Volunteers who run Relay for Life of Whidbey Island balance time with devotion to fighting cancer

Joy Thompson of the Whidbey Island Jugglers practices her craft during the kickoff rally of the 2014 Relay for Life of Whidbey Island Wednesday night at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge. This year’s theme for the May 30-31 event is “Carnival of Hope.” - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Joy Thompson of the Whidbey Island Jugglers practices her craft during the kickoff rally of the 2014 Relay for Life of Whidbey Island Wednesday night at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge. This year’s theme for the May 30-31 event is “Carnival of Hope.”
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

The hat wasn’t one Mary Brock would ordinarily choose for a public speaking engagement.

Not only did it make her head feel too hot, she admitted that it looked kind of silly.

But that was the idea.

As one of the chief organizers of the Relay for Life of Whidbey Island, Brock understands that most people involved in the fight against cancer can use a little humor in their lives.

She dressed the part with a clown cap as she spoke before more than 100 people who gathered at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge Wednesday night for the kickoff rally for the 2014 Relay for Life of Whidbey Island.

Although the room had a festive feel with jugglers on hand as part of this year’s “Carnival of Hope” theme, Brock got the audience’s attention early on by making a sobering point.

She told the group that she knew of two people whose lives were claimed by cancer and another whose condition required life-changing surgery.

And that was only since the beginning of January.

It is statistics like those that keep Brock and her husband Kelly active almost year-round in helping organize the annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society on Whidbey Island.

“It makes me want to fight even harder,” Mary Brock said. “I told Kelly I will fight until people stop dying.”

The Brocks, who live in Oak Harbor, are part of a committee of more than 30 organizers who volunteer significant amounts of their time in the fight against cancer.

The Whidbey Island event will take place May 30-31 at North Whidbey Middle School in Oak Harbor, however, the work doesn’t end until fundraising stops in late summer.

And, in a way, the work never ends.

“Last year, it ended August 30,” Brock said, “and we had our first (2014) committee meeting in September. It’s a year-long commitment when you’re on the committee.”

The Brocks got involved in Relay for Life in Oak Harbor in 2006, a year after Kelly’s sister, Wendi VanTine, died from cancer.

“The same year, his brother was diagnosed with cancer,” Mary Brock said, referring to Kevin Brock, who is now in remission. “We decided to join the fight.”

Since 2009, the Brocks have served on the committee, and each year, seem eager to take on more responsibility.

For the second year in a row, Mary Brock is serving as team development coordinator, while her husband continues to be in charge of logistics.

It is Mary Brock’s job to recruit teams for Relay for Life and organize monthly rally meetings. Her husband is responsible for coordinating the setup and teardown of the Relay for Life event and the monthly meetings, among other tasks.

“This year, they are the backbone of Relay,” said Leandra Reuble, chair of the Relay for Life of Whidbey Island. “They are the folks who are always at every meeting. They’re always willing to support the other committee members. They’re the first ones to step up and say, ‘I’ll do it.’ They go so far above and beyond.”

Like so many of the volunteers, Reuble also was impacted by the loss of loved ones to cancer. She lost her grandfather and father to the disease when she was a teenager.

She got involved with Relay for Life eight years ago, spearheading a team from Midway High School, the Oak Harbor School District’s alternative high school program, where she teaches English.

This is her first year handling the event chair post alone, as she served as co-chair with Karla Sharkey last year.

“I think the thing that brings me back every year is the kids’ participation,” Reuble said. “This is something that they feel very good about participating in. The more involved I get, the move involved they get to be.”

Mary Brock said she and her husband’s involvement in Relay for Life is a passion.

They have busy lives. Both are retired from the Navy but still work for separate contractors that serve VAQ-129 at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Mary is a programs analyst, while Kelly works on intricate aircraft systems, including safety devices.

Still, there is room for Relay for Life.

“It is something I will never tire of,” Mary Brock said.

The Brocks take pride in their participation.

Mary Brock said she was told by a representative from the American Cancer Society that Whidbey has the best attendance at rally meetings of any other Relay for Life group north of Everett.

“The American Cancer Society is using us as a model,” she said.

Those efforts led to 75 teams and $158,499 raised at the 2013 event. The goals this year are to sign up 83 teams and shoot for $175,000.

At the rally Wednesday night, the top 10 teams that raised the most money were recognized. The top team was IDEX Health & Science of Oak Harbor, which raised $22,089.

It seemed fitting that Mary Brock was there to hand out certificates and give hugs. Although she stands an inch shy of 5 feet, she is one of Whidbey group’s biggest cheerleaders, even with her tiny voice.

The Brocks also are known for their big hearts.

They have four dogs at home, including three Chihuahuas — Paco, Lola and BubbaT. Lola and Sage, a Golden Retriever, were rescued from dog shelters.

Reuble said the Brocks purchased the large purple tent that was located on the stage at the Relay for Life event last year.

“They have no expectation of being paid back,” Reuble said. “They put their money where their mouth is. They’re so supportive of cancer survivors and caregivers. Kelly is the first one to give people a hug. Mary bounces with energy and enthusiasm and she makes people feel good. That is utterly vital when you’re talking about something like cancer.”


How to help

Those interested in learning more or getting involved with Relay for Life of Whidbey Island may send an email to, or go to the website at and type whidbey into the event search. Another option is to call 1-800-227-2345. The 2014 event is May 30-31 at North Whidbey Middle School in Oak Harbor.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the Oct 22
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates