Heavy gusts of wind dogged the 15-hour Ceres Relay for Life event on Saturday but didn't deter from the mission to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.
The winds may have kept the crowd size down but preliminary figures indicate that the Relay raised approximately $51,700 to battle cancer.
"Reaching the $51,000, I couldn't be more excited about that," said Ceres Relay chairman Wes Stamper. "$45,000 is what I was going to be happy with. That could still climb. I know we still have some corporate donations that will be coming through so I'm thinking by year's end we might be around $55,000, which is extremely exciting considering the participation level being down."
The final number is expected to climb since the Ceres Relay's fundraising effort can go until August 4, he said.
The day's activities began when members of the Ceres Lions Club cooked up breakfast for cancer survivors like Maudie Lamb of Ceres. She shared that she fought ovarian cancer 44 years ago and breast cancer 16 years ago.
"It's scary," said Lamb, who has been at every Ceres Relay since it started 11 years ago. "It's unbelievable how it comes back on people."
Maudie's husband, Cleve Lamb and brother-in-law Errol Fiskin, are both Lions members who cook every year.
The opening ceremony that began shortly after 9 a.m. included the singing of the National Anthem by Christina Stamper.
Vice Mayor Mike Kline addressed the crowd, saying "It's amazing to see so many dedicated and committed volunteers year after year to raise money for a cure. I believe cancer has touched everyone's life in one way or another, whether you are a survivor, you know someone with cancer - a loved one, a close friend, a co-worker or a casual acquaintance. I believe I've known someone under each of those categories."
Stamper announced that the event was dedicated in memory of Ceres resident Chloe Gustin, who was claimed last June by acute lymphoblastic leukemia just 11 days before her third birthday. Chloe's mother Ashley Gustin explained that doctors failed to diagnose her daughter's illness despite her experiencing pains and making three emergency room visits.
"We didn't know she had it until the autopsy," said Ashley before the event.
Accompanying Ashley to the event were her parents, Carl and Julie Gustin, 10-month-old baby daughter Emily Peterson, husband Greg Peterson as well as members of his family.
"The day of (her death) was horrendous," said Julie Gustin. "Ashley was like eight months pregnant. I was just worried that she might bronchitis or pneumonia. She was doing this weird little breathing thing and she was really fine. Two days before she was riding her trike."
During her talk, Ashley described her daughter as compassionate who would remark "Aww, how cute" when seeing a butterfly or hummingbird. She could sing every song from the movie "Frozen" and wanted to have her third birthday themed after character Elsa.
"Needless to say, I hate cancer," Ashley told the crowd. "While going through the grieving process we realized that heavenly Father wasn't punishing us, and yes, maybe the doctors could have caught it soon enough to get her treatment, but the fact is Chloe wasn't meant for that battle."
She said "our bright-eyed little girl instilled in us the belief that every moment counts. There is a positive to every negative and no matter how nice sleeping in sounds, the time we spend together as family and friends is far more valuable."
Ashley closed by expressing her thanks for the American Cancer Society for their efforts to find a cure.
"I'm sorry for all of you who are affected by cancer in one way or another. And I know this is hard and life changing but despite what it feels like it's not the end to anyone's story. Fill every day with meaning and love. By the best mom, dad, sister, brother, son or daughter you can and then try again tomorrow."
The winds destroyed a medieval castle structure created by Sheila Brandt's Candice's Crusaders team who walked in memory of her niece, Candice LaFramboise, who died in 2014 from cancer. Other teams found the wind was too powerful for decorations they wanted to attach to their pop-up tents.
The first lap was reserved for only cancer survivors who were all given purple Relay T-shirts. A large number lined up on the track, organized from the newest survivors at the beginning to the longest survivors.
About 15 speakers addressed the crowd throughout the day and into the evening.
The top fundraisers within the 15 active groups were Bissa Robinson's "Wild for a Cure," which raised $12,366.90; Bronco Winery's Crushing for a Cure, led by Robert Hall, $10,677; and Fighting For Our Angels team which collected $4,999.80. Wild for a Cure raised most of its money, about $9,000, from a Hoedown held in Turlock.
Top fundraising individuals were Garry Pinheiro, $5,240; Nancy Maxfield, $1,710; and Wes Stamper, $1,396.
One of the most successful aspects of the Relay was the raising of $6,000 from a donated 2008 Chevy Equinox from Bronco Winery. Tickets were sold at $5 each or six for $20.
When nightfall came over the on the Relay it was time for the emotional luminaria ceremony whereby names of loved ones were placed on bags which were then lit up by candles.
Committee and team captains began the planning effort in August and conducted about a dozen fundraisers up to the actual Relay.
Relay for Life was founded in 1985 by a colorectal surgeon Dr. Gordy Klatt in Tacoma, Wash., who received pledges for running for 24 hours. Some 83 miles later he had raised $27,000. The effort was expanded to teams and Relay for Life was formed.
Stamper said he hopes more Ceres residents reach out to take advantage of American Cancer Society programs, which are highlighted on the cancer.org website.
"I wish people needing these services would reach out for them so that way, you know, it's a little more rewarding knowing that it stays here in our community."