For Bob and Melba Palys the fun is in doing for others.They are the guiding force behind the huge breakfast served to cancer survivors and their caregivers, which precedes the Relay for Life each year.

For the Palyses, this means rising at 4:00 a.m. “Breakfast is served at 7 a.m. and there will be coffee to be made, and a full breakfast for around 300 people,” explained Bob.

This is a breakfast of gargantuan proportions. Just imagine that you are faced with the daunting task of preparing 424 biscuits, 5 gallons of gravy, 60 pounds of bacon, 300 sausage patties, 300 cups of coffee, and tens of dozens of eggs. Not to mention juice, jellies, jams and other condiments.

But the task doesn’t faze the Palys, not even a broken wrist one year could stop Melba Palys,” I just troopered right on through,” she laughed.

“We actually prepare some of it the night before, but those things all have to be reheated. We have an assembly line of volunteers who help, without which this couldn’t be done,” said Bob.

The Palys enlist the help of the Holly Pond Key Club in preparing and serving the breakfast. It’s no small feat to get 20-25 teenagers up at that hour of the morning, but the Palys are an inspiration to everyone involved, including the younger generation.

“I do not know anyone who could organize, teach and manage kids the way the Palyses do,” said Blake West, who has been involved in the Relay in several positions over the years, including holding the office of Chairman of the Relay for Life of Cullman County.

“They are teaching future Relay Committee members,” he added. “Anytime I’ve ever asked Melba for extra food items, she always says, ‘I think I have one in the car,’ I think the car must be a eighteen-wheeler truck,” he laughed.

This will be the twelfth breakfast that the Palys have served to the group.

“At first the breakfast consisted of only sweet rolls and coffee, but Derinda Duke approached us about doing the full meal, and we just enjoy it so much that we have done it ever since,” said Melba.

Both the Palys are retired teachers who now own a successful trophy business in the Welti community, called, ’The Awards Palace. If you have a trophy for golf, tennis, football, a beauty pageant, or a myriad of other awards in your trophy case, chances are good that it came from the Palys basement workshop.

Bob hales from Buffalo, New York. He came to Cullman in the ‘60s to attend St. Bernard. “It was actually the closest Catholic college to where I lived. I told my dad when I left home that I would come down here for one semester, then transfer somewhere else,” he recalled, “ But, after that first semester, I wrote home and told them I was staying here,” he laughed.

The two met while doing their student teaching at Welti.

“Bob had been playing basketball and had gotten an elbow to the nose,” she said.

“He had a broken nose and two black eyes, and I thought he was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen,” she laughed.

The tall stranger with the bruised and broken face must have intrigued her, because she married him in 1973.

They became the parents of two sons, Andy, who works as a computer technician with the Cullman City Board of Education, and Matt, who was five years younger.

The couple lost their second son, who was born with spina bifida, in 1983.

 “We were in and out of Children’s Hospital in Birmingham so much with Matt, and I would often see so many little children there who had cancer, my heart would go out to them. That may be part of the reason we volunteer for the Relay,” she said, tears welling in the corners of her eyes.

The hearts of volunteers like the Palys have expanded to encompass the thousands of people who have come through the breakfast line over the years, along with the dozens of other volunteers who make the Relay for Life such a success.

 This breakfast celebrates the lives that have been changed forever by cancer, bringing together people who have fought a courageous battle and walked away   winners.

The Palys are devoted to recognizing and honoring each and every one of them.


The Details

Celebrate, Remember Survivor’s Breakfast

The Celebrate-Remember Breakfast (for survivors and caregivers) will be held at 7 a.m. Wednesday, May 5, at Cullman Church of Christ (on the corner of Alabama Highway 157 and Childhaven Road).

The Celebrate, Remember Survivor’s Dinner will be at 5 p.m. Friday, May 7, at Heritage Park at the Survivors Tent. Special survivors parking is available on a first come, first served basis in the Heritage Park Parking Lot on Olive Street.

Survivor’s can register with the American Cancer Society online at or by contacting Gidgett Overton at 736-1506 or Jan Pierce at 796-0046. Registration will ensure that you are invited to attend all local Survivor Activities throughout the year.

The American Cancer Society encourages all survivors and caregivers to come out and celebrate.

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