While spring may be on hold for a couple of days, charity walk season is definitely here, with many opportunities to enjoy good exercise for a great cause almost every weekend somewhere in our region.
An important event being held this spring is the first Veteran's Memorial Walk in Memory of Gary Latterner, Sunday May 27 at Shawnee State Park.
The walk, being organized by Gary's family, will benefit the ongoing effort to construct the Bedford County World War II Veteran's Memorial, and even more importantly, honor a man who was committed to his family and his country, with ties to many communities in Central Pennsylvania.
Gary Latterner grew up in Gallitzin and graduated from Penn Cambria High School in 1977. He was proud to serve his country, first in the United States Army and then the National Guard, based in Altoona, for more than two decades. That service included a 2003 deployment to Kosovo as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Latterner lived with his family in Manns Choice and worked as a corrections officer for the Smithfield State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon. He lost his life in a tragic bicycle accident last summer, leaving behind his wife, Beth and three stepsons, a sister and three brothers.
The family, while still trying to comprehend the heartbreaking loss, is focusing their efforts on remembering Latterner and his unfailing love for his country.
"Veterans' issues were always very important to us as a family," said Beth. "We wanted to do something in memory of Gary that would become an annual event, a way to give back to a cause that was so important to him."
The walk has already been embraced by businesses and individuals from many of the communities touched by Gary's life; Beth hopes that one hundred or more walkers will join in the event, fittingly being held on Memorial Day weekend.
"Setting this up has been very healing for all of us," she said. "The outpouring of support from people is wonderful. Some say they had a father who served in the military, others say they served in Kosovo or worked with Gary, and others didn't know Gary but are close to veteran's causes."
Shawnee State Park is the perfect backdrop for the memorial walk. Beth and her sons remember many good times, including hikes and picnics at the park, and they look forward to sharing this event and the legacy of Gary's life with family and friends.
"I feel good that people care, and they're supporting a walk for veterans and for Gary," she said. "It's a way to keep them from being forgotten."
Registration for the walk is $20 per person, with the first 100 pre-registered walkers receiving a commemorative T-shirt. Registration forms are available at Hometown Bank offices as well as the Bedford County Visitors Bureau. For more information, call 285-1045.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.