Relay for Life changes; dedication remains same

Debra Ocanaz (left) and her daughter Marisa Reinland (right) lift Elyse Ocanaz, 3, (center) into the air for giant, flying steps around the Martin Field track during the Relay For Life event Friday evening.

Debra Ocanaz (left) and her daughter Marisa Reinland (right) lift Elyse Ocanaz, 3, (center) into the air for giant, flying steps around the Martin Field track during the Relay For Life event Friday evening. Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas.

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WALLA WALLA — The annual Relay for Life at Borleske Field’s track has seen changes over the years.

From sands to hours to bands, the cancer research fundraiser is always changing and adapting. Even the luminaries have changed, as was seen at Friday night’s lighting of 700 decorated bags with candles inside.

“We had such a problem with the wind last year, we had some catch on fire,” corporate sponsor chair Sheila Peterson said.

This year the Relay committee decided to do away with filling the bottom of the paper luminaries with sand; instead, they used canned goods that will later be donated to local food banks.

The hours have also changed over the years. What once was a 24-hour event from evening to evening is now an 18-hour event that started at 6 p.m. Friday and ended at noon Saturday.

As for the changes in bands, for the first time at the Walla Walla Relay for Life, a Tejano band took the main stage at prime hours on Friday night — Grupo Mizmo performed from 7:45 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“We were just surprised that they asked us to do this,” Monica Ocañaz said. She is both a spokesperson for the band and a member of the leading fundraising family team for Relay for Life, which was the Ocañaz family.

The year, the Ocañaz family is expected to raise around $2,500 in funds. Most of that money came from a highly successful Grupo Mizmo benefit concert at the Wildhorse Resort & Casino.

“That is where I saw that band and I thought, ‘Wow, this would be so much fun,’” Relay chair Kimberly Keller said. But there was another reason for making Grupo Mizmo the main concert this year.

According to 2010 U.S. Census figures, about 20 percent of Walla Walla County is Hispanic. But it was obvious that the Latinos at this year’s Relay for Life, as well as in previous years, were not anywhere near 20 percent of the participants. Still, there were more Latinos this year than in the past, which coordinators said was most likely due to the choice of band.

“By having that outreach, it is basically saying, ‘Come here because this is something we want everyone to participate in.’ And it is encouraging to see so many Hispanics because they get cancer too,” Peterson said.

Ten minutes prior to Grupo Mizmo taking the state, Ocañaz family members were curious how it would all turn out.

“It is going to be interesting,” Maria Ocañaz said.

“I am curious to see how they are going to react,” Monica said.

The music started, and after a couple of songs people of all nationalities (though mostly women) could be seen tapping their feet and occasionally breaking out into a dance. All the while, volunteers helped set up and light the luminaries using canned goods instead of sand.

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