Half a century of action and well over half a million dollars raised to fight cancer!
That’s the story of the Tillsonburg Great Ride and Stride to Beat Cancer.
This year the Tillsonburg branch of the Canadian Cancer Society will be holding the 50th anniversary of the event on Sunday, April 28.
The hope is that some riders from past years will join with many new participants to add to the $596,941 raised in the first 49 years of the ride to help fund research, education and assistance to cancer patients.
The Great Ride and Stride started as a 13-mile bike ride, but now is more of a family fun day – walking or on bikes – with a leisurely trip around Lake Lisgar and back to the community centre for prizes and refreshments.
Joining up is easy!
You can register and seek donations by going online at cancer.ca/greatridetillsonburg or pick up a sponsor sheet at Coward Pharmacy.
The original ride idea started in Thamesford in 1969 as a “ladies” event. The first Great Ride and Stride here in Tillsonburg was organized in 1970 by Madge and Bob Mongomery, and Madge would go on to chair the event for 28 years until succumbing to cancer.
A “ladies” event in name only, the “gents” dug out wigs and sweaters and necessary padding and rode along. The 62 riders braved rain, snow, sleet and gusting winds for a 13-mile ride, starting at the Broadview restaurant on North Broadway, through Ostrander, Culloden, Brownsville and back. All but eight finished the ride.
Mrs. Gordon Hollier, the oldest rider, raised $250. First back was Dave Helsdon in 70 minutes. Total raised was $3,675.
It was cold and windy the second year as well, but 64 riders still raised $3,617.
Amounts raised have bounced up and down over the years, jumping to $25,432 in 1989 and topping $20,000 in 1990 and 1991. In 1998 Dr. John Andrew, ride chairman, added a team competition on a stationary monster bike in the Town Centre Mall, helping boost the total to $30,813, a record that lasted until 2018, when valued sponsors helped bring in $31,480.
Playing a major role in the 1990 ride success was Jeff Squires, a 22-year-old Port Rowan man, who set the record for most raised by an individual.
Jeff, who had been diagnosed with leukemia in 1987, joined the ride in the next three years. In 1990 the Port Rowan community helped him raise $6,514. He died later that year. The Squires family continued participation for a few years and donated a trophy in his name that goes to the team raising the most money.
The Ann Phipps Memorial Trophy for the top individual fundraiser was donated in 1981 and has gone to Bill Pratt in 31 of the 38 years it has been presented. Other winners have been Jeff Squires, Gabrielle Deleeuw, Ruby Jordan, Eberhard VanRiesen and Bill Coward.
Asked how much he had raised in the ride, Pratt said he really didn’t know.
“Last year was my best total, just over $4,000, and in recent years I have topped my goal of $2,500. But in the early days of the ride we thought $100 was pretty good,” he said.
“Marion and I helped the Montgomerys get the event started 50 years ago, and missed only a couple over the years, due to other commitments,” he added. Marion Pratt died in 2016.
Bill Pratt, 91-years-old in April, is currently drumming up sponsorships for Year 50.
Over the years the event was changed to the more leisurely route around Lake Lisgar, due in some measure to fewer volunteers. Now, with younger members reviving the local branch of the Canadian Cancer Society, the event has taken on new life with a family, fun-day atmosphere.
And it’s family commitment that is largely responsible for bringing new vitality into the branch. The late Violet Ormerod was a long-time volunteer with the cancer society. She got her children and grandchildren involved. Melissa Boesterd, a granddaughter, is the Tillsonburg branch president, with other family members playing key roles. And great-grandchildren are beginning to make their presence felt.
The family was presented with a provincial Celebrating Teamwork Award at Oxford Unit volunteer recognition event in 2010.