The first Barndance in 2000 started most of the traditions that thousands would enjoy over the next twenty years.

But Barndance veterans who were there from the beginning may remember that the first Barndance was missing one key element. The Never Be Defeated awards were not added until the second year of the event.

The NBD award was originated by Gavers Community Cancer Foundation president Steve Gavers and made its debut at Barndance 2001. In recent years, it has become customary for Steve to honor two or three cancer survivors whose positive attitudes have inspired others. But the first NBD recipients were not cancer survivors; they were people who made a difference in Steve’s life long before he himself became a cancer survivor.

“There are people in your life who’ve touched your life in ways you’ll never forget,” Steve said, explaining the origin of the award. As his first honorees, he chose Bud Swartout and Barbara Oughton, two retired Woodstock High School teachers who — though none of them could know it at the time — helped give Steve the tools he would need in his own fight against cancer.

“The award evolved from Bud Swartout telling me to just keep going,” Steve said. “Most of us are never going to be the best of the best, so we have to just try to do the best we can.

“And Barb was there when I was going through some rough times,” he continued. “One time when I got hurt, I was in her biology class and missed some school. She came over and tutored me.

“Deep down, I’m kind of a shy person,” Steve said. “I would crack a joke, and it would crack the ice for me. In class I’d be goofing around, and she would say, ‘Steve, I don’t know why you don’t apply yourself. You wouldn’t have to do all this extra credit if you’d do what you’re supposed to.’ She got me thinking of things in perspective.”

Another early recipient of the NBD award was Joy Piccolo O’Connell, who lost her husband, Chicago Bear Brian Piccolo, to cancer. Steve said he selected Joy because of her advice and help in establishing the Gavers Foundation.

However, most of the awards over the years have indeed gone to cancer survivors. Previous honorees include Lynn Stewart, Chuck Ruth, Doug Smith, Jeff Peart, Charie Zanck, Ray Benoy, Steve’s parents Don and Sally Gavers and Kevin Weaver. Sadly, Kevin’s life was claimed by brain cancer before he received his award.

NBD awards have gone to people of diverse ages, backgrounds and walks of life. But all of the winners share at least two common traits — courage while facing cancer and unselfishness in sharing their stories, providing inspiration for all who meet them.

“There are people who think of themselves and then those who think of everybody else,” Steve said. “I’d rather be around people who try to make a difference.”

View Never Be Defeated Recipients