The Legacy of Larry Shepherd lives on. “Never Underestimate the Power of Hope” was the slogan for this year’s Hope Heritage Days, held Sept. 28-30. It was also the slogan of Shepherd, who died of breast cancer a year earlier on Sept. 24, 2011.
Shepherd was an inspiration to residents of Hope and Columbus after he was diagnosed in August 2009.
“Since Larry’s issue, I think a lot of people are more aware of it,” said his wife, Jonna Shepherd. “Whether they have cancer or diabetes or whatever, they’re taking a better look at their lifestyle situation.”
One man, Mark Boas of Columbus, read the story of Larry Shepherd’s ordeal in The Republic two years ago and decided to get checked
himself. He was diagnosed with early Stage 3 breast cancer.
“Male breast cancer is rare, and it was odd that there was another guy in Columbus that had it,” Jonna Shepherd said.
“He said Larry saved his life. He was at his mom’s and saw the story and said if he wouldn’t have seen the story, he wouldn’t have got checked out. It seems like it’s a little more common now since Larry’s had it, but it’s still a rare disease.”
Hope has had a Relay for Life the past three years, and Larry Shepherd was a big part of the first two. All three years, Team Larry has been the biggest team in terms of numbers.
“He really was an inspiration to the whole community in terms of his battle,” said Betsy Downey, who was on the Relay for Life Committee and the wife of Relay chairman Howard Downey.
“During our second relay, he had come out of remission and was walking with the other survivors and encouraging them and was just an active part of the relay.”
Jason Gearhart, Jonna’s son, has been in charge of a motorcycle ride as part of the Relay for Life the past three years. The event had six riders the first year, 11 last year and 45 this year.
“To see all those motorcycles take off that morning was a sight,” said Lori Robertson, manager of Hope Area Welcome Center. “It was pretty emotional for everyone here.”
“We’re hoping by next year, maybe we can have 100,” Jonna Shepherd said. “We’ve made that ride in memory of Larry. He liked to ride motorcycles, so that’s a way of keeping his legacy going. It’s another way of getting the word out about male breast cancer.”
The day after Larry Shepherd died last year, the Team Larry Relay for Life float won the Hope Heritage Days Best of Parade and grand marshal award trophies.
“We had made a beautiful float, and we were going to have him on the float carrying the trophy,” Jonna Shepherd said.
“He died the day before that was going to happen. We weren’t going to do it, but we said, ‘That’s what Dad would have wanted us to do.’”