The History of Woodbury’s Relay for Life

by | May 2020

The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life in Woodbury


For the past 21 years, the Woodbury community has donated its time, money and gratitude to the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life.

For the past 21 years, the Woodbury community has donated its time, money and gratitude to the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life—the largest fundraising event for cancer in the world.

Thirty-five years ago, colorectal surgeon Gordy Klatt, M.D., had a desire to raise awareness of cancer and wanted to boost the income of his local charity for cancer; he walked a track in Tacoma, Wash. for a grueling 24 hours and raised over $27,000, beginning the Relay For Life. Since 1985, the event has been celebrated by more than four million people in over 20 countries, including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia and more.

Woodbury’s Relay For Life began in 1999 as Woodbury Relay For Life, taking place in Woodbury’s beloved Ojibway Park in 2008 and 2009 among other community locations throughout the years. In 2010, the event merged with the Cottage Grove Relay For Life to form the Relay For Life of South Washington County.

In 2019, Relay For Life of South Washington County celebrated 20 years of holding the cherished event and recognized the charitable efforts of raising over $2.8 million for the American Cancer Society over the past two decades.

“Over the years, community members have put together Relay teams and fundraised for the American Cancer Society,” says Relay For Life co-chair Michelle Alpers. “Local businesses have provided sponsorship dollars and items for silent auctions, and officials from the City of Woodbury have proclaimed a day each year as ‘Relay For Life Day.’”

This year’s Relay For Life will take place in summer, titled the “Night of Hope,” and is moving back to Woodbury’s Ojibway Park. “We are looking forward to utilizing the beautiful space [again],” Alpers says.

Leading up to the event, family members, friends and coworkers create Relay teams and fundraise for the American Cancer Society by selling luminaria bags or asking for donations. The event, which runs from 5–11 p.m., opens with a survivor reception, followed by the opening ceremony. Throughout the evening, participants take turns walking around a track in honor of survivors and caregivers; there’s also games, a Zumba class, a live band, a food truck and on-site fundraisers.

“Over the past 20 years, anywhere from 40 to 100 Relay teams have registered for and participated in the event,” Alpers says. “Even though the number of Relay teams has fluctuated throughout the years, the mission of the American Cancer Society remains the same: to save lives, celebrate lives and lead the fight for a world without cancer.”


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