For the Goetz family, the fight against cancer is personal. Dave Goetz lost his wife Sharon to cancer, when his daughter Sarah was in 2nd Grade. This year, Goetz is spearheading the “Relay for Life” that will take place at the Park on June 23-34.

“We used to have our Relay in the middle of August,” Goetz said, “We moved up the date to accommodate family vacations and teacher schedules.” Goetz is chairperson for the fund-raising event. He said he hopes to raise $40,000 this year.

He is receiving valuable assistance from Sarah and her friend, Mike Johnsen. They have recruited their Fenwick classmates for the cancer-fighting cause. In fact, the high schoolers are hosting a “Roll for the Relay” on May 5, at the Fleetwood Roller Rink, at 7321 West Archer in Summit. The roller-skating fiesta begins at 5:00 p.m., on Cinco de Mayo, with skaters being serenaded by Mariachis.

No one said the fight for the cure couldn’t be fun, and that is what Sarah and Mike have been experiencing since their first Relay in 4th Grade. “It’s the one night a year we stay up all night,” Sarah said with a smile.

Each year, Relay participants divide themselves into several teams, typically made up of anywhere from 8 to 15 members. They spend the months leading up the Relay raising money for cancer research through any number of creative fundraising ideas, including letter writing campaigns, garage sales, carwashes and more.

Their efforts then culminate on the night of the actual relay, when throughout the entire night at least one member of each team circles the Park, reminding passerbys of the impact of cancer on the lives of local residents and the efforts being made to combat the deadly disease.

There is also a somber side to the event, when the luminaria ceremony is held to honor victims and survivors. Luminarias, or white paper bags containing glow sticks, are placed all around the Park. Each is inscribed with the names of an individual affected by cancer as well as the name of the person who purchased the luminaria in their honor.

The names on the luminaries are read out loud for all in attendance to hear.

“It’s very reverent,” Sarah said. “The Park gets quieter after that.”

Not that there isn’t some hilarity beforehand, the prime example being the “Mr. Relay Contest.”

“Guys pick out dresses and walk around and ask people for money,” Mike commented, “After fifteen minutes, we figure out who has raised the most.”

The record cross-dresser last year raised $600. Mike looked especially fetching in a blue number, while Dave Goetz was one scary-looking woman.

There’s also a bonfire that some night owls consider endlessly entertaining.

Other diversions include a DJ and tents presenting the products of The Pampered Chef and jewelry-making by Team Blonde.

Last year, Team Blonde’s tent featured Czechoslovakian glass bracelets. Co-owner Heidi Vance said the store hasn’t worked out its plans for this year quite yet, but would be more than happy to get involved.

Team Blonde will also be participating in the Chicago-based Y-Me? walk by putting together a walking team and donating a portion of the store’s proceeds to the cause. That event will take place on Mother’s Day.

Forest Park National Bank and Trust Co. will once again be the event’s headline sponsor for the Relay for Life.

The Forest Park event is one of thirteen Relays being held in the West Cook Region this year. Carli Franks is the local American Cancer Society coordinator.

“Some larger communities raise six figures in donations,” Franks said, “But Forest Park is one of the top communities in the state in per capita donations.”

The Society uses the proceeds for research, education and advocacy. “We offer patient services such as a wig bank and rides to medical appointments,” Franks said. Last year, Forest Park’s Relay’s fifteen teams raised a total of $32,000 for the Society.

About 94 percent of the money raised goes directly into research and programming.

Mike and Sarah are both team captains this year. Mike’s team has eight boys and Sarah’s team has seven girls. Many of their classmates have never been to a Relay but are excited by the prospect. They are also enthusiastic about roller-skating, knowing it will be fun for teens and stir memories for adults.

In addition to fund-raising events, team members generate donations by receiving pledges for the Relay. Throughout the night, team members will be walking laps on the Park path but pledges are not made on a per-lap basis. The first walkers to complete the circuit are cancer survivors. “During the survivor lap, we all cheer them on,” said Sarah.

The evening’s festivities will also include speeches by local officials. Mayor Anthony Calderone addressed the crowd last year. The relay concludes with a closing ceremony in the morning, during which organizers announce the total fundraising numbers and the event’s top teams.

Those interested in supporting the Relay, or attending the Cinco de Mayo skate, can contact the American Cancer Society at (708) 484-8541. They will be helping the many Forest Park families whose fight against cancer is deeply personal.

For the sake of full disclosure, it should be noted that Dave Goetz writes a monthly opinion column for the Forest Park Review.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.