Relay attracts survivors, their fans and even 'ex-wives'

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By Laura Hagan

Bernie Holsclaw is hard to miss.At Friday night’s Oldham County Relay for Life, he wore a bright blond wig and crown.His friends, most of them wearing sashes that said “Bernie’s Buddies,” lined the track. Others, possibly some of Holsclaw’s infamous “ex-wives,” stood waiting for him to pass.As they clapped and shouted encouragements, Holsclaw made the trip around the track for a Survivor’s Lap to kick-off the fundraiser for cancer research.Karen Black, Holsclaw’s friend for the past 23 years, walked that first lap with him. Black is a six-year survivor of breast cancer. She said she enjoys Holsclaw’s sense of humor. A testament to that sense of humor was the “Bernie’s Buddies” camp site. Balloons surrounded a throne for “King Bernie.” The throne? A toilet.Black isn’t the only one who appreciates Holsclaw’s sense of humor.Years ago, one of his jokes spawned a nickname for his group of female friends: Bernie’s “Ex-Wives Club.”While at lunch in Henry County one day, a waitress asked Holsclaw about the group of women surrounding him. His friend Ruth DePrie said Holsclaw – without skipping a beat – answered, “They’re all my ex-wives.”The group now includes about 20 “ex-wives” and they go to lunch about once a month.Some of his “ex-wives” and several more friends came out to cheer Holsclaw on as he participated in this year’s Relay. It’s his friends, Holsclaw said, who have helped him as he struggles with kidney and bone cancer.He was one of 400 cancer survivors who participated in the annual event. The track was also lined with 35 teams from across the county who had one common goal – to help the fight against cancer.When he was first diagnosed with kidney cancer last fall, Holsclaw said he was alone.“All I heard was the c-word,” he said. “You need someone to go with you, because you don’t hear (anything else.)”Finding friends to support him wasn’t hard. Having worked in Oldham County for 23 years, teaching at Liberty, Crestwood, Camden Station and Kenwood elementary schools, its easy to find someone who worked with Holsclaw or had him as a teacher.“Friends come out of the woodwork when something (like this) happens,” he said. “I’ve had wonderful friends, school colleagues and family.”There’s another friend who has been there for Holsclaw since he’s been sick. His dog, a Lhasa Apso named MJ, hasn’t left his side.“He knew something was wrong,” Holsclaw said.Black said it has been hard to see her friend get sick and she just wants to give Holsclaw hope. She said family and friends are great medicine, and when the chemo has gotten rough on him, she’s been there to cheer him on.“He’s so loved by everyone,” she said.Longtime friends DePrie and Kathy Simon – also cancer survivors – said they were very upset to hear Holsclaw is sick. Simon said they’re hoping for the best for Holsclaw.“You always hope,” she said.Former colleague Vanda Bell said cancer hasn’t stopped Holsclaw from being the good friend he’s always been. When two friends were in the hospital recently, Holsclaw was there before their surgeries to wish them well.“That’s the kind of friend he is,” Bell said. “He’s just such a sweetheart.”He’s there for good times and bad, she said, adding that he is the “first one there when you’re hurting, and the first one there when you’re celebrating.”He has continued to stay positive throughout his illness. His positivity is something both he and his friends say have helped them deal with the situation.“Being positive and happy is the best medicine,” Black said.Holsclaw said he accepted it as soon as he heard he had cancer, and has been trying his best to deal with it.Prayer has helped him as well. He said he has eight prayer shawls from different religions.“I think I’m covered by every religion we have,” he said.“He’s got friends everywhere,” said Black, who also said Holsclaw has taught her to be a good friend.He gives a lot to his friends and others. Anita Fritz said Holsclaw is known for hosting Thanksgiving dinners for his students and the office staff.“Ask anyone who knows Bernie,” Black said. “He brings a smile to your face.”“I can’t imagine what the world would be like without him,” Bell said.Participants in Oldham County’s Relay for Life raised more than $104,000.

E-mail us about this story at: lhagan@oldhamera.com.