By Ross Markman
Relaxing in their Chinook living room Wednesday night were three blond-haired, blue-eyed brothers, each with hair shorn close, each possessing a million dollar smile, and each wearing a Relay for Life T-shirt.
The brothers are Perry and Pauly Miller's three youngest children Mike, 13, Jimmy, 11 and Willie, 10. Three years ago, the Miller boys began participating in the Hi-Line Relay for Life, a 12-hour fund-raiser to benefit people suffering from cancer. This year's event, at the Havre High School track, is slated to begin July 13 at 7 p.m. and will run to July 14 at 7 a.m.
"Part of the idea is to start in the evening and to come out in the light," said Carol Reifschneider, co-chair of Relay for Life. "That's to symbolize the fight against cancer."
Last year, Mike, Jimmy and Willie raised more than $3,000 for the Northwest region of the American Cancer Society. All told, more than $32,000 was raised at the local event. About 16 teams participated, each composed of about 10 people.
"Last year, we stayed the whole night," Mike said. "I walked four hours straight while these guys slept."
"Once you get going, you don't wanna quit," Jimmy added.
The Millers will begin going to door to door in search of donations when school lets out later this month. This year, they're shooting for $4,000.
"If they're not there when we go," Jimmy said, "we go back later."
"They hit just about everywhere in town," Pauly Miller added. "I'm really proud of them. They've just done a wonderful job."
Pauly and Perry Miller join their sons on the team, along with the Inmans, Barbers and other families from Chinook. Last year, Pauly Miller's father, John, was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
"He's pretty proud of you guys," she told her sons.
Money raised from the event goes toward organizations like The Reach for Recovery, a program for women with breast cancer, and Man to Man, a prostate cancer program.
"The money we raise helps facilitate those programs, keeping them going and providing educational materials," Reifschneider said. "We're trying to develop a base so we can do some additional programs."
Reifschneider anticipates about 20 teams participating this year.
"Generally someone from the team is always walking," she said. "Some people walk for 15 minutes, some walk for hours."
Teams, she said, come from throughout the Hi-Line, from Big Sandy to Chester to Havre. The event kicks off at 7 p.m. with a survival lap, where anyone who has battled or is battling cancer is invited to participate in the relay's first trip around the track.
A luminary ceremony is held at 10 p.m. Relay participants decorate small, white bags in which a candle is placed. Each bag represents someone who has perished from or is living with cancer. More than 1,200 luminaries were lit last year, Reifschneider said.
"We lined the track with these bags. It took about an hour to read all the names last year," she said. "Some people actually put copies of pictures or drawings of the person on the luminaries. We had some people put wheat on them, and others had hearts on them."
The Millers, Reifschneider said, were crucial to the success of last year's relay. They raised more money than anyone else, she said. They walked the entire 12 hours.
And they did so enduring the wind and the threat of rain.
But don't think the Millers' team, which last year went under the name "Chinook Wrestlers Pinning Cancer," will stop walking due to a little precipitation.
At least year's event, they were named the team with the most spirit. And besides, they're bringing the prize they earned at last year's relay a tent.
The Relay for Life committee will meet Monday at 7 p.m. at the Hagener Science Center on the Montana State University-Northern campus.