Columbia Memorial Health (1) Careers

Community turns out to support one of its own

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Walkers take off on the longer 1-mile route, led by Darlene Mergendahl, second from right, for whom the funds were being raised as she wages her battle against breast cancer. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

RAVENA — It’s one of the finest features of small-town life — when one of its own needs a helping hand, the community is there for them.

About 150 local residents turned out Sunday for a breast cancer walk to raise money for VFW 9594 Auxiliary member Darlene Mergendahl, who is battling metastatic breast cancer.

Mergendahl said she is open and honest with the community about her health because she would rather people know the truth than speculate.

“I have metastatic breast cancer because I had a full mastectomy in 2010 and had been breast-cancer free since then. Just recently an unexpected test came back and it (the cancer) is now in my spine,” Mergendahl said.

Seeing so many people turn out for the walk to support her in her battle was “very heartwarming,” Mergendahl said.

The Ravena VFW Post 9594 Auxiliary hosted the event Sunday, starting out at the village building on Mountain Road. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

For those waging their own fight against cancer, Mergendahl said you can only take things one day at a time.

“For the people that are battling, every day is a new day and you take it as it comes and have fun while you can,” she said. “For the people that are family members and friends, just be there and help. That’s all.”

The second annual breast cancer walk started out at the Village Building at 15 Mountain Road and included two walks — a longer 1-mile walk from the parking lot to Schuyler Avenue, then to Winnie Avenue, around the VFW Post and back to the Village Building.

The shorter walk started out at the monument at 15 Mountain Road, crossed the front of the building, around the driveway and back to the monument.

The walk was organized by VFW Post 9594 Auxiliary member Kris Biernacki to support Mergendahl, who is also an Auxiliary member.

“We do this every year,” Biernacki said of the walk. “Our member and friend Darlene Mergendahl is battling as we speak, so this is for her today.”

Last year the inaugural village breast cancer walk raised money for a Delmar organization that aids people with breast cancer. This year, proceeds from the event will go directly to Mergendahl.

Village Ambassador Rebecca Shook walked in the event, and also spent two months creating handmade pink and white bracelets that she sold to raise additional funds to benefit Mergendahl.

“I want to show people a good example of what being a community is truly about by helping others as best I can,” Shook said. “As Helen Keller once said, ‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.’”

Village Ambassador Rebecca Shook, left, and Gabby Quenneville, sell handmade bracelets Shook created to raise funds for a local woman battling metastatic breast cancer. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Village Trustee Joe Ganley was among those participating in the walk and said the cause is personal for him.

“It is near and dear to my heart — my mother is a breast cancer survivor, I have a lot of friends who are survivors and some who didn’t survive, so this is a very good cause that I am personally attached to and I think a lot of families here are attached to,” Ganley said.

Numerous Auxiliary members were on hand for the event.

“I came out because I love Darlene Mergendahl and I have people in my family who have had cancer and people in the VFW have had cancer, so I am supporting them, too,” said Past Auxiliary President Mary Ellen Rosato. “It’s a nice community event. Albany had their walk last week but here, people can just walk over from their house to participate.”

Auxiliary member Patty Pastrick said she wanted to support Mergendahl in her fight.

“We love Darlene and it’s for a really good cause,” Pastrick said.

Walk organizer Kris Biernacki welcomes about 150 walkers to the event. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Auxiliary member Cindy Rowzee said Mergendahl has been a good friend and she wanted to show her support.

“I am here to support my fellow VFW Auxiliary member Darlene Mergendahl,” Rowzee said. “That’s why I am here — I have been friends with her almost since I moved here to Ravena and I’m just out here supporting her and everything she is going through.”

Town Councilman Stephen Schmitt, whose wife Lisa Foronda Schmitt performed the national anthem at the start of the walk, said he wanted to support and honor those fighting breast cancer.

“We are out here to support the VFW with their event and to be here for breast cancer survivors and others who unfortunately didn’t make it through the treatment,” Schmitt said. “We are out here supporting and gathering with local community members to support this event.”

Members of the Ravena Fire Department brought one of their trucks and hoisted a large U.S. flag high overhead for walkers to pass beneath as they started the walk. They also sold baked goods and bottled water, with all proceeds going to Mergendahl.

Members of the Ravena Fire Department sold bottled water and baked goods to benefit village resident Darlene Mergendahl. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

“Everyone knows someone or has a family member who has had breast cancer, and any kind of cause in the community that we can support, we come out and do it,” said Charles King, president of Ravena Hose Company. “We are trying to promote public relations between ourselves and the community so that everybody knows we are here when they need us. We come out no matter what the weather is and anything we can do to help someone who is going through a rough time, we do. We may not be able to do a lot, but we do what we can for them.”

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