An estimated 150 persons, including 54 cancer survivors, attended the Relay For Life Survivor Banquet at Hempstead Hall on Thursday night, breaking last year's then-attendance record of 80, and emphasizing 2017 as a banner year for the event and the community effort.

An estimated 150 persons, including 54 cancer survivors, attended the Relay For Life Survivor Banquet at Hempstead Hall on Thursday night, breaking last year’s then-attendance record of 80, and emphasizing 2017 as a banner year for the event and the community effort.
“This is a great turnout, with so many great folks here; not only the survivors, it is great to see so many caregivers, friends and family here tonight,” Jessie Lewis, 2017 Relay for Life Chair, said.
As in past years, Lewis said, “This is all about people being able to have one more birthday; this is a celebration of life,” Lewis said.
As in 2016, the 2017 banquet was held Thursday, the night prior to Friday’s main Relay event.
“This has worked out very well; it is less stressful, and it provides a good pep rally for the day ahead,” she said.
Also familiar from past years, purple shirts, decorations, even purple eating utensils highlighted a purple-themed evening, and as before, cancer survivors shared and spoke about their experiences in recovery and treatments.
Also returning from 2016 was guest speaker Greg Gilbert of Columbus, Arkansas. Lewis said Gilbert is a leadership and life coach, who was once a Human Resource executive that had his own battle with cancer.
“We are very glad to have him back; he has been a survivor for over two-and-a-half years. He is a great speaker, a great guy,” Lewis said.
During his speech, Gilbert noted a book that he is currently working on.
“I began journaling in 1978, when an attorney friend of mine said ‘if it is not written it didn’t occur’,” Gilbert said, “and along the way, I’ve also learned that you are never too old to learn.”
A bit of a new twist to the proceedings was the presence of multiple queens and princesses, including the new reigning Miss Relay for Life, who was none other than former Miss Hempstead County, Micheyla Nealy.
Current Miss Southwest Arkansas Suzie Gresham put together a “Relay for Life” pageant this year, crowning several different girls and young women of all ages.
Gresham, herself, was hands-on in the food serving line along with several members of the Pafford EMS staff, while Nealy was serving drinks. Gresham said the food was donated by the committee and the RFL teams.