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Local Woman Has Earned Approximately $180,000 in the Past 12 Years for Relay for Life in Honor of Her Son

By Paul T. Choate

For the past 12 years since her son, Ted, passed away from melanoma, Della Presnell has worn a pin with his picture on it every single day. "He was only 38 when he died. He had his own business and he was just a wonderful person," said Presnell. "People see that badge and they might not know me but they know him.” Photo by Ken Ketchie

June 18, 2012. Many people in the High Country do their part to help raise money for the annual Relay for Life, but only one holds claim to “Top Individual Fundraiser” 10 of the past 12 years.

Della Presnell of Boone raised between $5,000 and $6,000 for the 2012 Watauga County Relay for Life and has raised approximately $180,000 for Relay for Life in the past 12 years.

Presnell has received the honor of Top Individual Fundraiser 10 of the past 12 years. In fact, for four or five years, she raised so much that she was considered the Top Team Fundraiser as well, out-raising all the Relay teams although she was only a “team of one.”

Her motivation to continue to help Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society stems from the death of her son, Ted, 12 years ago. Ted, a well-known figure in the High Country, was only 38 when melanoma took his life.

“It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me in my life,” said Presnell. “I’ve lost a lot of my people. I’ve lost my mom and dad, and losing him wasn’t anything to compare with the rest.”

Della Presnell with her 10th Top Individual Fundraiser award. Photo by Ken Ketchie

After her son’s death, she decided she was going to make a difference in the lives of others, with hopes that in the future others wouldn’t have to go through what her son suffered and what she suffered losing him.

“The first year I got out it was just two weeks until they had the relay,” said Presnell. “I raised about $3,000 with my daughter-in-law. That was just auction sales or anything we could pick up to sell to raise some [money] in two weeks.”

Presnell remembers the best year she ever had — her fourth year participating in the Relay for Life — she raised $15,080. She added that she had never raised under $10,000 in a year until these last three years during the recession. 

“I don’t set a goal. Someone asked me what my goal was and I said I start at a penny and see what it goes to until June,” Presnell said.

In recent years, due to suffering from arthritis, Presnell has tried to find simpler ways to make money. She said she still goes to yard sales and tries to double her money on what she buys, but that she’s not able to go 50 or 60 places like she used to. She also said she does a lot to help with fundraising by mail now.

Despite being slowed by arthritis, her motivation stays strong.

“You can’t really raise any unless you stand for it and it means a lot to you,” said Presnell. “It means a lot to me because I know that if it weren’t for research we wouldn’t be anywhere, because I’ve had several of my family that I know suffered a lot, but then the people before that suffered a lot more because they didn’t have the medicine and the things they have today.”

Kathy Idol, co-chair of the Watauga County Relay for Life (left), and Della Presnell (right) with her Top Individual Fundraiser award at the 2012 Relay for Life. Photo by Ken Ketchie

Presnell is very aware of how helpful her efforts can be for those struggling with cancer or for those who will in the future. She hopes her efforts and the efforts of countless others who raise money for cancer research can lead to some breakthroughs in medical technology.

“I figure a lot of the government money is being cut down for research and stuff. I always say it wouldn’t bring my son back but maybe it would help somebody else to not go through this and lose somebody like I did,” said Presnell. “Somebody asked me, ‘Did you know all the money doesn’t stay in Watauga County,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, we don’t have any research centers here.’ We need it to go to wherever it’s going to do the most to help the people from now until in the future.”

For more information about the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, visit relayforlife.org.