Last year, a newly hired city of Gresham employee had a big idea that would create an opportunity for the community to come together for a good cause.
Sasha Konell, Gresham's community marketing specialist, brought up the concept of a fun run on her second day on the job.
"I told her to wait until after she had gotten settled into the position," said Elizabeth Coffey, Gresham's communications manager, with a laugh. "A few months later she came back with more details for the event."
Those ideas eventually materialized into the Gresham Lilac Run, the first 5K run/walk, 10K and half marathon in the city, which took place Saturday morning, April 13.
The event, which was presented by Unitus Community Credit Union, started and finished at Gresham City Hall, 1333 N.W. Eastman Parkway. The route went along Wy'East Way, the Gresham-Fairview Trail, the Springwater Corridor Trail and the Gresham Butte Saddle Trail.
Gresham's inaugural run was a family friendly affair. Children ages 12 and younger took part in the Little Lilac 1K run, with each receiving a medal after the race. There was also plenty to do in the starting area. For the over 21-year-old runners, there was cold beer, as well as coffee and hot cakes for everyone. A photo booth inside city hall helped capture the memories.
Participants in the run spanned all ages. Seasoned runners focused on achieving their best time, while others walked the course enjoying a cup of coffee. Parents pushed strollers, different local businesses had groups of runners, and many dressed up for the event with headbands and tutus.
Running for mentors
When the Gresham Lilac Run was first being planned, the level of support and excitement from community sponsors allowed the event to dedicate funds to a local nonprofit organization.
All of the registration fees and other sales, totaling more than $22,000, went to Family of Friends Mentoring, which helps connect local children in need with dedicated mentors. For the group, that kind of money represents almost 10% of its annual budget, and they already have big plans for how to put the funds to use.
"This is an exciting period of growth for us," said Michelle Kosta, Family of Friends executive director. "This will help in a lot of ways."
The Lilac Run money will provide the group with grant writing fees, and the opportunity to hire another employee dedicated to outreach and recruitment. Right now, Family of Friends only has three fulltime employees, including Kosta.
Beyond the financial support, the Lilac Race was a great way for the mentoring group to spread the word about its program and have some fun. They had a booth set up with prizes and information, and many of their child/mentor pairings competed in the different races.
Councilor Jerry Hinton ran in the 5K alongside his match, Bienvenue Mumbere. It was Mumbere's first time running a 5K, and the first one Hinton has completed since he was 21 years old.
"We were excited to take on the challenge," Hinton said.
Family of Friends needs nine more mentors to sign on by the end of June to reach its goals. Anyone interested in becoming a mentor should visit www.family-of-friends.org to learn more. The next info session will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Gresham City Hall, 1333 N.W. Eastman Parkway.
"Being a mentor makes a huge impact in the lives of kids," Kosta said. "The parents are being brave and asking for community support because they are under a lot of stress and want more for their kids."
Sponsors who helped put on the event and allowed the registration fees to go to Family of Friends included Konell Construction & Demolition Corp., Eastwind Running and Endurance, University of Western States, Mt. Hood Community College, Powell Valley Assisted Living, Marathon Printing, Inc., Tailor Johnson Real Estate and North West Canine Cakes LLC.
The presenting sponsor, Unitus, was excited to be involved in the event.
"We are honored to be the first ever sponsor, and be able to support a great program in Family of Friends Mentoring," said Laurie Kresl, chief marketing officer for Unitus.
All eyes on Gresham
The last community run that Rep. Carla Piluso remembers happening within the community was three decades ago when the Gresham Police Department hosted an event.
"I'm glad something like this has come back to the community," Piluso said, before joining in the 5K run.
Gresham's city leadership has been focused on bringing more opportunities for children and families to the community, specifically finding ways to get them outside.
The run had 550 participants — a sell out that forced organizers to turn away people interested in participating. Several of those runners came from outside of the community, which was a goal for the city in putting on the event. According to organizers, some of the runners came from as far away as Seattle and Bend.
"We know this can have a cascading effect, with runners visiting downtown to eat and shop after competing," Coffey said.
The route was also a way to show off the trails and beautiful areas within the city, working with local running groups to figure out the best course.
"We wanted to showcase the trails we have here in Gresham," Coffey said. "We are in an urban area, being the fourth largest city in Oregon, but it's easy to find yourself in natural areas."
City of Gresham leadership plans on making the Lilac Run an annual event for the community. Mayor Shane Bemis, who finished with the front of the pack during the 5K, is excited for next year.
"This thing is going to grow, and before you know it, we will be a qualifier for (the Boston Marathon,)" he said. "This run is changing a lot of people's perception of our community."
Gresham's first community running event, which brought hundreds of runners into the city last weekend, was named after a woman known as "The Lilac Lady."
Hulda Klager immigrated to the United States from Germany with her family in 1865 when she was 2 years old. Klager had a love for flowers, and would spend her childhood wandering the woods in search of wildflowers. In 1877, when Klager was a teenager, the family moved to Woodland, Washington, and started a farm.
Years later, Klager continued her passion for flowers. While recovering from an illness in 1903, she began reading about hybrid flowers. That sparked an interest in Klager for making her own plant experiments.
She began hybridizing lilacs, and by 1910, had created 14 new varieties. One decade later, she had developed so many lilac varieties that she held an open house each spring to showcase the flowers in bloom and share her love for flowers. That is when people began calling her "The Lilac Lady."
In the 1930s, neighboring towns began to send delegations to Klager's bloom showcase to have one of the new varieties named after the town they represented. A group from the city of Gresham were able to claim a single bloom, deep purple strain that was named "City of Gresham." That became the official flower of the city, and later became the inspiration for the Gresham Lilac Run.
According to locals, there are still "City of Gresham" lilacs blooming in the natural areas around town. Klager's home, and lilac gardens, were turned into a National Historic Site in Woodland that can be visited throughout the year. Visit the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens' website at www.lilacgardens.com to learn more about the nonprofit botanical gardens.
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