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As Memorial Day reaches around the corner the country looks to remember those that have served their countries. Many towns, including Nappanee, the week prior to the holiday, took time out to remember those law enforcement and fire department men and women that lost their lives while serving the general public.
At the Nappanee Nature Center about 30 area residents, and some from as far as Goshen and Bourbon, attended the fourth annual memorial walk to honor the law and fire professionals by walking, running or biking a four-mile trek. Event organizer Teresa Elliott said the money raised during the event, through sponsors, donors and event T-shirt sales (at $10 each), is donated to the memory of such civil servants. â€śThe proceeds go to Indianapolis for the police and fire memorial wall to help maintain the names,â€ť she explained. â€śWe run it rain or shine; the first two years it was raining so this is great,â€ť she said of the warm, sunny morning Saturday. Her husband John, Nappaneeâ€™s former police chief, traditionally waits further down the route on S.R. 19 armed with bottles of water and chairs for those involved in case they need to â€śtake a breakâ€ť or rehydrate.
She explained that the reason she got behind the cause was sparked when her husbands fellow Nappanee Police Officer Brant â€śButchâ€ť Nine lost his life in 1998. â€śWhen Butch was killed, we went to the wall in Washington D.C.â€ť Elliott said. Later, she got involved with COPS (Concerns of Police Survivors) and four years ago, began coordinating the local walk. â€śWe do this for the families of the officers and firefighters that have died (in the line of duty) and for the public to know that we still care,â€ť she added.
Also in attendance were the wives of two local officers that were shot while on duty. Marah Lee Nine took the walker or riderâ€™s registration and sponsorship money and handed out maps of the route with the assistance of her daughter Darcy McPheeters. Phillip Hochstetler Jr.â€™s former widow, now Jill Hochstetler-Sweet, attended to walk with her daughter Anna.
When asked what the event means to her, Hochstetler-Sweet replied, â€śI think its all about awareness â€” making people aware that there is a memorial in Indianapolis and for me â€¦ to make sure that our fallen officers arenâ€™t forgotten.â€ť Her former husband was just 32 when he passed away in 1994.
Amidst the sounds of the whispering trees and birds merrily chirping, the smiles and conversation at the annual walk/ride was more reminiscent of a family reunion rather than a somber memorial event. Some present bore ribbons of red, white, and blue; some brought their children or their pets; and others came solo to take part and enjoy the spring day.
One participant, four-year-old Wayne Reichert came with his mother Heather, from Bourbon. He, the youngest bike rider at the event (on training wheels nonetheless) willingly and contentedly rode the entire four miles. Winners were awarded with donated gifts as follows: First place, Peggy Stover, a Newcomer and Son Jewelry Store gift card; second place, Julie Dijkstra (current Nappanee Police Chief) a Rite Choice gift card; third place, Sandra Wixson a cash gift card from the Nine family; and fourth place, Mary Helmuth, a memorial walk T-shirt.
This year, the event raised $1,000. Next year the event is planned for Saturday, May 19.