Relay-Chrissy redman suit, laughing boy

By Deb Everts

The American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life took place all day June 9 at the Cattaraugus County Fairgrounds, part of the year-long fundraising effort that began at the conclusion of last year’s Relay event.

Organizer Sherry Charlesworth said Relay for Life of the Fairgrounds is in its third year at the Cattaraugus County Fairgrounds in Little Valley. Prior to that, the Relay was held in Ellicottville at the school grounds for about 20 years.

Charlesworth said they were not provided with a staff partner from the American Cancer Society this year, so they were considered a “DIY Relay” and they did this Relay on their own.

A total was not available at press time but, as of June 6, the teams who were part of the Relay for Life of the Fairgrounds had collectively raised $18,114.94 with a goal of $40,000, which they hope to raise by October.

“We had about 16 teams signed up, but not all of them participated on Saturday. We don’t walk the dirt track at the fairgrounds. We walk around the midway area, which is partly paved and part is surface treated,” she said. “Olean is not doing their Relay this year, so they joined us for this year.”

There were various fundraisers at each team booth during the Relay, where the teams sold or raffled off a wide-variety of items. The raffles included drawing for baskets, a picnic table and a 55-inch TV. There was all kinds of food. Each team chose a different board game to represent, so they incorporated that particular game into their fundraising efforts.

All the participants have a story about a friend or loved one who has battled some type of cancer or a story of their own.

Little Valley residents Charlene Rohwer and her daughter, Michelle Benson, are both survivors of uterine cancer. Rohwer, 62, who battled her cancer in 2000, said her mother had both uterine and cervical cancer, enduring radiation and cobalt treatments.

“The Relay means a lot to us because our family — aunts, uncles, grandparents — have battled so many different types of cancers,” Rohwer said.

Benson, 41, fought her battle in 2009 but, like her mother, she is in remission and doing well.

“We’ve lost a lot of family members and friends,” Benson said. “The uterine cancer alone is generational for us.”

Event Leadership team member Chrissy Butcher of Little Valley raised $85 for her Relay team, Shuhari Karate Dojo, by donning a padded red suit and letting kids take turns punching her to the tune of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”

Butcher, who works for New Directions in Randolph, said her uncle is a survivor and her grandfather is currently being treated for skin cancer. She and her husband, Jim, used to participate in the Frewsburg Relay, but when Ellicottville Relay moved to Little Valley, they started coming here.

“The last two years, we’ve had our own team, Shuhari Karate Dojo, and I’ve been on the committee. I will continue to be here as long as we continue to do this event,” she said.

As with every year, Deb Melaro-Brandenstein and her husband, Bill Brandenstein, of Olean, were in attendance to support the Relay. Both of them lost their late spouses to cancer. Melaro-Brandenstein said her first husband, Angelo Melaro, lost his battle in 2007 to renal cell carcinoma, kidney cancer.

“After five years or so, I decided to see if there was anybody out there that I would want to start ‘chapter two’ with,” she said. “Then I met Bill, from West Middlesex, Pa., who had lost his first wife to Lymphoma cancer. He’s the one who got me into the Relay.”

Melaro-Brandenstein said, in addition to her late husband, she has lost a few friends to cancer over the years, as well as former classmates and her mother who was a breast cancer survivor.

“The Relay is something you do because you hope to make a difference somehow, for someone,” she said. “In terms of fundraisers, Relay has brought the American Cancer Society more funding for research and rides for people to go for treatment. There’s much more that a lot of people don’t know about.”

Melaro-Brandenstein said the Luminaria ceremony that concludes the Relay is inspiring and beautiful when all the luminaria around the track are lit. The ceremony is to celebrate cancer survivors and remember those who have battled cancer.

“There’s a commonality here,” she said. “Everybody out there knows somebody whose lives has been touched by cancer whether it’s a family member, a neighbor or a coworker. We’ve all lost someone and it’s kind of disheartening to see so many months of work, with so few people showing up.”

The fundraising continues through October if people want to contribute or donate to the cause. For more information about this local event and all related events, visit online at, and Facebook.