CUYAHOGA FALLS — The 2019 Relay For Life event reported that it raised $65,000 of its $68,000 goal, even though the event was cut short due to inclement weather.

The event, which took place at Bolich Middle School’s Laybourne Field on Saturday, June 1, was scheduled to run until midnight.

Event chairperson Debbie Oliver said officials decided to end the event early after a thunderstorm blew through at around 5:30 p.m. and another storm was expected to come through later that evening. 

"It was just impossible to keep going," said Oliver, who chaired the event for a second straight year and has volunteered with the event for more than 20 years.

Oliver praised Relay participants for chipping in to clean up Laybourne Field and tear down the team’s tents and other displays. 

"That was really heartwarming to see everybody come together and help make the best out of a not-so-good situation," said Oliver.

Luminaria service moved indoors

The stormy weather meant the event’s traditional luminaria service was moved to inside Bolich Middle School.The service honor cancer survivors and remember those who have lost their lives to cancer. The luminarias — which have a candle inside a bag that bears the name of someone who either died from cancer or survived the disease — line the inside portion of the track. The bad weather that barreled through the area "kind of destroyed the bags," said Oliver.

She noted the indoor luminaria service at Bolich was shown on Facebook Live. With the camera focused on three luminaria bags sitting on a table, one person read the names of people whose lives were lost to cancer, while a second participant read the names of cancer survivors.

Other event highlights

This year’s event had 33 participating teams, a number which Oliver said was lower than the 2018 event. Oliver noted this was the first time that the Falls Relay was not a 24-hour event; she added most of the area’s Relay events are no longer 24-hour affairs. Keeping expenses down was one reason for ending the event at midnight, according to Oliver, who added that people tend to have more time commitments than they used to have.

A new feature at Relay was the Eye of the Tiger award, which goes to a survivor, caregiver or volunteer who has "fought cancer," said Oliver.

This year’s honorees — caregivers Ryan and Ashley Smas of Cuyahoga Falls — were given the award in a surprise presentation that included about 30 of their family members and friends. The selection was made by the Relay planning committee.

"[Ryan and Ashley] have been volunteering with our Relay for 10-plus years," said Oliver. "They volunteer their time in some other events for the American Cancer Society in taking photographs. … They’re very important to our Relay community."

Fundraising continues; raffle planned

Oliver said event organizers typically like to meet their fundraising goal by Aug. 31, but noted event organizers have until Dec. 31 to accept contributions.

She noted that the Falls Relay For Life committee will be raffling off two mountain bikes some time in early July. She said the sale of raffle tickets will soon be announced on the event’s Facebook page. Oliver said the bikes were supposed to be awarded as prizes in a costume contest during Relay, but the inclement weather prevented the contest from occurring.

Oliver thanked all of the volunteers who helped with the 2019 edition.

"I was blessed to have the best committee a Relay lead could ask for," said Oliver on the event’s Facebook page. "Thank you for your flexibility and hard work, some of which we didn't get to see. We pushed through the weather and kept everyone safe. It took a village and we did it."

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421,, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.