WELLSBURG - Area residents knew Michelle Huffman just a short time, about a year, before she lost her second battle against breast cancer at the age of 35 in 2012.
But her friendly nature and exuberant spirit inspired many to organize a run-walk, first to help her with her own expenses in 2011, and, following her death, the families of two local boys also fighting cancer.
Both last year's recipient, Austin Powell of Colliers; and this year's beneficiary, Paul Huff Jr. of Follansbee, were on hand for this year's walk, which began and ended at Wellsburg Central Park.
CANCER WALK — Many turned out for the third Michelle’s Miles of Smiles walk in Wellsburg, which benefited the family of 12-year-old Paul Huff Jr. of Follansbee, seen with the spiked pink wig, who has leukemia. The walk is named for the late Michelle Huffman, whose battle against breast cancer inspired it. -- Warren Scott
"This is a pretty big thing. It wasn't quite expected," Paul Huff Sr. said of the offer of a financial boost from Rob Hilt and other organizers of Michelle's Miles of Smiles.
Huff said his 12-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia in February 2012.
"He's in remission now. Last year was pretty bad. He spent a lot of time in the hospital. In three months he will have a spinal check, then he'll have monthly treatments for the next three years," he said.
Theresa Habbit, Huff's grandmother, said, "This is a wonderful, wonderful thing."
She added the family appreciates the support it has received from the community through the walk and other efforts.
A native of San Diego, Calif., Michelle met New Cumberland native Alan Huffman there, then moved with him to West Virginia. The two opened a Mexican restaurant in Wellsburg, through which they met many people.
Huffman's mother, Pauline Santa Cruz, flew in from Reno, Nev., for this year's event.
"This is a wonderful thing they do. I know my daughter was looking over everything," said Santa Cruz, who joined Alan and Darlene Anthony of Weirton, Alan's sister; in releasing butterflies in Michelle's honor.
The butterflies were supplied by local butterfly breeder Heather Ness.
Alan said his wife would be pleased that the event is being carried on to help others and by the support that it's received from many volunteers, businesses and groups.
"She just fell in love with the town," Alan said.
Among the run-walk's many participants were Bethany College tennis team members David Comacho, James Peterson, Kyle Booker, Marcus Hooks and Dylan Schooley, whose coach, Andrew Sachs, got to know the Huffmans.
"We and our coach thought it would be nice to come out and support it because she was such a great person," said Comacho.
Rob Hilt, a friend of the Huffmans and organizer of the walk since it began, said he's grateful to the many businesses and groups that donated hundreds of goods and gift cards and certificates for drawings held during the event and a free concert held Saturday at the Wellsburg Town Square.
Local bands Cross Creek and 40 Plus donated their services for the event, which itself raised at least $500, through drawings held there.
Hilt also expressed thanks to Brooke Hills Park for supplying a golf cart, tents, chairs and ice as well as prizes; and to the businesses and groups that set up vending booths. He said the large number of vendors is what led him and the volunteer group behind the walk to move it from the town square to Central Park.
The top overall male runners for the event were: Brandon Stevens, Kyle Booker and David Comacho. The top female runners were: Nicole White, Cassidy Bland and Arleen Brown.
The top walkers were: Brian DiPaolo, Alexis Spencer and Joy Spencer.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)