SACO – Gray clouds spit cold droplets of rain Sunday on the 2,537 participants in the 13th annual Mary’s Walk and Kerrymen Pub 5K Road Race.

Not that any of them seemed to care.

In Saco, the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day has become a day for reflection, for remembrance and for hope. Walkers and runners raised $187,660 for the Maine Cancer Foundation, pushing the 13-year total past $1.6 million.

“Something that started out very simply has evolved into something that a lot of people get behind,” said Gene Libby, whose wife, Mary Kerry Libby, provided the inspiration for the event.

An avid walker along Main Street, Libby lost her life to cancer in March 1997 at the age of 44. Two years later, Mary’s Walk began as a way to raise funds for and awareness of cancer research and patient advocacy.

Among Sunday’s first-time participants was Kevin Mills, who drove the three-plus hours from his home in Bar Harbor on Sunday morning in order to run in the 5K race. Mills, 38, leads a cancer research project at Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor and is a two-time grant recipient.

“I’ve been so grateful for the support from the foundation that I really wanted to find ways to give something back,” said Mills, whose current grant of $78,000 is helping to develop a method of more precisely treating certain kinds of cancers in a way that minimizes side effects.

“This is a great event, a great opportunity, and I’m an avid runner anyway. This brought two passions together,” he said.

A project led by Mills that won foundation grant support in a previous round of funding showed enough promise that it led to interest — and significant financial backing — from the National Institutes of Health.

Such a parlay “wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have Maine Cancer Foundation support,” Mills said. “So it’s really important and unique in that regard.”

Mills also ran Sunday in honor of his mother-in-law, Rita Johnson, who died last summer of ovarian cancer.

A pair of grandmothers, Sue Burgess of Saco and Kathi Foye of Westbrook, pinned dozens of ribbons to their jackets and to those of Burgess’ three granddaughters in honor of more than 40 people who were fighters or survivors of cancer. Each ribbon came with a name and a hue that was representative of a certain type of cancer — pink for breast, lime green for lymphoma, white for lung, purple for pancreatic, for example.

“We started out with a sign,” Burgess said, “but there’s not a sign big enough.”

Sunday’s biggest fundraising group turned out 123 strong in memory of Laura Wolfahrt, a popular English teacher at Thornton Academy who was a classmate of Mary Kerry Libby and had volunteered in all previous Mary’s Walks.

This year’s event was dedicated to Wolfahrt’s memory, with 15 large photographs of her affixed to the facade of the stage in Thornton Academy’s gymnasium.

“I think it’s cathartic,” said Dean Wolfahrt, whose wife died in January within a year of being diagnosed with a type of tongue cancer. “When Gene asked if we would get involved, we immediately agreed. We’re just very happy to be involved in something where all the money (raised) stays in Maine.”

Team Wolf Pack, as it was dubbed, generated $7,580 “and counting,” Wolfahrt said.

Raising about $7,000 was the Red Storm Strikes Out Cancer, a group of 53 from the Scarborough school system led by Doug Bennett, a middle school math and social studies teacher who also coaches the junior varsity girls’ soccer team.

Six years ago, Bennett lost his father to cancer. Four years ago, after receiving a clean bill of health after treatment for thyroid cancer, Bennett himself first took part in the run.

“As I was running, I was thinking, ‘I need to get the kids of Scarborough involved and the staff of Scarborough involved,’” he said. “This race inspired me to do more for the race.”

As for Sunday’s running race, Robert Gomez of Saco and Kristine Guaraldo of South Portland were the first man and woman across the finish line. Mills, the researcher from Bar Harbor who grew up in Colorado and did post-doctorate work in Boston, finished 41st in a field of 764.

“It’s my first time coming down here,” Mills said. “But for sure, not my last.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]