By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — Rain clouds on the horizon couldn’t dampen the spirit of the 2011 Relay For Life at the Rowan County Fairgrounds.
One of the biggest crowds ever came to celebrate the fight against cancer, and to remember both survivors and those who’ve lost their lives to the disease.
“It’s like a Friday night fair crowd, or bigger,” Rowan County Commissioner Carl Ford said.
He wasn’t the only local official in attendance.
Sheriff Kevin Auten took the stage to make good on a pledge to have his head shaved if he raised more than $5,000 for the American Cancer Society.
Wearing a T-shirt with “Shave Me” on it, Auten took the stage with his hands cuffed in front of him, as the theme song from the TV show “Cops” played on the loudspeakers.
Terry Beaver of Rockwell took the first lop off the lawman’s locks with clippers, then set to work with a razor.
“Looks like Lex Luthor,” said Deputy Sheriff Alan Amerson.
Terry’s wife, Stacy, was diagnosed with breast cancer in December. She had surgery, which was followed by chemotherapy.
The Beavers are friends with the Auten family.
“I never did really know Sheriff Auten,” Stacy Beaver said. But she said she’s thankful for all those who helped the Sheriff’s Department raise $5,300 for charity.
Auten was modest about it.
“It’s not about me or the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “It’s about people in the community who are affected (by cancer).”
As for the new hairstyle: “It’ll save me some money. I got my new look: Kojak.”
Terry Beaver said it was different and humbling to be a part of the fundraiser.
“You come here year after year to be part of it, then you’re involved in a way you don’t expect,” he said.
“I’ve known Kevin a very long time. It’s amazing, the response that we had from people I knew, from people she knew.”
Relay For Life event chairperson Brittney Barnhardt said it was difficult to estimate the turnout, which filled parking lots and the walking track at the fairgrounds.
“I imagine 8,000 to 10,000 people will come through this gate,” Barnhardt said. “I mean, it’s packed.”
The 24-hour fundraiser features raffles, bake sales, food, live entertainment and a steady stream of walkers symbolizing the never-ending fight against cancer.”
“I hope they walk away from this night knowing that people truly care about our survivors and those who have lost their lives,” Barnhardt said.
The Survivor Lap, a staple of Relay for Life, featured some 300 cancer survivors.
Juanita Messick, head of survivors’ activities, said more than 500 survivors in all had been signed up for the event.
Young or old, people from all over the county enjoyed the carnival atmosphere during the muggy night, despite distant lightning flashes.
A big projection screen displayed the text messages of friends, fans and survivors for all to see.
The camaraderie was strong throughout the fairgrounds, as churches, schools and area businesses competed to see who could raise funds the fastest.
Frances Morris, accounting chair for the 2011 Relay For Life, said about $213,000 was raised before the event began, with a further $39,000 received by 9 p.m. Friday. More was yet to come in from food sales and raffles throughout the night, she said.
And more will come in after the event as donations continue to be received.
Elizabeth Clarke, founding member of the team “Friends for Life,” said Relay For Life was as much about friendship and a spirit of unity in the fight against cancer as it was about the money raised for research,
Hers is an independent team, now in its fourth year.
“We’re just friends and family who got together and made a team,” Clarke said.
Selling ice-cold drinks and food underneath a big tent, the team had settled in for the night ahead.
Clarke said this is the team’s fourth year. They started put as Janet’s Pit Crew, in honor of Clarke’s aunt, Janet Cauble, who lost her fight with cancer.
At the front of the tent is a plaque from last year’s Relay, honoring them for raising over $4,400.
“We hope to beat that this year,” Clarke said.
Like Relay For Life itself, she said Friends For Life started as a team because of personal connections, then kept growing as more people joined for their own reasons.
“It is very emotional. You really can’t put it into words,” Clarke said.
But the feeling, she said, keeps people coming back.
“If you come one time, you’ll come every year.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.
By Hugh Fisher