Neighbors’ Fun Helps Fight Cancer Through Relay For Life

A group of Union Lake neighbors has put fun and fundraising together in the fight against cancer.

The neighbors gather every spring for a party at the home of Gary and Maxine Walter, where they take part in an auction whose proceeds go to the East Polk County Relay for Life, as a donation to the Grace Lutheran team from Erskine. The Relay for Life will begin at 6 p.m. Friday, June 27, at the Fosston football field.

Gary Walter holds up a University of North Dakota jersey as auctioneer Will Dekkers gets the bidding going.

Auction items at the party are brought by the residents.

“Neighbors get together, enjoy each other’s company, and do something that’s worthwhile,” Gary said. “It’s so enjoyable. We look forward to it every year. … “It enhances our lives.”

“Everybody comes with the idea that, ‘I’m going to spend $100,” Maxine said. “It’s a great cause, it’s easy and it’s fun.”

The spring auction has benefited Relay for Life since 2008. The first two years, the proceeds went to the Red Lake County Relay, but since most of the neighbors are from Polk County, they switched to the Polk Relay in 2010 and started donating to the Erskine team, the Grace Lutheran team.

“The first time they gave it to us, it was a complete surprise,” said Nancy Jenson, who had been the team captain for about 15 years until Andrew Hanson took over this year.

“Nancy cried the first time we gave her money,” Gary said.

Joann Kuntz ended up with a pair of fancy bloomers at one of the auctions.

“They handed us this envelope in church with all this money in it,” Jenson said. “At the time, I thought it was a one-time deal, but they kept doing it.”

The amounts have risen each year: $1,000 in 2011, $2,005 in 2012, and $2,150 in 2013.

The Union Lake group show that anyone can find a way to contribute,” Jenson said. “They’re just a group of ordinary people. In one fun evening, they manage to do something pretty powerful and raise this much money for a wonderful cause. … You don’t have to join a Relay for Life team, you don’t have to put a lot of effort into it; you can just do your own thing, whatever that might be, and make a difference in the lives of people who are fighting cancer.”

“I’m very glad that they do what they do and they’re willing to donate for Relay for Life,” Hanson said. “It’s awesome.”

Participants start to show up for the spring party at about 5 p.m. and enjoy a potluck supper at 6. They then move to the garage for the auction, which starts promptly at 7 p.m. and ends at about 9:30.

“What really goes are baskets,” Maxine said, noting that they can go for twice their monetary value. Paulette Moe makes beautiful baskets, she said. Homemade items are also big, such as Helen Birch’s $65 coconut pie.

“We bring anything we want,” Maxine said, even gag gifts. Some items are wrapped as mystery gifts, and could be expensive or worthless, or somewhere in between.

“It could be a dead mouse,” yet bring in $40 or $50, Gary said.

“I brought a book by (conservative television host and author) Glenn Beck and sold it to (former Democratic Sen.) Roger Moe for $20,” Gary said.

“Everyone knows it’s going for a good cause,” Gary said.

In addition to donating popular woodworking pieces to the auction, Mark Berberich also acts as sheriff, fining people at will. Last year, he issued fines for being too sexy, parking too close to the dog kennel, improperly draping an electrical cord, and grabbing a beer from the refrigerator without asking. He even handcuffed a woman who kept hugging people.

“We enjoy each other and have a lot of fun,” Maxine said. “We bring something we think someone will want to bid up. Every year, more gets added.”

“We get together to eat and have a good time,” Gary said. “Everyone looks forward to it every year.”

Kenny Beauchane sports a sombrero won in an auction.


Cancer affects all

Cancer affects virtually everyone, directly or indirectly. Of this group of neighbors, 10 people are cancer survivors: Pat Beauchane, Mark Berberich, Hans Halvorson, Rita Kenna, Paulette Moe, Nona Noyes, Judy Roelofs, Lorraine Solheim, Rita Trandem and Maxine Walter.

“Cancer affects everybody, every family,” said Maxine, who got an early warning of her thyroid cancer through a screening and was successfully treated. “I was very lucky.”

The members of the group also know people who have lost the fight.

“Linda Briss (who died Oct. 30, 2012, at the age of 67) fought cancer for nine and a half years,” Gary said. “We took turns taking her to Grand Forks for dialysis. She had a great sense of humor.”

The Walters encourage people who want to help raise funds for Relay for Life to “start with an idea,” Maxine said. “It doesn’t have to be what we do. … We are so thankful for our good health. It feels like a blessing to be able to raise some money to help the organization. So many people are afflicted with this disease. There are many, many things you can do.”

“Once you get something started … it takes on a life of its own,” Gary said.

Jenson has a favorite quote, by anthropologist Margaret Mead, that she said can be applied to those who fight against tough foes like cancer: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

“When you think about finding a cure for cancer, it’s overwhelming, but there have been many advancements made … in part supported by things like the Relay for Life,” Jenson said.

For more information on Relay for Life or to volunteer or donate, contact Hanson at 218-687-2063 or

Gary Walter peers into a mystery bag as he stands next to auctioneer Will Deckers.