It was a trip of less than a mile as the crow flies, but it was one of the most memorable drives Don Brown has ever made during his 35 years as a volunteer firefighter.
Brown was out front in his Alvaton Volunteer Fire Department truck Friday as the American Cancer Society held a Parade of Hope event on a night originally reserved for the 25th annual Warren County Relay for Life.
After leading some 40 vehicles – many of them decorated with messages of hope for cancer patients and their families – on a winding route from Living Hope Baptist Church to Broadway United Methodist Church, Brown took in the sight of the 153 luminaria bags that were glowing as tributes to those lost to cancer and others battling the disease.
One of those bags bore the name of Brown’s wife, Dianne Brown. Diagnosed with tonsil cancer more than a year ago, she rode in the firetruck with her husband as a newly minted cancer survivor.
After surgery and 33 radiation treatments, Dianne Brown got the news last month that she was cancer-free – the kind of news that the couple felt worth celebrating with a parade.
“It (cancer) can recur, but right now I feel lucky,” Dianne Brown said. “I had not been involved in Relay for Life before, but this (parade) is very important.”
Maybe more important to her husband, who relished the opportunity to lead the parade and participate in an event that brings together individuals and families that have been touched by cancer.
“This was awesome,” Don Brown said. “A lot more people came out than I was anticipating. This means the whole world to me.”
Brown wasn’t the only participant impressed by the show of support.
Jill Isom, community manager for the Bowling Green ACS office, helped pull the parade together hurriedly after the Relay for Life event scheduled for Bowling Green Ballpark was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. She said nearly half of the 153 luminaria bags were purchased in the last two days.
Isom still hopes to have a full Relay event in the fall at Bowling Green Ballpark but wanted to observe the original date for Relay. The parade was part of what’s being called a Weekend of Hope that will include online events to recognize cancer survivors and remember those lost to cancer.
Originally scheduled for downtown, the parade was moved to a different route because of the “We Need Justice” protest event Friday evening at Circus Square Park.
“I really had no idea what to expect,” Isom said. “We’re thrilled with the turnout.”
Maybe she shouldn’t have been surprised, based on the history of Warren County’s Relay for Life. Annually among the top Relay events in a multi-state region, the Warren County Relay raised more than $300,000 last year.
“This community really knows how to give back,” said Kim Lindgren, publicity chair for Warren County Relay for Life.
Lindgren, who has been involved with Relay for Life since 2003, was decked out Friday in a Jedi knight costume in keeping with Relay’s “Star Wars” theme. Others drove cars decorated with the “May the Cure be with You” message adopted as Relay’s slogan this year.
“We’re trying to make the best of a challenging and scary time,” Lindgren said. “For cancer patients, it’s even scarier.”
Parade participant Dana Beasley Brown said the event was a good substitute for a full Relay for Life.
Beasley Brown, a Bowling Green city commissioner, said she involved her children in decorating her car with purple ribbons and messages of hope.
“Our church (Broadway UMC) is always involved with Relay,” she said. “Cancer is something that impacts all of our families.
“Relay for Life is always amazing, but this is fun, too. I’m glad they found a way to get people together.”
Isom is still holding out hope that Relay supporters can get together again, when coronavirus restrictions are lifted and social distancing is no longer an issue. She is in touch with the Bowling Green Hot Rods baseball team on a possible date for holding Relay in the fall at Bowling Green Ballpark.