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9 May 2008
Dr. William A. Meehan:
It's Time for Us to Celebrate the Sunshine

By Dr. William A. Meehan
President, Jacksonville State University
Weekly Column - The Jacksonville News

Jacksonville State University has been working all year to celebrate one very important cause this Friday, May 9.  In two days JSU will join nearly 130 other teams from around Calhoun County at Oxford High School’s Lamar Football Field Track in support and participation of Relay for Life.

A signature activity of the American Cancer Society (ACS), the ACS describes the overnight event as a time to celebrate survivorship and raise funds for research and programs. The local Relay for Life in Oxford will run from 3 p.m. Friday afternoon to 9 a.m. Saturday morning. The race is not for speed but for support. In honor of cancer survivors and in encouragement of those still battling the disease, each team participating will try to keep one member on the track at all times throughout the duration of the evening and the next morning.

As attendees watch the sun fall and rise again during the event, this will be symbolic of the idea that no matter what tragedy or disease enters your life, the sun will rise again. When I served as chairman of the planning committee for the relay two years ago I had the opportunity to meet fascinating people with uplifting stories. I saw survivors who had experienced bad days but never allowed the sun to go down and stay down in their lives. Cancer survivors are warriors and fighters. People attend Relay for Life to encourage them, but they live and walk as an encouragement and an inspiring example to everyone.

JSU Director of Admissions Martha Mitchell decided to get involved with Relay for Life when her secretary, Pam Torruella, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I saw what she was going through and I wanted to participate,” says Mitchell.

The first year she attended the event with her husband to support Pam and the experience was life changing for her.

Leaving the event Mitchell said she thought: “We have a lot of people affected by cancer at JSU and we also have a large community at JSU, so why not have a team?”

Mitchell put her thought into action and this year will be JSU’s eighth year of bringing a team and participating in Relay for Life. Each of this year’s 57 team members, comprised mostly of faculty, staff and students, are responsible for a minimum commitment of $100 to aid the efforts of the ACS.

Our most successful fundraiser, Mary MacArgel says, “I’ve been part of the JSU team for the past five years. I became involved with Relay for Life after my father died of prostate cancer.”

MacArgel’s method of fundraising is a parallel example of how someone must work to fight cancer: one step at a time every day you have.

“In the beginning I just made homemade brownies and they were such a success I added homemade chocolate almond bark,” says MacArgel.

Not only does MacArgel exemplify excellent work ethic in her job at JSU, she also works throughout the entire year raising money for Relay for Life.

 “During the cooler months I sell chili and just sold ice cream sundaes a few weeks ago,” she added.

This year MacArgel surpassed her goal of $1,000.

Many of our JSU team members have been working throughout the year holding events such as a chili cook-off, ice cream social, breakfast, drawing tickets for prizes and a pie-in-the-face contest. Last year the County raised more than $520,000, making it the most successful relay event in the seven-state Southeast region for the largest community fundraiser in the world.

Mitchell encourages everyone to attend Relay for Life whether they are on a team or not.

“There are so many teams in the County—people not affiliated with a team that want to attend can walk around and find people they know.”

She says there will be many activities going on and plenty of chances to donate to the ACS. Some people will be selling food and others will be selling chances to win prizes.

The survivor’s reception welcomes any survivor and caregiver to enjoy a meal provided by Outback Steakhouse from 5 to 7 p.m. After the dinner, the race will begin. The first lap of the night belongs to the survivors and is one of Mitchell’s favorite times of the night.

“They are why we are there,” says Mitchell.

Full teams, usually with banners, walk the second lap and from there till morning team members will take turns walking for the survivors, a cure and in honor of those who passed before we could find one.

Another powerful part of the night will be the luminary ceremony at 9 p.m. Luminaries have been pre-sold and will also be sold Friday night in honor of cancer survivors or in memory of someone who died of cancer. The stadium lights will be turned off and the light of thousands of luminaries will spell out "hope" and "cure" as the names of those they were purchased for scroll on big screens.

“It gives me chills just thinking about it,” says Mitchell, “because it’s amazing how many people are affected by this disease.”

“Everyone should get involved in Relay for Life,” says McArgel. “It’s easy.”

As Mitchell decided almost a decade ago—if you have never attended a Relay for Life event, just show up and experience it. There is no charge to attend. Come out and watch the sun rise in many lives.

For more information on Relay for Life visit Arrive early to the Oxford event, as parking will be limited. Overflow parking is available at Quintard Mall, but take extra safety precautions crossing the intersection.

Erin Chupp, a graduate assistant in the Office of Marketing and Communications, contributed to this article.

About William A. Meehan

Dr. William A. Meehan is president of Jacksonville State University. His column, "Town & Gown," appears in The Jacksonville News.

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