The Girard Relay for Life team takes finding a cure very personal.
The team was formed in 2002 and got its name, Girard City Survivors, from founding member, Shirley Cretella. Cretella was diagnosed with cancer in 1993 and after an 11-year battle with the disease, died Dec. 6, 2003, at the age of 44.
Shirley's mother, Ann Daugherty, her sister, Annie Holzschuh, and her children, daughter Ashley Cretella and son Billy Cretella, have continued to work for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life event in the hopes that a cure will be found.
Girard City Survivors Relay for Life Team is preparing to ‘‘Stop Cancer in its Tracks’’ and for the Liberty Relay for Life event to be held May 15 and 16 at Churchill Park in Liberty Township. The team has been participating in the Relay since 2002. Pictured front row from left are: Norma Jean Sheffield, Char Delbone, Ann Daugherty, Annie Holzschuh, Ashley Cretella, Kelly Comichisto, Katie Emery and Kayla Bowser. Back row from left are: Chris Cardiero, Kathy Tomasino, Midge Stevens, Laura D’Rummo, Michelle Luther, Emily Luther, Carol Fackelman, Steve Fackelman and Jim Molnar. Missing is Billy Cretella.
''Hopefully we'll find a cure someday,'' Holzschuh said. ''It didn't help us, but perhaps it will help someone else,'' she said.
Holzschuh co-chairs the team along with Sandy Zions, Debbie Mullarky and Randy Suchanek, and also is co-chair of the Liberty Relay.
After Shirley's diagnosis, family and friends got together and contacted the American Cancer Society in Canfield to see how they could form their own team. In the eight years the team has been walking the Relay, they estimate they have raised more than $100,000. They were named as a Diamond Team twice and won the most money raised at the event award three times, Holzschuh said.
The team's motto for this year's event is ''Stop Cancer in its Tracks.'' The train-decorated tent will raise money on site by selling food, specifically from team members and food vendors Molnar's Concessions.
The Girard team also has many cancer survivors that take that first lap around the track at Liberty's Churchill Park.
''We have all been touched by cancer in some form or another,'' said team member Laura D'Rummo.
Members also are proud of the fact that they've never had to rely on a corporate sponsor. ''We've always done it on our own,'' D'Rummo said.
Fundraising also extends to the high school where Shirley's daughter, Ashley Cretella, sells specially designed T-shirts to classmates in honor of her mother. The design is kept secret from all of the adult team members. Ashley, who has been doing the T-shirt sales since she was in the sixth grade at Girard Middle School, took the reins from her older brother, Billy, who began the T-shirt sale when he was a student at the high school.
''We don't know what they are until the order comes in,'' said Katie Emery.
But whatever the design, the Cretella children always make sure there is one special remembrance of their mother on the shirts.
''It always has the same heart on it with 'Shirley' written through the heart,'' Ashley said. ''The rest of the design is different.''
The shirt is sold to students in grades seven through 12, and the team usually gets at least 80 orders each year. Many students from the school also are part of the team, Ashley said.
Two members of the team, Norma Jean Sheffield and Char Delbone, will be 24-hour walkers at this year's event. Both women will walk the track for the entire 24-hour period. The team has had several 24-hour walkers in past relays beginning with the first member, Michael Yankey, son of Carol Fackelman.
The team meets regularly at the Girard First Christian Church on Broadway Avenue. Members appreciate the support they have been given by the church, which also allows them to hold fundraising dinners in their fellowship hall.
Participating in the Relay event is a big part of the lives of the Girard City Survivors.
''It means everything,'' Holzschuh said. ''It means a cure.''
The Liberty Relay for Life event will be held from 6 p.m. May 15 to 6 p.m. May 16 at Churchill Park on Belmont Avenue. The event will begin with a survivor's lap through the park. Luminaries can be purchased in memory of friends and family members for an elaborate but solemn lighting display to be held just after sunset. A survivor dinner will be provided to those walking the first lap by Bob Evans Restaurant.
Funds raised at Relay For Life will enable the American Cancer Society to support local services and resources for cancer patients and their families. Funds also support critical cancer research and community education programs designed to teach people how to reduce their risk of developing cancer.