Several members of Washington County Relay for Life team Bob's Crusaders with several crafts they make and sell to raise funds for cancer fighting organizations. Front: Sue Gerdes, Joleene Rewarts, Cherri Barnes and Jacque Schwery. Back: Pam Wilhelm, Deb Hawkins and Connie Barnes. Not pictured: Teresa Champ, Barbara Moore and Jeanne Burmeister and kid members Linden Barrow, Baylor Barrow, Tacey Belina and Devin Larson.

Sitting around her dining room table with several other members of Washington County Relay for Life team Bob's Crusaders, Sue Gerdes said she doesn't know what comes with winning an American Cancer Society (ACS) award.

"We were surprised because we didn't know we were up for an award," she said.

The team members didn't know because an area community manager with the ACS had, unbeknownst to them at the time, nominated Bob's Crusaders for the ACS Spirit of Relay Award for the Nebraska and Iowa Area of the North Region. The ACS announced the team won the award this week after donating 25 T-shirt blankets to Memorial Community Hospital and Health System's (MCH&HS) oncology department earlier this year.

"We certainly weren't expecting one," Connie Barnes said of the award.

Barnes is also a member of Bob's Crusaders and is Gerdes' sister. The team is named after Gerdes' husband, Bob, who died from prostate cancer in 2014.

Since the team started participating in Relay for Life a few years ago, Barnes, Gerdes and eight other women, along with four youth members, have been organizing events and crafting an assortment of sewn items with all proceeds going to cancer fighting organizations.

The 25 T-shirt blankets donated to MCH&HS are a few examples of items sewn. Made from at least six shirts per blanket, Gerdes said Leslie Watts, a member of Washington County Bank's Relay for Life team, had numerous Relay shirts she didn't know what to do with.

"She couldn't throw them away, that wasn't possible. She couldn't give them away because they were survivor shirts, so only survivors could wear them," Gerdes said. "So, we said, 'Well, we could sew them together and make blankets.'"

Anyone who attended this summer's Washington County Relay for Life event at Lion's Park might have seen the blankets draped over hay bales. After washing them, the team donated them to MCH&HS last month for patients in the oncology department to take home or use while going through treatments at the hospital.

"Whatever they want to do with them," Gerdes said. "Since then, people have been giving me T-shirts. We can keep this going."

But it's not just blankets the group sews, and its not only T-shirts that get donated.

"People have found out what we do and have donated supplies to us, more than we will ever use," Barnes said.

Barnes helped Gerdes and the other members of Bob's Crusaders start the team in 2015. She'd been involved with Relay for Life when she lived in Michigan. After her husband passed away in 2014, Gerdes said her sister suggested starting a team in Washington County.

"Her words were, 'Have you ever thought about being in Relay,' and I said, 'Nope,'" Gerdes said.

Team members now meet twice a month at Gerdes house in Blair.

"It's a social activity, but we produce a lot of work," team member Joleene Rewerts said.

Team members sell what they make throughout the year, and in the first weekend of every December, the women host a holiday boutique. Crafts and baked goods are sold at the boutique located at Gerdes home at 948 N. 24th Ave.

The team has also hosted cribbage tournaments and bake sales. On Oct. 26, several wares will be for sale during Blair First United Methodist Church's craft fair.

Gerdes said all of the proceeds Bob's Crusaders raises go toward fighting cancer. She said the team will continue to take part in Relay for Life and support cancer fighting organizations for a long time.

"I don't think there's anybody that hasn't either had it or doesn't know somebody that has or had it," she said. "Everybody's affected by it one way or another."

Rewerts said members of Bob's Crusaders have been friends for a long time, and the support they've given each other is what the team wants to give to others.

"The nice, unique thing is that this group was a close group of friends anyway," she said. "We traveled, we did things together. So, when Bob was sick, we were all there for the family, experienced that, not just with Bob and Sue, but everybody in the family."

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