Osborn sets tone annually for Relay for Life volunteers

Don Osborn, 67, of Altoona has been a driving force behind the annual Amer­i­can Cancer Society Relay for Life for more than 22 years.

For more than 22 years, Don Osborn has served as the “go-to” guy for the local chapter of the American Cancer Society behind the scenes and behind the microphone at the 24-hour Relay For Life at Mansion Park.

Osborn, 67, of Altoona, became involved with the American Cancer Society through his late wife, Debbie, a registered nurse who cared for chemotherapy patients at the city’s former Mercy Hospital. He has served ACS in various roles related to Relay, including being in charge of overall entertainment.

“Cancer hits everyone. Either yourself, your family or someone you know,” Osborn said. “I feel you should be doing something to help.”

In 2007, his wife of 36 years, Debbie, 57, died suddenly and he took a one-year hiatus from Relay.

“His passion for Relay For Life was still there, and he came back,” said Debbie Greene, with whom Osborn served as co-chair of Relay. They are now also co-chairs in their personal lives, as they became engaged in August when their life circumstances changed.

Osborn’s kindness and willingness to help anyone appealed to Greene.

“He was always willing to help any other committee member in their areas. He was always kind to people, even when they were not kind to him or were being demanding,” Greene said. “What attracted me to Don … he is such a kind, calm and giving person. Also, what attracted me to him was his personality, especially his sense of humor and his calm demeanor, even when times were stressful. He could make you smile and say, ‘relax it will all work out.’ He is still like that today. We served together in several capacities on the committee. He was entertainment chair and co-chair of the event with me, helped with logistics and touched every committee member and Relay For Life participant with kindness and love.”

The cancer society is grateful for his dedication.

“Don is truly an asset to the Relay For Life of Blair,” said Shannon Warburton, senior community development manager for the Northeast Region of ACS. “Not only has he served as a volunteer on our event planning committee, but he has also been our ‘go-to’ guy to provide music, announcements and sound throughout the course of our 24-hour event. He is an integral part of our event and keeps things running smoothly while making it fun for all of our participants. We are truly grateful for his many years of service and volunteer time given to Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society.”

Asked why he volunteers, Osborn paused before he said, “If you have cancer, you can’t take a break from it. I have tremendous empathy for those with cancer. It takes a long process to get better. It takes a lot of people to put this event together and more people who walk for 24 hours straight.”

The Relay is more than a once-a-year event, he ex­plained, as ACS staff, the volunteer planning committee and participating teams devote countless hours raising money through various efforts all with the goal to help people with cancer. The event celebrates these volunteers, cancer survivors and those who died of cancer and their families.

“I try to be enthusiastic,” Osborn said of his dejaying efforts at Mansion Park. “The whole event is to celebrate everyone’s efforts,” he said.

Additionally, he plays with four different bands that often play pro bono at other fundraising events in the community, most recently at an event to raise money for area veterans.

The connective thread for Osborn is creating the atmosphere for fun and laughter.

“I enjoy helping people have fun. I enjoy making people happy,” he said. “Music helps keep you young. It’s better to get out and do something: Support live music, volunteer for something. It’s very rewarding as you give back to others. … It beats being glued to the couch and watching people on reality TV,” he said.

Music has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. He was a guitar major at Cal State University in northern California. While there, he pursued the dream of becoming a rock star and toured nationally with several bands — “Nobody big. No major names,” he explained.

After starting a family, he ended his studies and eventually studied electronics. Until his retirement in 2014, Osborn spent most of his career as an audio engineer for a company that served a variety of state agencies. Retirement, he said, means more time for music and for enjoying the outdoors. He continues to play guitar and sing vocals in Flashpoint, a classic rock band; Oz, a five-member blues and jazz ensemble; Skye 2.0, a progressive rock band; and Triple Threat, an acoustic classic rock duo.

He also volunteers his time with the Allegheny Ski & Sports Club through various roles as an officer over many years.

“Don has a very sincere and giving personality,” Greene said. “He believes in helping anyone he can, his bands have played several fundraisers to help people in need, which says a lot for his band guys. … They are nice and giving people as well. (Don) has a very giving heart and gives of his time and talent freely.”

Staff writer Patt Keith can be reached at 949-7030.