listening.”

Freshman pianist Annika Bakkum-Ekern said, “It is such a cool opportunity to share our message on such a large platform. We get to give some encouraging words to people who need it the most. One song in particular really shows the presence of God; that He loves you and is there for you. It gives me this incredible feeling when we play it.”

The occasion is more personal for some of the kids, including first-year student Haylee Eddy, who recently lost her great-uncle Jay Laumb to cancer. Fifth-grader Maddi Ingvalson said, “This performance is special to me because, in my family, there has been a lot of cancer on both sides. I am excited and happy because I get to sing to the Lord and bring joy to others.”

The group was given a 20-minute time slot and told that they might have the opportunity to perform longer. After much discussion about which songs both sounded good and contained a clear message of hope, the group will be singing “Thrive,” “Days of Elijah,” “In Christ Alone,” “Song of my Father,” and “Greater,” with “Flawless” and “What a Friend” as back-ups.

They will be wearing shirts featuring the lyric, “In Christ alone my hope is found,” a fitting summary of the message they will be bringing. “This is going to be a good experience for all of the Praise Team,”10-year-old bassist Gibson Darr proclaimed. Shelby Tesch was happy to hear that her dream would be realized this year. “I’m so excited to show our Praise Team to the people who are watching.”

In addition to the television broadcast and live stream online, Peck encourages people to come watch as part of the live audience. “All are welcome to sit and enjoy, and to see what happens behind the scenes.” KTTC both produces the program and broadcasts it in its entirety, a fact the organizers are extremely grateful for. The telethon, which takes place at the Mayo Civic Center, is put forth entirely by volunteer effort. “There are between 200-250 volunteers this year. There are many jobs to do in the 20-plus hours.”

The congregation of RLC offers much support to the Praise Team, as expressed by Pastor Steven Chellew. “Martin Luther once said, ‘Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.’ We are greatly blessed at Rushford Lutheran to have this treasure presented by a wonderful group of children whose primary goal is to give God glory through the gift of music.”

The RLC Praise Team will be presenting a check on behalf of Rushford Lutheran Church, and church and community members are encouraged to call in and make personal donations at that time in support of loved ones battling the disease. The number to call will be listed on the screen, and more information is available at any time on their website, https://eaglescancertelethon.org.