By Kevin Kelley
A single Relay for Life will be held in 2014 for the communities of Westlake and Bay Village.
The event, which raises money for the American Cancer Society, will be called the Westshore Relay For Life and take place May 31 to June 1 at the athletic field at Westlake High School.
Started in 1985 by a Tacoma, Wash., physician, Relay For Life centers around teams of people who take turns walking or running around a track to raise money from sponsors for cancer research.
The Westlake Relay traditionally took place at Westlake High School until two years ago, when construction work on the new high school forced its relocation to the Westlake Recreation Center. Bay Village did not have a Relay For Life in 2013.
Amy Briediger, who chaired Westlake Relay For Life the past two years, will lead the Westshore Relay. Tom Jelepis, the former Bay Village mayor, will be the co-chairman.
A cancer survivor himself, Jelepis was the keynote speaker at the Westlake Relay For Life last year. He also established Friends From the Start, a nonprofit foundation to provide resources for Westshore cancer patients.
“I was proud to be involved last year as a speaker,” Jelepis told West Life.
The idea for the two communities to join forces for the annual ACS fundraiser was Briediger’s. But she said Jelepis’ offer of help in the future inspired the merger.
Jelepis also has many contacts in the Bay community that will prove useful in gaining support, Briediger said.
Briediger said she and Jelepis are representative of many people affected by cancer.
Briediger, a full-time mother of two, got involved with ACS after her father, Bill Hackenberg, was diagnosed with cancer of the stomach and esophagus in February 2012. He died last January at the age of 64. But he was an active planner and participant in last year’s Westlake Relay, where a team of family and friends, known as “Bill’s Buddies,” raised several thousand dollars for the fight against cancer. Thus Briediger sees herself representing the many people who attend Relay in memory of someone who died from the disease.
In August 2010, Jelepis was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and underwent 10 months of sometimes grueling treatment. But today he’s cancer-free. Thus, the man who served as Bay Village mayor from 1994 to 2000 knows what cancer survivors have gone through, Briediger explained. “He’s a man who has gone through the fight,” she said. Relay fundraisers typically attract many cancer survivors, and events include a survivors’ lap and dinner.
Jelepis, who owns a real estate brokerage firm, said organizers plan to promote the two-city Relay effort through the local press and social media.
Planning for the 2014 Westshore Relay For Life begins at 6 p.m. Thursday with a kickoff meeting at the Westlake Recreation Center, 28955 Hilliard Blvd. Anyone interested in getting involved is welcome to attend. Briediger said she hopes that the 2014 Relay’s earlier date, while school is still in session, will attract more student volunteers. The Westlake Relays for the past two years took place much later in the summer.
Briediger said the Westshore Relay will take place at Westlake High School for the forseeable future.
Westlake and Bay Village aren’t alone in joining forces for Relay for Life. This past fall, the ACS announced that Fairview Park, North Olmsted and Rocky River will cease to have individual Relays in 2014 and instead combine for the Tri-City Relay For Life, to take place at the athletic field at Fairview High School.