By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON HARBOR — Cassie Jastrzembski was one of the hundreds of runners who stormed the streets of downtown Benton Harbor on Thursday for the inaugural Twin Cities Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot.
The St. Joseph resident, who heard about the Turkey Trot through her work at Whirlpool Corp., chose an interesting costume for the run.
“I started wearing this turkey outfit a few years back,” Jastrzembski said. “We would do a Turkey Trot in Petoskey with my sister, so I decided to dress up for a turkey this year. I have a feeling I’m going to be a wet turkey today.”
Jastrzembski said she wanted to take part in the 5K portion of the run to prove Thanksgiving could be spent with friends and family outside of sitting on the couch in front of TV.
Stephannnie Harvey-Vandenberg, president of the Benton Harbor Parks Conservancy, said it was important to incorporate some of the city’s parks on the route for the 10K, 5K run and 5K walk.
Some of the highlights of the route included Hall Park, Franks Park, Fisherman’s Park and the Charles Yarbrough Park.
“The route was selected to showcase the community, the city and the downtown area of Benton Harbor,” she said. “The young people in Benton Harbor become the benefactors because the money we raise goes directly to a park. Each year, the board will determine which park receives the money. This year it is going toward the Union Park project, which began demolition yesterday.”
Harvey-Vandenberg said she expects the Turkey Trot to be an annual event, but is looking for feedback on how to make it better.
She also took note of how great it was to see so many different zip codes on the registration sheet before the race.
That included Andrew Derard, who lives in Washington, D.C., but was raised in Berrien Springs. Derard was back in the area with a few friends visiting his grandparents. At Thursday’s race, Derard was running with wife, sister and brother-in-law.
“We’re in various places during the holidays, but we try to do a run wherever we are,” he said. “The trick is staying warm, especially in the rain.”
Some of his friends and other runners came prepared by sporting garbage bags over their clothes to stay dry.
Dressed in neon-colored running wear, runners from all over made it to the starting line at the center of the Dwight P. Mitchell City Center Park.
Running with it
Marianne Groth, president of SWMI Racers, has been involved with local runs for the past five years and had heard people asking why there wasn’t a Thanksgiving Day run in the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor area.
“About a year ago, Stephannnie was asking how SWMI Racers could come up with a fundraising activity for the Benton Harbor Parks Conservancy. I sat on it for a while and realized Turkey Trots are popular,” Groth said. “Earlier this year, I approached her and asked her what she thought.”
Both Groth and Harvey-Vandenberg said they were going to be happy if 100 people registered. However, by the time they closed registration on Monday, there were more than 300 people signed up. That number also didn’t account for the dozens who registered the day of the race.
Among those in attendance were several volunteers made up of SWMI Racers, Whirlpool employees and student-athletes from the Benton Harbor basketball, football and wrestling programs.
“These are the same kids using the parks, so what better way to teach our young people the importance and value of volunteering by giving back to those who are giving to them,” Harvey-Vandenberg said.
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 27, 2015)