GREENFIELD — Every day, growing up, Susan White made the same phone call.
She picked up the receiver and dialed up her best friend to ask her over to play. Moments later, one of them would inevitably bound down the street to the other’s house.
Susan White was best friends with Amberly (Watson) Owen all through school, from kindergarten through senior year.
She still remembers that peppy girl — and she’ll never forget the spirited woman she grew up to be.
Today, a year after Owen died from brain cancer, her friends and family members are fighting to keep those memories alive.
The third annual Angels Around Amberly fundraiser, held in February, brought together those who loved Amberly Owen of Greenfield — and those who didn’t even know her — raising some $5,000 toward the Cancer CUREsaders Relay for Life team, which supports the American Cancer Society.
The event, hosted every year at the Hancock County Fairgrounds, gathers various fundraising efforts, from a chicken-and-noodle dinner and games to $5 manicures, in one place every year. The group topped the fundraising teams for the 2017 Relay for Life, raising $9,600 — nearly three times the amount of the second place team — before the event June 9.
This gathering of warmth and love started when Owen was still with them.
The third-annual gathering started out with its original name, “Arms Around Amberly,” but after she died, organizers changed the name to reflect their belief she’s now among the angels, White said.
The event, which draws some 200 people every year, has raised an average of $5,000 per year in its three years.
April Blair, Owen’s sister, remembers her as loud, fun and bubbly, she said. Her sister loved to play bingo and eat out, but she’d only eat cheeseburgers, her sister recalled with a laugh.
Owen, who succumbed to brain cancer at age 43, was a determined individual, which showed when she hung on for two years after her diagnosis, Blair said.
“Most people with that kind of cancer live for a year,” she said, “but she lived for her boys.”
Owen’s husband, Mark, said she lives on in their sons, Tyler and Derek. Mark and Amberly Owen were married for 22 years, he said, and he remembers her as a happy woman who, above all, cherished spending time with her family.
“Amberly was pretty special,” he said. “Even in those last three years, she was happy. She did her best to make it easy on all of us.”
With a diagnosis of glioblastoma, she knew the brain tumors would keep coming back, so she did her best to make sure her family was financially and emotionally ready when the time came. An employee of the Hancock County clerk’s office, she had always taken care of the bills in the past, he said.
It was an agonizing knowledge, her prognosis. Despite two years of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Mark Owen and his sons knew they would one day say goodbye.
The Owen men cope by staying busy — with church, college, soccer and friends — and the Angels Around Amberly event goes a long way in helping them heal, he said.
He prayed for a cure to cancer, which he referred to as an evil disease, during the opening ceremonies for the event this year.
And that goal, to end the disease, is what drove many of those filling the 4-H exhibit building at the fairgrounds to attend.
White and Amberly Owen, who grew up in Morristown, always celebrated their birthdays together because they were only one day apart, White said.
She held back tears as she described missing her friend.
But her spirit was bolstered by getting together with so many others who either loved Owen, or who want to help put an end to the disease that took her from them.
“It shows how many lives Amberly touched,” she said. “There are so many people going through cancer. With this money raised, hopefully we will find a cure one day.”
Cancer type: Brain cancer
Date of diagnosis: 2014
Status: Died Sept. 2016