The History of the Kilbride Family Classic 5k Run and 2-Mile Walk for Autism

When the initial running boom was in full swing in the mid-1970s, our family began participating in local fun runs. They were a great and relatively inexpensive way for the eight of us – my wife Judy and our children Mark, Andy, Chris, Jennifer, Mary, Tommy, and me – to spend time together.

In 1984, the village of Manteno sponsored its first Father’s Day 5k. As the patriarch of the Kilbride crew and since it was after all my day, I told everyone – even Tommy who was five years old at the time – that it was mandatory that they participate in this event. The Kilbride family tradition of running on Father’s Day had begun!

One of my fondest memories of the Father’s Day race in Manteno was the year that we tagged ourselves “The 8Ks Racing Team.” We even designed a logo and had it printed on T-shirts that we all wore during the event. A reporter from The Daily Journal wrote a story about the 8Ks and took a photo of us in our special T-shirts. For sure, a classic story for our family.

As the years went on, our T-shirt tradition changed a bit. Each year, about five weeks before Father’s Day, I called the event’s organizer, Sue LaMore, to make special arrangements to pick up our shirts well before the event. Then, we had a timely saying about the 8Ks printed on the back of them (a new message each year), and our racing team would wear the shirts at the run. Never a dull moment, huh?

As sure as clockwork, I called Sue in the spring of 1996 to confirm the date, time, and place for our special T-shirt pick-up. Her reply blew me away! Due to irreconcilable issues, the race had been canceled, she told me.

“You don’t understand,” I said. “It is a requirement for every member of the Kilbride family to participate in this event. You have to have this 5k. You cannot cancel it.”

No amount of pleading (and I did plenty of that), however, was going to change the situation. Well, by golly, I wasn’t going to let the official Kilbride family Father’s Day running tradition fall by the wayside. We’ll have our own Father’s Day 5k, I decided. The Annual Kilbride Family 5k Run was born!

In less than five weeks and with help from Sue and other volunteers from Manteno, our whole family pitched in and staged a fun run at Cobb Park (across the street from our home) in Kankakee that Father’s Day. It was the start of something big.

The Kankakee River Running Club was (and continues to be) a great help that first year as well. When I told club member, Dan Gould, what we were doing, he casually (and a bit jokingly) suggested that we call it the Kilbride Family Classic. It was a great name (a perfect name), and it stuck!

Larry Morris, a graphic designer, created the original logo for our event, as well as the artwork for the T-shirts, our marketing materials, and the race application. He was a key player in those early years and deserves credit for our ongoing success.

Fast forward to 2012. This Father’s Day, we will gather for the 17th Kilbride Family Classic – a family event that began with barely 100 participants and grew to reach a record 1,370 runners and walkers in 2011. Wow! And, it is the 17th anniversary of our family’s Father’s Day running tradition. Double wow!

Over the years, the Kilbride Family Classic has undergone only a few changes here and there – most of them to accommodate the growing number of participants each year. Importantly, we have held fast to keeping the date and place the same as the original event. (Don’t mess with tradition, right?)

The biggest and best change, however, had its roots in 1997. That was the year that our grandson, Scott, was diagnosed with autism. He was three years old. (Scott is the son of our daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Mike Range.)

At the time, our son Andy and his wife Liz were living in California. Even though they were thousands of miles away, they wanted to do something to help Scott. It wasn’t long before they became involved with Cure Autism Now (a research and advocacy non-profit organization that was based in California), now known as Autism Speaks, the largest advocacy and research organization in the United State.

When Andy and Liz told Jennifer about some of the events they were holding to raise funds for Cure Autism Now, she suggested that the Kilbride family develop its own fund-raiser for the cause. Without hesitation, we all knew that the Kilbride Family Classic was the answer. What we didn’t realize at the time was how much closer this event would bring our family as we all rallied to this wonderful cause and terrific goal.

For our inaugural fund-raising event in 2001, I asked Ken Stark to design a new logo for the Kilbride Family Classic. (At the time, he was the editorial cartoonist at The Daily Journal.) Ken’s design – the clock tower at the Shapiro Developmental Center overlooking Cobb Park, the site of the event – was spot on and continues as the official logo of the Kilbride Family Classic 5kRun/2-MileWalk for Autism.

Through the years, we have added a raffle, awarded door prizes, recognized teams for donations and number of members, have had face-painting and a clown for the children who come to the park, and launched a website, initially designed by our son-in-law Kevin McGovern and then by Jeff Gindy whose daughter has autism. The web address is www.runforautism.com.

Here are some other recent outstanding elements that have helped the Kilbride Family Classic become more successful each year.

2007: A 200 yard dash for children ten and under was added.  This event proves to be the ‘icing on the cake’.

2010: The first “live” broadcast from Cobb Park. Thank you, WVLI (95.1 FM)!

2011: The growing number of participants moved us to begin using “chip” timing to ensure more accurate and quicker race results.

Which brings us to 2012. This year, we will provide online registration for the first time, and we have a Facebook page. On Saturday, June 16, pre-registered participants can pick up their race packets at Cobb Park from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

I am thrilled to share that over the years, thanks to friends, family members, and our local business community, we have raised and donated over $111,000 for Autism Speaks and for our local Autism Chapter of  Kankakee Valley.

I cannot find the words to tell you how incredibly proud I am of my family. What began simply as a way to celebrate Father’s Day has become one of the most important bonds that we share. This event is our heart and soul. I am touched by the wonderful example of love and unselfishness that our kids are passing on to their children. And, I am thrilled to see the smile on Scott’s face as the official starter of each year’s 5K Run.

Thank you, one and all, for your time, participation, and support. Together, we will find a cure for autism.

 Gerry Kilbride