Former Packer who lost wife will headline Relay
George Koonce

After years of his last name echoing throughout Lambeau Field, former Green Bay Packers’ linebacker George Koonce will have his voice and message spreading across the audience at Barlow Park.

Koonce will be the honorary caregiver and speaker during the Ripon Relay For Life Luminaria Ceremony, which takes place Saturday at about 9 p.m.

He lost his wife in 2009 at the age of 38 to breast cancer.

A member of the Packers from 1992 to 1999, which includes the 1996 championship team, Koonce is a close friend of Riponite Frank Cumberbatch.

The two were drawn together on a couple of fronts around 2006.

“It came about on many levels,” Frank said regarding his friendship with Koonce. “George and I share a philosophy about athletics, which is athletes should prepare for a life after sports — whether you’re professional or not — and it is based in higher education. He and I believe that athletes should strive to get advanced degrees so they could have a life after college. When I worked for the mayor of Milwaukee [Tom Barrett] and [Koonce] was at Marquette, we had a mutual friend ... who knew we shared that philosophy and decided we should talk to each other and work together and that’s how we became friends.

“And then shortly after that, both of our wives came down with breast cancer. So that sort of tightened up the bond between us as we were both dealing with that same issue. Unfortunately, George lost his and my wife is in continuous recovery from it.”

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