Volunteers the key to successPublished 12:58pm Monday, July 16, 2012
Volunteers are what makes Steve’s Run go.
For the past 37 years, runners from around the state of Michigan, the Midwest and the United States have been coming to Dowagiac to spend their Saturday morning running.
Originally called the Road ’n Trail Race, Steve’s Run has been called one of Michigan’s top races.
It annually draws over 1,000 runners, many of which have been competing in the annual event for years. In some cases, generations of runners flock to Dowagiac each July for a chance to run the traditional cross country style course that combines roadways, a golf course, trails and even a cemetery.
Part of what brings runners back year after year is the attention to detail that Race Director Ron Gunn and his army of volunteers pay to the event.
Everything from the music to the aid stations to the unique design of the t-shirts and hand crafted awards. No detail is left unattended to.
Earl Weaver of Niles is one of those volunteers who has spent a great deal of time making sure that runners enjoy the experience of Steve’s Run.
He and his wife joined the Monday Night Running Club. Besides their own events, members of the club were instrumental in the development of Steve’s Run.
Weaver became a member in 1980 when it was still the Road ’n Trail Race. He participated in races up to 1985 and then he turned his attention to volunteering for the event.
“We used to have a kind of a saying or thought that you should run one race and work one race,” Weaver said.
Weaver, who turned 93 last June, had been timing races as part of the Monday Night Running Club and working with Gunn in that capacity. Being nearly a generation older than most of the members of the Monday Night Running Club didn’t really make a difference, although he admits he had trouble keeping up with those guys some of the time.
He began his work with the annual event and calls it “the best thing my wife and I ever got into for health-wise,” he said.
Eventually, he was put in charge of the aid stations.
There are usually four stations strategically placed throughout the event.
“I was put in charge of the aid stations and we would load up one of the vans with all the tables, equipment that we needed,” Weaver said. “Then I would get up there about 6 or 6:30 a.m. to distribute the stuff so that we didn’t have it laying around over night.
“We had a lot of help. I would have at least 40 people working the stations. We had club members working and we had volunteers from the hospital. They (Borgess-Lee Memorial) would do a lot down at the park, but they also worked the aid station out on Mathews Road. I would leave them tables, but they had their own supplies.”
Weaver said that by having competed in the race, he had a good idea of what runners needed.
“It was a lot of work,” he said. “Especially in the cemetery which was the first aid station because they are grabbing water and sponges and then dropping them and we have people who would have to clean them up because we didn’t want to leave a mess in there.”
Like many of the former participants, Weaver often marvels at how loyal people are to Steve’s Run. Year after year runners return to Dowagiac, many of them eventually bringing their spouses and children to take part.
“There a lot of people I only see once a year and that’s at the race,” he said. “I think actually Ron Gunn has touched more lives in this area than anyone I can think of.”
Another of the interesting things about Steve’s Run is the fact that the race has both a competitive side and a family component.
“You have runners come up for Notre Dame and they are running for times,” Weaver said. “And there are people pushing a stroller with their kids or grand kids in it. I think it’s a great asset to Dowagiac and the college.”
With the switch from the Road ‘n Trail Race to Steve’s Run to honor the late Steven Briegel, who did in 1990 after a courageous battle with cancer, the event has only grown in stature.
“You can go any place there are runners and they know about Steve’s Run,” Weaver said.
That in itself is a testament to the work done by Gunn, Southwestern Michigan College, the city of Dowagiac and all the volunteers who put in so much time and effort to make it a race to remember.
The 38th Annual Steve’s Run will be held July 28 beginning at 9 a.m. in downtown Dowagiac.
Entry information and online registration can be found at stevesrun.swmich.edu or by calling Southwestern Michigan College at 782-1209.