Sandy Bartholomew and Jessica Bessette, co-captains of St. Paul Lutheran Church’s Relay For Life team, didn’t have to look further than their family circle to find a reason to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Dennis Bartholomew, who died of cancer in January 2007, was an enthusiastic Relay For Life supporter. A mechanical engineer, he also was Sandy Bartholomew’s husband and Bessette’s father.

“I know I’m not necessarily helping my dad anymore, but I’m helping somebody,” Bessette said. “I tried my best to get my dad through it, but I lost him too soon.”

Dennis Bartholomew would be proud of his widow, the second of his three daughters and his church. St. Paul’s 2012 Relay For Team came in third place in South Carolina, collecting nearly $41,000 to fund cancer research and aid cancer patients.

Dennis Bartholomew was diagnosed with the disease in 2003, and he became involved in Relay For Life in 2006. He was the local Relay For Life chairman for 2007 but didn’t get to see his ideas to promote the cause become reality.

One of those ideas was the Relay For Life Aiken Golf Classic, which was inaugurated in the spring of 2007 and has been renewed each year since. Last year’s event raised $38,000 generating the most money of any of St. Paul’s fund-raising efforts. This year’s tournament is scheduled for April 22 at Woodside Plantation.

Dennis Bartholomew only played golf occasionally, but the tournament was still an undertaking he wanted to take on. “He was like, ‘This is going to be fabulous,’” Bessette said.

While Sandy Bartholomew and Bessette are the St. Paul Relay For Life team’s co-captains, they said they couldn’t raise so much money without the help of fellow church members and others, like Bill Blosser and Jack St. Clair.

“We have a lot of support,” Sandy Bartholomew said. “People at our church play in the golf tournament. They also buy luminaries and make donations.”

Neither Sandy Bartholomew nor Bessette knew St. Paul had ranked so high in the state in 2012 until the Aiken Relay For Life Kickoff Meeting at the Fermata Club on Jan. 29. During the event, Lisa Hertzog, director of market development for the American Cancer Society in South Carolina, announced the church’s accomplishment and presented Bessette and Sandy Bartholomew with a certificate.

Hertzog also presented certificates to members of the Bridgestone and South Aiken High School JROTC Relay for Life Teams. Bridgestone ranked eighth in the state with more than $37,000 raised, and South Aiken was 18th with nearly $24,000.

“I was totally blown away,” said Bessette, who is a stay-at-home mother of two young daughters. “I was completely surprised and overwhelmed.”

Sarah Bartholomew and Bessette hope St. Paul can raise even more money this year, possibly as much as $43,000. Lisa Glass, community manager for the American Cancer Society in Aiken and Edgefield Counties, described Sarah Bartholomew and Bessette as “two of our most compassionate and dedicated volunteers.”