A Nevada sorority is going bigger this year with its commitment to fight cancer and spread cancer awareness.

On Friday, June 20, members of the Alpha Zeta chapter of Beta Sigma Phi will host their first-ever American Cancer Society Nevada Luminaria Walk at the Nevada High School track.

The sorority’s dozen members have all been touched by cancer in one way or another, and some years ago, they travelled to Des Moines to take part in the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure event. When it got harder for them to navigate the crowds at that event, they stayed in Nevada and invited friends to walk with them — on the same day as the Komen event — along the Nevada trails.

"It’s (the local walk) grown every year, so this year we decided to take the plunge and invite everybody," said Marilyn Nelson about the group’s decision to bring the community together. Nelson, who is co-chairing the event with Jane Punke, said the Alpha Zeta members talked about this, knew other communities had done it successfully and felt it was time for them to give it a try in Nevada.

They turned to Nevada resident Neal Bonhet, who works with the American Cancer Society, to help organize it.

"He’s working with our group and providing all the information and assistance we need," said Punke.

Noting that Alpha Zeta is a group devoted to service work, Punke and Nelson say the group’s commmitment to spreading awareness and raising funds to fight cancer is a very personal thing for their group.

"All of us have been touched by cancer," said Nelson. The sorority has lost two of its sisters to cancer, Peggy Nordlie and Jeannette Daehler, and three of its current members are cancer survivors: Karen Twedt, a 30-year survivor; Mary Jo Kellogg, a 15-year survivor; and Donna Borton, a 13-year survivor.

Punke also lost her husband, David, in 2005, to a malignant melanoma, and she likes that fact that money raised helps support clinical trials. "My husband was able to participate in some clinical trials; it didn’t help him, but through this type of research, they can make strides in fighting these particular types of cancer," she said.

The effect of cancer on so many families and individuals is huge. "We felt there should be enough support in eastern Story County to support our own walk," Nelson said.

Nelson and Punke say having a luminaria walk on a track is what’s been done in other communities, because it provides a safe, enclosed area for the event, as well as a level surface for safe walking.

On June 20, registration for the walk will begin at 6 p.m. for those who haven’t preregistered. There is a small application that people fill out and a $10 fee that each person pays. Each application is also a chance to honor or remember someone who is fighting cancer or who has died because of the disease. "We take those names (that are filled out on the applications) and put them on a bag filled with sand and a candle. We then light the candles at dusk," Punke explained.

The Nevada Music Parents have agreed to open the concession stand that night, and high school student Cody Beals is helping with the sound system for a program that will begin at 8:15 p.m. Rob Bacon will emcee the program. The program will feature poems, music and the reading of the names of all those being honored. Pastor David Burling, of Memorial Lutheran Church in Nevada, will give a message and sing.

The walk itself will be a silent walk. The luminarias will be placed around the track and people will remember and think about those who are named as they walk whatever distance they can.

Punke and Nelson say people who preregister don’t need to arrive until 7 p.m., but they do intend for the event to be a social gathering, with time to mingle before the start of the program. Therefore, people can arrive as early as 6 p.m. if they’d like to visit with others for awhile before the program.

"I hope (this event) brings neighbors, co-workers and friends together," Nelson said. She also hopes that people will join together to experience the feeling of strength that can come from gathering a number of people in the fight against something like cancer. "There is strength in numbers."

Both Nelson and Punke said they offered to help organize the event, because they believe strongly in helping with cancer fundraising for research.

If you’d like to preregister for the American Cancer Society Nevada Luminaria Walk, you may contact Punke at 515-382-4964 or Nelson at 515-382-4589 to obtain a form. Otherwise, they say there will be plenty of time to fill out a form during the registration process on the night of the event, an event that supports the fight against ALL forms of cancer.