UW-River Falls: CAFES team celebrates 25th year raising funds at Relay for Life to fight cancer

March 24, 2022 – Joanne Kenney has walked for a quarter of a century as a member of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences Relay for Life River Falls-Pierce County team to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Kenney, who is retired from the city of Hudson and used to work at UWRF in the Plant and Science Department, has had cervical and breast cancer and knows money is needed to help fight cancer as well as work toward a cure.

“I survived it,” Kenney said. “I want to help other people survive it. I know good medical care and the advances in technology and early screening helps save lives.”

Relay for Life will start at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 1, and end the following day at 12:30 a.m., at River Falls High School, 818 Cemetery Road. Teams can still join the event by visiting http://www.relayforlife.org/riverfallswi

The relay returns to River Falls this year after being virtual in 2020 and combined with St. Croix County in 2021.                                                                              
Over two dozen teams are expected to participate in the relay that will be emceed by UWRF Chancellor Maria Gallo. The opening ceremony is at 6 p.m. At 9:30 p.m. a Luminaria Ceremony is scheduled to remember those lost to cancer in Pierce County and reflect on the journey of those who have survived. As the sun sets, relay teams help light pre-made luminaria bags that are dedicated in honor or in memory of a loved one.

The UWRF CAFES team is the only team that has participated in all 25 years of the relay.

Fay Westberg, retired UWRF academic department associate, started the team in 1998 and has helped keep the team involved throughout the 25 years.

“Seeing the community come together is so key,” Westberg said. “There are parts that are very emotional and celebratory. When they do the survivors walk, there are people from the community I know who I didn’t know they had cancer.”

Dave Trechter, professor emeritus in agricultural economics, has participated with the team since 2008. His wife, Kris Allen, who worked in the UWRF Outreach Program, died from ovarian cancer in 2012.

“It was always just amazing to see the whole town out to support this,” Trechter said. “When you get the diagnosis, you just feel so alone. To be surrounded by others who have gone through the same thing is really affirming.”

Sue Freiermuth, a retired UWRF academic associate and cancer survivor, said one of the most exciting parts is seeing UWRF students either walk or volunteer for the relay.

“It is just great to see all the faces,” Freiermuth said.

Phaedra Raethke is the honorary survivor for the relay. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2018. Raethke has had 23 rounds of chemo, 30 rounds of radiation and five surgeries in 2 ½ years.

Amy Jenkins is the honorary caregiver for the relay. Her husband, Brian, who died in 2014, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at age 34.

The CAFES team’s goal is to raise $5,000 this year. To date, the team has raised nearly $90,000 over the years. 

CAFES team members said as they are walking, they will think of those who are still fighting and those who have lost their battle with cancer.