Luminaria display conducted in memory and honor of cancer patients

Tiffany Renee Otte’s father went through colon cancer.

Dee Hess’ husband is a thyroid cancer survivor.

Angel Armstrong has had a lot of friends and church members die from cancer, but there are survivors, too.

On Saturday night, a Relay for Life drive-thru luminaria display was set up in the parking lot of First Baptist Church in Seymour, and the illuminated bags had been decorated in memory or in honor or someone who has battled cancer.

At the top and bottom of each hour, 434 names of survivors and those who lost their battle were read.

Otte was happy to say her father fought cancer and won.

“My mom, her committee used to help run Relay for Life whenever I was a little girl, and any time it’s out, I usually want to go but didn’t have anybody to go with,” she said as she walked along with her pastor, Armstrong, to see the display Saturday night. “It’s good to see people actually want to go. It’s good to celebrate the life that God gave them.”

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life movement is the world’s largest peer-to-peer fundraising event dedicated to saving lives from cancer, according to

For more than 35 years, communities across the world have come together to honor and remember loved ones and take action for lifesaving change. Funds raised through Relay for Life directly support breakthrough research, 24/7 support for cancer patients, access to lifesaving screenings and more.

Relay for Life used to be conducted annually in Seymour, but the number of teams dwindled, and it combined with Columbus in 2019.

Then when the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, the in-person Relay for Life was canceled, and those involved came up with creative ways to keep fundraising going.

The result for the Seymour Relay for Life teams was a drive-thru luminaria display.

Even though an in-person Relay for Life event resumed in 2021 and 2022, the teams continued to have the luminaria display in Seymour.

When Armstrong and Otte participated in The Alley’s Thousand Ten Project earlier Saturday, they saw tables set up in the parking lot for the luminaria display and wanted to come by later that night and check it out.

“I’ve had a lot of friends in my life pass away from cancer, and being a pastor, you walk through that with a lot of people,” said Armstrong, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Seymour. “I’ve always done Relay for Life walking with it. One thing I didn’t know is that they had the bags out in honor of survivors. As many times as I’ve walked Relay for Life, I didn’t know that.”

Hess said she originally got involved in Relay for Life through the church she attends, Trinity UMC, forming a team. Then her sorority started a team, ESA One Step One Miracle, and for a while, she was fundraising for both.

At one point, the church’s team fizzled, so she has remained involved with the sorority’s team.

That was before her husband, David Hess, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer five years ago.

“I’m a nurse, so I knew what to expect, but they told him it was benign,” Dee said. “He had this gut feeling telling him it was more than that, so he went back to the doctor. They went in to check it, and when they were looking, they saw a spot that was suspicious. While they had him there, they went in and took it out. He didn’t have to have any treatment.”

Today, David is glad to be among the survivors, and Dee is happy to continue to support Relay for Life.

Even though Seymour doesn’t host an event anymore, she said it’s important for her team to do something locally to honor cancer survivors and those who have died from cancer.

“We still want people in Seymour to know that we still do it and that we want to honor them,” Dee said. “We don’t want them to think that they have been forgotten even though it’s not going on over here. We just wanted to do this to let them know we still care, that they are still thought of.”

For a recommended $10 donation, people could buy a bag to decorate. Each bag had a person’s name on it, and many had pictures, too. Some chose to write a special message or include their own artwork.

As people drove or walked through the parking lot to see the luminaria display, they could hear Jan Engel and Julia Aker alternate reading names of cancer survivors and those who lost their battles. In between that, music was played through speakers.

A luminaria ceremony also is part of Relay for Life events, being conducted near the end when it gets dark so the lights inside the bags can be seen.

“In Columbus, it was just awesome,” Dee said of the Aug. 27 event that also featured lighted boxes with the words “Cure” and “Hope” during the ceremony. “It was totally silent. No one said a word. You just walked. Some of us held hands.”

Those boxes also were part of Saturday’s event in Seymour.

“It’s just amazing,” Dee said. “It just gives me goosebumps.”

While the annual Relay for Life has been completed locally, fundraising efforts continue for a few more months.

Anyone may donate to the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life or join or create a team at

Information about Relay for Life of Columbus also may be found online at