Relay for Life celebrates 25 years in Houston County; Cancer event raises $35,000 on Friday night

Jordan Gerard

It’s an important event that’s been held in Houston County for the past 25 years and doesn’t show any signs of taking a break, that is, not if cancer never takes a break.

La Crescent hosted this year’s Relay for Life event on Aug. 2, and it raised nearly $35,000 according to Judy Bratland.

She said the night went well and there were a lot of luminaries lighting the track.

Bratland has been leading the organizing team for the past 25 years, and it all started with setting up Relay for Life in Houston County.

“I was the president for the American Cancer Society (ACS) in Houston County, and the regional staff person from Rochester told me about this new event,” Bratland recalled. “We started talking about it a year before we had it.”

They determined the best place to have it in Spring Grove for the first year was Viking Memorial Park so the gazebo could be used. 

For the first two years, Spring Grove hosted the event and then Harmony hosted the event. 

At that time, Houston and Fillmore counties did it together. Eventually, the counties came to have their separate events with Lanesboro hosting this year’s most recent Relay for Life event in July.

Since then, Spring Grove, La Crescent, Caledonia and Hokah have been hosting the event for two years in a row each. The event returns to Spring Grove in 2021.

Relay for Life events usually start with a survivor’s tea and the opening ceremonies begin after that. The survivor and caregiver walk took place followed by the lighting of the luminaries at dusk.

Luminaries could be purchased for a minimal cost and names of cancer survivors or memorials written on the bags. As the luminaries stayed lit, people walked around the track into the night.

Entertainment this year was provided by La Crescent Jazz, community bands, Kaleb Harris and Highland Voices. Food trucks were available for supper and beverages. 

Kids games, balloon animals, a balloon release to heaven, silent auction and raffle ticket sales were all apart of the event. Purchases benefitted the ACS, either in full or in part. Closing ceremonies graciously ended this year’s event. 

Bratland also put together memorabilia from the past 25 years, including T-shirts, posters and newspaper clippings. 

“I remember the first year we had it here. The staff person from Rochester said ‘This is the first relay where there will be more people at the entertainment than walking,’” she said. 

And perhaps it speaks to the generosity of Houston County and its cities. Bratland said, “It’s surprising how generous people are.”

And those donations made by businesses, individuals and the teams formed for Relay for Life go into research and helping cancer patients. In the past, Houston County has raised nearly $70,000 to $80,000. 

“It helps anyone that needs help when they have cancer,” Bratland said. “We know the research is working because we are educated about the symptoms and doctors are finding it earlier so it’s more treatable.”

But before Bratland was personally touched by cancer, her brother-in-law fought it when she first became president of the Houston County ACS. 

Bratland herself had a battle with breast cancer when the first Houston County relay came round. Her sister, Jocelyn Rostad, also battled breast cancer, and also helped out with organizing the relay. Since then, Bratland’s team has been made up of sisters and family.

Teams can be formed by any group and receive donations. There are several teams from the Spring Grove area including the Trinity Treaders (Trinity Lutheran Church), Spring Grove High School Youth Development, Busy Bees and more.