Relay For Life brings the best out of Doane and its community
Seventeen years ago, students at Doane University (still College at that time) did something that had never been done at any institute of higher learning anywhere in the world before. What they did then began a ripple effect that has spread to nearly every other college campus in America, and has become a special point of pride for Doane in particular. In 2002, Doane was the first college anywhere to organize a Relay For Life event. The rest is history.
“It’s been one of those things where we host events for it all year long, and the school and the community really rallies around it,” says Amber Rouse ’18, co-chair of Doane’s Relay For Life executive board. “We’re usually in the top three per capita in the nation. It’s definitely one of the biggest things the community as a whole rallies around.”
To say that Relay For Life has become a huge deal for Doane since 2002 is an understatement. The Relay and the amount of support it gets, not just from Doane but from the community at large, has become central to the university’s identity.
“Once you come to Doane, come Relay time, you find yourself at Relay For Life,” says Dillon Narud ’19, executive board co-chair. “You go with your friends. You spend hours or you spend minutes, it doesn’t matter, you just find yourself there.
“You find the impact that it has for you but also the impact it has for the community members and the survivors.”
This year’s Relay For Life was held last Friday at Fuhrer Fieldhouse. The event itself raised $41,060.90. Donations will keep trickling in until the end of the month from sponsorships, luminarias and late checks according to Andrew Brown, assistant director of Hansen Leadership Program and Community Service and Engagement at Doane. He is the staff advisor to the student-led executive board and committees that put on Relay For Life at Doane.
Doane typically raises in excess of $60,000 for the Relay, and Brown expects this year’s final tally to be consistent with that general amount.
“We are always consistent in the amount we are raising,” he says. “We are consistently one of the top raisers in the nation for institutions around our size.”
Doane and Saline County along with it are known for the exceptional impact of their efforts for Relay For Life. Doane University has achieved a somewhat legendary status as one of (if not the) most dedicated schools of its size in America to Relay For Life. Aside from the singular achievement of being the first college ever to host its own event, Doane has been ranked first in its division for amount of money raised for Relay in each of the last 12 years (in a class of schools with 3,000 or fewer students, not including 2019). Doane has been ranked first in the nation for seven of those years.
“These kids work their butts off more than anyone I’ve ever seen,” says Ronda Armstrong, community manager with the American Cancer Society, serving as liaison between Doane and the Society for the event. “They have the passion from way back when, and every year they know when they sign up for Relay how much responsibility they have to keep that passion going.”
Armstrong, who has acted as liaison to “about 75” Relays in her 15 years with the American Cancer Society, says there’s something special about Doane’s dedication that drives it students and the surrounding community to put forth such an exceptional effort toward the Relay year after year.
“It starts with Doane itself. It’s part of the Hansen Leadership culture. It’s in Andrew’s job description,” Armstrong says. “So right there they’re putting a hierarchy for Relay For Life at Doane. Nobody else does that that I know of.”
Brown doesn’t take much of the credit for the way Relay thrives at Doane. He says the dedication shown by Doane students and the surrounding community makes his job easy.
“It makes my job worthwhile. It helps me get up in the morning,” says Brown. “Our students here at Doane are phenomenal human beings. They are true inspirations. This event would not be possible without the work they put in. They’ve been meeting once a week since August. Just the dedication they show makes me want to do my job.
“Then the support we get from the community, from the survivors, it just shows how this community loves everybody and just wants to support people and what they’re doing.”
From an entire community of exceptional givers, individuals stand out who go above and beyond even that, deserving special recognition. Last year Doane established the John Lothrop Spirit of Relay Award, named after an ardent Doane supporter who helps make the Relay happen year after year. Lothrop was the first recipient of his namesake award.
This year the award was given to Crete Ace Hardware owner Dan Papik, a dedicated supporter of Doane’s Relay and the American Cancer Society’s cause.
“Every single year he donates all the tables, all the chairs, all the inflatables, and on top of that he comes and helps set it all up, too,” Rouse says of Papik. “He donates really the majority of the supplies that make Relay happen, and every time, it’s no big deal to him. You say thank you and he doesn’t even think he needs it. He’s just that good.”
Papik is as humble as described in person. “I don’t do it for recognition; I do it because it’s the right thing to do and because God blessed me with enough,” he says at the event as he wanders around Fuhrer looking for ways he can help. “For me it’s about being part of the community.”
Papik says he’s inspired by the love and unity the community pours out for Relay For Life.
“I think it’s unusual in today’s world, how hard they work at it,” he says. “It’s super inspiring, the community. I love where I live and the community I’m in, and Doane is a big part of that.”