Renfrew -- There is nothing like a warm and sunny spring day to relaunch the annual Hike for Hospice, the biggest fundraiser for Hospice Renfrew. This past Sunday the event was all the more special because for the first time since 2019, the hike returned from a two-year hiatus and the energetic walkers and joggers raised an amazing $102,000 with donations continuing to roll in.
The arrival of COVID-19 in March 2020 and the ensuing pandemic that shut down all major events which involved large gatherings, forced the hospice board of directors to cancel the annual fundraiser, a fundraiser which usually raised in excess of $100,000. In its place, a virtual hike was held in both 2020 and 2021 which raised money, but not as much as in previous years.
The cancellation of the hike was especially painful for Hospice Renfrew because not only did the event raise approximately one-fifth of its annual fundraising totals, but the cancellation extended to friends and family of loved ones who were not allowed to visit the facility and spend precious time with them.
However, there was little talk of the devastating impact of COVID over the last two years. Instead, more than 300 individuals who signed up for the hike were too busy smiling, enjoying the sunshine and for many, it was a chance for happy reunions with regular participants who looked forward to the unique comradery they shared every first Sunday in May.
When Jamie Cybulski, a member of the board and himself affected by the impact of Hospice Renfrew in his own family, took the microphone to welcome everyone to the 2022 Hike For Hospice, he reminded them of the importance of the facility.
“A lot of those here today, myself included, have seen firsthand the love and compassion found inside the walls of Hospice Renfrew,” he said. “We know the genuine care and kindness shown to those who choose to spend the remainder of their time here and that is why we are here today.”
Mr. Cybulski paid tribute to the hike’s main sponsors this year – Sheila Kemp of Aikenhead’s Pharmacy, and Ray and Barb Pilon of Pembroke Canadian Tire and Bill and Bobbi Sears of Renfrew Canadian Tire. Other corporate sponsors included myFM, the Eganville Leader, Malcolm, Deavitt and Binhammer Funeral Homes, Chris & Tanya’s No Frills, Al Utronki’s Appliance and TV Sales, Ottawa Valley Oxygen Limited, Ontario Power Generation, Oegema Nicholson and Associates Insurance Brokers Ltd. and Yemen Electric.
Each year, Utronki’s donates a large screen TV and this year the winner of the 55 inch Panasonic was Payton Church of Renfrew.
Over the course of 15 years the three-kilometre hike and five km run was first held at Stewart Park and then moved to Ma-Te-Way Park after it outgrew its original location. This year, the hike was moved to the site of Hospice Renfrew due to the construction of the recreation centre.
It seemed fitting that the building itself served as the gathering place where teams and individuals submitted their registration forms, participants grabbed a drink or snack and where the annual warm-up exercises took place in a lighthearted way.
Under the direction of Peter Boldt, who practices and leads Zumba classes throughout the area, and Ro Nwoso, a local Yoga instructor, they took turns up on the main stage leading the participants in a round of lighthearted stretching positions to get them ready for the course.
The day started with a dozen enthusiastic joggers who straddled the starting line and waited for the signal to begin their five-kilometre run. Following the lead of Leo Hall, a lifetime runner and a member of the hospices board, they set out from the Hospice parking lot and ran a circuit which made its way down Stewart Street onto Raglan then looped around to end up back at the hospice.
Mr. Hall was thrilled a dozen runners took part and is hopeful there are even more participants who will come out and accept the friendly challenge of this year’s winner, Darren Barkey, who is looking forward to defending his time of 23 minutes in next year’s event.
Each year a family is chosen to lead off the Hikers in memory of their loved one. This year the family of Sylvester Alfelski from Cobden were the lead hikers. Sylvester’s Polish Pacers smiled and waved as they led the many family teams that participated in memory of a loved one
As the large group of walkers made their way downtown, the sound of car horns filled the air as several drivers honked in support of their cause. Once downtown, they crossed Raglan Street South under the supervision of OPP Auxiliary Officer Scott Rodden.
Several times traffic was backed up as they used the crosswalk to begin their trek back up the road to the hospice and unlike most traffic jams where the horn is used as a means to vent in frustration, the sounds of horns on this day were sounds of support.
When the group returned to the hospice parking lot, Mr. Cybulski invited Gerald Tracey, owner/publisher of the Eganville Leader and chair of the Board of Directors, to say a few words on behalf of the board.
He began by bringing greetings from riding MPP John Yakabuski, a strong supporter of Hospice Renfrew.
“I don’t care what your political affiliation is, there is no denying John is a big supporter of hospice and he has taken part in the Twins Bike Ride that has raised about $50,000 for hospice. More importantly, John is one of the few MPPs who has been fighting for years to get sustainable funding not just for Hospice Renfrew, but for all hospices across the province.”
Mr. Tracey also acknowledged the efforts of the Dunbar family and their contributions to the hospice through their year-round fundraising events including their weekly buck-a-luck draw
“I always like to challenge the Dunbar team for the top fundraising spot and I don’t mind finishing second because you do so much for hospice,” he said. “There was some concern the number of participants might be much lower because of the two-year hiatus and you all have proven the skeptics wrong just by looking out and seeing the large number of you here today.”
Following his remarks, Mr. Cybulski handed out the prizes for highest fundraising teams. Third place was awarded to the Dunbar family as they raised approximately $3,500. (*The family has raised more than $120,000 in a year in other ways). Steph’s Sweeties raised just over $8,800 and the top prize went to the Eganville Leader team that raised $11,150 with late donations expected to bring the total closer to $12,000.
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader