GREENFIELD — The new team wore black T-shirts, emblazoned with No. 53, a cross and the initials, “CR.”

The Greenfield Fire Territory cadets started a Relay for Life team — the Fighting 53 — in memory of the man who guided them. They came to Friday’s event in honor of Chuck Rutledge, who died in March 2016 after a long battle with brain cancer. He taught them everything they know.

Rutledge, a former deputy chief with the fire territory, started the cadet program seven years ago, and its members wanted to remember him during Friday’s Relay for Life of Hancock County.

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The seven-hour event, whose laps around the track honored cancer survivors, remembered lives lost and supported those undergoing treatment, aimed to raise some $68,000 for the American Cancer Society.

Janice Rutledge, team leader for the Fighting 53 and wife of Chuck Rutledge, kept having to take off her sunglasses to wipe her tears. It was a mix of heady emotions, she said; sadness, of course, but also pride in the young adults who honored her husband with their efforts.

The fundraiser, hosted at Greenfield-Central Junior High School, saw several major changes this year officials hope will make the event more convenient for families. After years of hosting separate events, Relay for Life organizations in Greenfield and the Fortville-McCordsville area joined forces to boost the event’s fundraising power, officials said.

Ashley Schenk, a team captain who had formerly raised money for the Fortville-McCordsville area Relay, appreciated the collaboration, she said.

“I think it’s great for our county to take cancer head on, together,” she said.

In addition, rather than conducting two overnight summer fundraisers, the groups packed all the activities into Friday’s event.

The committee also scaled back its fundraising goals based on last year’s total, said. In 2016, Greenfield Relay set a goal of $78,000 but came up about $20,000 short due in part to having to end the event early because of the heat.

The event’s leaders hope having a shorter event attracts families with other commitments, said Brooke Melton, leadership committee member.

But for the people who participate in Relay for Life, the event isn’t as much about the money as what it empowers doctors and scientists to do.

All proceeds from Relay events across the country go toward cancer research and other programs for cancer patients and survivors, organizers said.

Those dollars come right back to the communities where they’re raised, said Chelsey Ozbun, community manager for Relay for Life Lakeshore Division, which oversees the Hancock County event. For example, Hancock Regional Hospital’s Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center hosts a program called Look Good, Feel Better, which helps female cancer patients with their self-image and is supported by Relay dollars.

Relay events are a time to remember those lost to cancer and those who have overcome it, and teams dress to the nines while doing so.

The Fighting 53 took a lap on Friday in full firefighter gear, said team member Ellie Roberts.

Rutledge would have wanted his cadets to help others diagnosed with cancer, and that message inspired their efforts Friday, she said.

Team Shut It Down wore red shirts, the backs filled with nearly 80 names of people team members knew who either died of cancer or are survivors, Schenk said.

Susie Erwin’s smiling face fills the front of the WE-R Fighters team T-shirts. Erwin, a longtime Greenfield resident, died in February 2010 from a rare form of leukemia, said Connie Reder, her sister. She put Erwin’s picture on the shirts so she could be with them during the relay, she said.

Erwin isn’t the only person in Reder’s family affected by cancer, though. Her son, Curt Reder, had a bone marrow transplant when he was 8 years old and had a bout with thyroid cancer in 2013 but is recovering fully. Now 36, Curt Reder joins his mom and about 20 other family members to celebrate and remember.

The team organized a tea party and costume contest at Friday’s event, encouraging some lighthearted fun in an event that can be poignant, too.

Janice Rutledge, wife of Chuck Rutledge, said the members of the cadet program, ages 16 to 21, contacted her a month before the event to ask if she’d be the team leader for the Fighting 53.

She didn’t hesitate, she said.

“I love that they think about my husband and what he started,” she said. “I’m very proud of these kids and the dedication they have for this program.”

As of Friday, the county Relay for Life had raised about $33,000, Ozbun said. Fundraising for this year’s event continues through Aug. 31.

By the numbers

Relay for Life of Hancock County fundraising totals

2009: $70,442

2010: $56,660

2011: $31,705

2012: $63,720

2013: $77,366

2014: $75,705

2015: $64,385

2016: $59,000

How to donate

Donations to the Relay for Life of Hancock County may be sent to

Relay for Life

Lakeshore Division

5635 W. 96th St.,

Indianapolis, IN 46278

Mark “RFL of Hancock County”

Become a part of Relay for Life

Relay for Life of Hancock County’s leadership committee seeks new members. To become a part of the committee that organizes the yearly fundraising event, call Julie McKinley at 317-407-3710.

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or