Linda Herman is passing the baton to lead Relay for Life to Joanie Petty.
Linda Herman and Joanie Petty have been involved with the widely-attended Plant City Relay for Life for over a decade. Herman just finished serving for three years as the head chair, and now she has passed the baton to her closest friend and fellow relay enthusiast, Petty.
Together the duo has brought Plant City to the forefront of the relay scene by helping survivors, caregivers and supporters raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2015, after slipping to the 11th rank in Florida in 2014, Plant City’s Relay for Life was back in the top 10 with over $230,000 raised and over 70 teams. Several years ago, Plant City ranked in the top five in Florida.
While it’s obvious Petty and Herman make a great relay team, they also have a history that goes deeper than fundraising.
THE LONG DRIVE
After graduating from Georgia Southern University, Petty lived in St. Petersburg. When she got a job at Knights Elementary School, the beach views and palm trees were exchanged for long weekday commutes on Tampa Bay’s congested roads.
Petty made fast friends with Herman, a New Jersey native and fellow teacher. The two became roommates.
Twenty-eight years later, the former roommates may have moved out, but they share a classroom teaching a special needs kindergarten class.
When Relay For Life started in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World 18 years ago, the duo already had a decade of teamwork under their belts.
“I’m a little bit crazy,” Herman says. “Joanie is more level-headed, and she thinks before she speaks.”
Petty and Herman became involved in the Knights Elementary team in its first year. Climbing the rope from team captains to committee members, both women have maintained a solid role in the nationwide fundraiser.
“She made me,” Petty says, gesturing at her teammate.
When Herman was a student at the University of South Florida she did her student teaching hours at Knights Elementary.
Through building renovations and Common Core, Herman has been at the school nearly three decades. She was teaching at Knights when Plant City was first introduced to Relay for Life in 1997.
While she was a part of the first fundraiser, her mother’s battle with cancer made the fight much more real.
“My mom died of cancer, and I told her when she was dying that I would fight till the end,” Herman says. “So I will.”
Herman is dedicated to fighting cancer. The entire back window of her car, nicknamed the “hope mobile,” is covered by a huge Relay for Life sticker, and her wrist is inked with a purple “hope” tattoo.
Herman spent three and one half years as head chair, but Relay for Life rules say head chairs can only be in the position for two years. She was able to stay as head chair for so long because of a limited pool of willing volunteers and an outstanding track record with the event.
Under her command, Plant City Relay for Life jumped to fifth in the state of Florida. By comparison, the population of Miami is 11 times greater than Plant City. The City of Tampa is 10 times greater. Those numbers should add up to more money, more community involvement and bigger relays than Plant City’s. But Plant City placed above both.
As head chair, Herman had to keep the strings of the event together, spread the word and get businesses and schools organized to form teams.
“We always want to go bigger and better,” Herman says. “There’s still cancer out there.”
TIME FOR A CHANGE
With a worn notebook and her phone’s calculator, Petty has a goal to make the 2016 Relay for Life climb in the rankings.
“I did a little calculating,” Petty says.
Last year there were 75 teams. Though the number was high there were some teams that didn’t raise any money and some that raised a strikingly high amount.
So far, for 2016, there are 48 teams, but that number is climbing.
Petty figures if there are 75 teams this year, and if each team can raise $3,000 that’s already $225,000, a little less than last year’s total. Anything extra would be icing on the cake.
Considering the fact teams like Plant City High School and the Health Center of Plant City typically soar past $3,000 each year, 2016 would be a record year.
With a load of teams to lead until the event in April, Petty and Herman will be spreading the word like crazy for the next few months.
“Because we are best friends we can do everything together as far as Relay goes,” Petty said. “We put our purple shirts on and ask anyone if they’re interested in becoming a team. They say, ‘Here come those girls coming around here about Relay again.’”
To encourage her teams to be on their game Petty has incorporated a few easy changes.
She creates to-do lists for her team leaders so that each passing week is an effective one, and the teams have meetings much more frequently.
“When she came along she just brought along a whole new way of doing things and a whole new perspective,” Herman says. “I think it’s good that we changed.”
Relay for Life will begin at 6 p.m. Friday, April 8, at Plant City High School.
Abby Baker is a journalism student at Hillsborough Community College and an intern at the Plant City Times & Observer.