Shining a light on cancer: Marco Relay for Life raises funds for ACS

Lance Shearer

Marco Island is serious about fighting cancer, but also serious about bedtime.

The phrase “Marco midnight,” variously taken to mean 7, 8, or 9 p.m., highlights the truth that this “early to bed, early to rise” town doesn’t want to miss its shuteye. A few years back, organizers of the American Cancer Society (ACS) Relay for Life realized they didn’t actually have to march around the track all through the wee hours of the graveyard shift to have a great fundraising event.

Jeannie Magee, from left, MacKenzie Ascetta and Nicole Politi walk and talk. Marco Island's American Cancer Society Relay for Life was held Saturday at Veterans' Community Park, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the fight against cancer.

So unlike most other town’s Relays for Life, the Marco walk, held Saturday at Veterans’ Community Park, runs from 3 to 9 p.m. This doesn’t stop the Marco ACS unit from trouncing all others in the state when it comes to bringing in dollars for the fight against cancer. As of last year, Marco Island was the number one walk in Florida, and number eight in the nation, in terms of funds raised.

The number one team on Marco Island came from the JW Marriott, which was out with a team of more than 60 volunteers circling the track at the park, including new general manager Sharon Lockwood. She deflected all credit for the team’s showing to team captain Cathy Nelson, but also offered some thoughts on the importance of what all the volunteers are accomplishing.

“It’s important, not only to raise awareness, but to continue to raise dollars. You never know which dollar will be the one that helps to find the cure,” said Lockwood. “It’s sad, the stories you hear, but what you see here is hope.”

As she spoke, she gestured to the luminaria, white paper bags with candles inside, in the middle of the field. They did, literally, spell out H-O-P-E, and many bore the name of a loved one fighting cancer, or remembering someone who succumbed to the disease.

For the luminaria lighting ceremony, a special guest, soprano saxophonist Eirinn Abu of Lakeland, Florida, spoke of his own connection to the Relay for Life, then played as the volunteers circled. He played “Endless Love” and “Amazing Grace,” in what he said was the 30th Relay in which he has participated.

Donna Cottrell, who became a cancer survivor in 1981, also spoke to the crowd, as did City Council Chair Jared Grifoni, who read a proclamation for the event from the council.

Marva Sutt celebrated on reaching her own personal fundraising goal of $5,000, even before her Tuesday evening event at Outback Steakhouse at Collier Blvd. and US 41, during which the restaurant will donate 10 percent of all sales to ACS.

During the opening ceremonies, organizers surprised longtime announcer and deejay Steve Reynolds by presenting him with the Sandy Holdgate Award, for his service to the group.

Fitting perhaps for a relay, the Relay for Life has bounced around venues on the island, being held on the beach, at Marco Island Charter Middle School, and at Mackle Park before coming to Veterans’ Community Park, but ACS event manager Sue Olszak said she thinks they have now found the right spot.

The target for dollars has been set at $260,000, and the organization has through August to reach it, so it is impossible to know at this point how close they are. To make a contribution for Marco Island’s Relay for Life – and have it credited to the island’s total – go to the ACS Marco office at 583 Tallwood St., call 239-642-8800, or go online to