Wendell Harp 5k Run/Walk Finishes Strong

It’s more of a movement than a memoriam now, but the Harp 5k Run/Walk is still going strong.

The race, held on Saturday, Sept. 7, was sponsored by Hospice, Inc in honor of Harp, an attorney who served on the organization’s founding board prior to his death from a heart attack in 2002, Lisa Otis, Harp’s daughter said.

“My dad was a true New Paltzian,” Otis said. “He was always somebody you could turn to for a helping hand. He didn’t just serve on it to have his name out there. It meant something to him.”

When the organization approached her family about starting a run/walk in his memory, their positive experiences with family members in hospice encouraged them to agree.

“Both of [my father’s] parents had hospice care at home,” Otis said. “The volunteers and nurses that came to help out were just phenomenal.”

Michael Murphy, executive director of Hospice, Inc., served with Harp on the founders’ board of the organization.

“He was not only dedicated to Hospice, Inc.,” Murphy said. “He was dedicated to the community.”

This year, the race featured a glossy new title as a 5k, but  walking enthusiasts needn’t be worried, as it’s only a tenth of a mile farther than previous years.

The people volunteering at the event have grown and changed over the years, Otis said. In the beginning, many people came out because they knew Harp. Now, the race’s growing number of participants even includes local cross-country teams. Otis, who teaches Spanish at Highland High School, said it was great to have the Highland team participate.

Despite the new faces, Otis said Harp’s legacy lives on in the event.

“Every year, someone will share a story about him or have a nice word to say,” Otis said.

Murphy said the race strives to bring the community together through fun and competition for local runners. This year, it has integrated electronic scoring.

Murphy said he hopes the new distance and timing features of the run/walk will help keep the funding going. “We didn’t want to become old-fashioned,” he said.

As of this year, the organization has raised nearly $100,000. The programs the funds are distributed to vary from year to year. This year, Murphy said, the funds will benefit a new program, Heart to Heart.

“Our goal is to improve the care of end-stage heart patients,” Murphy said. “They can remain at home during their final days rather than constantly going to the hospital.”

The second program seeks an even bigger target: national health coverage. We Honor Veterans, a national program Hospice, Inc. is involved with, educates local veterans about the enhanced assistance available to them if they or a family member has a terminal illness, Murphy said.

The organization’s programs may vary, but the heart of the event is the same. And for now, there are still family and friends who remember the man they’re walking for.

“It doesn’t hurt so much any more because it’s been 12 years. I know once a year there will be someone [who knew him.] Maybe I haven’t seen them in a year – but they say, ‘I will be there, I wouldn’t miss it.’”


by April Castillo