Approximately 150 people participated in the fundraiser to fight pancreatic cancer. Joan Van Houten
A 5k run fundraiser for pancreatic cancer research Saturday was a first-time event in Hastings with approximately 150 runners and walkers in the race. Rusty Blakely organized the event to honor his wife, Wendy, who died of the disease on May 23, 2018.
Saturday was her birthday.
“Wendy is still the passion in my life,” Blakely said. “She was an exceptional, positive human being. Pancreatic cancer is a terrible way to die, and no one should have to suffer the way she did.”
Blakely and his wife grew up and graduated in Nashville, which is why he chose to have the run in Barry County with friends and family nearby.
Wendy was a registered nurse and Nicole Lewis, a volunteer at the fundraiser, had worked with her at Pennock Hospital, and they were friends. Lewis described Wendy as a very nice person, a good and caring nurse and “she always had a positive attitude – always.”
Mary Mead whose granddaughter, Cashel Shute, ran in the race, came to support Shute. She had also experienced a personal loss with the recent death of her daughter, Kimberly Musser, who died of an aneurism.
“Kim was an organ donor. So, even after she died, she was still helping people. Her donation has helped save the lives of four people so far, and they say there may be more soon,” Mead said. “Kim always supported and volunteered for things like [this fundraiser] to help people.”
Cancer also has touched Mead's life. Her mother died at the age of 54 of lung cancer.
She said she is a strong supporter of cancer research to find a cure.
The first runner to cross the finish line was Wayne Oom from Caledonia. He didn't know Blakely or his wife. However, he heard about the race from friends who did and was encouraged to sign up.
“I join runs and marathons all the time. I enjoy hometown races, and I'm all for supporting a good cause like this one. There are good people all around me, and I'm happy to be a part of helping.”
Kim Barnes, a Hastings resident, was the second runner to reach the finish line. She also participates in race events. Although she did not know the Blakely family, she was close to someone who died of cancer. She prefers local runs – and especially the events that help local people – for a good cause. “Cancer touches everyone,” she said.
Blakely's son, Owen, came from Florida to stand by his dad at the very first 5k fundraiser.
“My mom would be happy to be fighting this disease,” he said. “She was always helping people, and her positive outlook touched a lot of people's lives. It's great to be back here to see how supportive and caring the community is, and it's really great to be around friends.”
“I'm just continuing what she did in her life – helping people. This is only the first 5k run. We're making it an annual event, and we hope to have at least 300 racers next year,” Blakely said.
He said he intends to donate all funds raised to Johns Hopkins Medicine. And he said he hopes to create an endowment fund in his wife's name. However, to do that, he must first raise $100,000 to make it a permanent endowment account.
As Blakely returns to Florida today, he will remember that it's the one-year anniversary of his wife's death.
But he also takes with him the memory of a new 5k fundraising event in Hastings where her memory was honored.