Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Friends and Neighbors: Joy of running led to O'Brien starting annual Farmers Day Fun Run


Tonia Copeland

Former Kimball High School track coach Pat O'Brien started the Farmers Day Fun in 1982, and coordinated the event for more than 30 years.

The 1970s and 1980s bring several things to mind - disco, big hair and running. Wait? Running?

Running was a popular activity during the time, according to local retired teacher Patrick O'Brien, for whom running has been a major part of life.

"I was a runner before I moved back to Kimball and I had ran in a few fun runs," he said. "BJ (Peters) was a runner here, and so he and I worked out together and we would go around the panhandle and run in some of the fun runs."

The inspiration to spearhead a fun run in Kimball came from participating in those area events. In addition to running recreationally, O'Brien coached young runners and, with help from a friend, organized the annual Farmers Day Fun Run.

"BJ Peters and I started the Fun Run in 1982 and we co-coordinated for the first three or four years, until he moved. And then when he moved over to Gering I just started doing it on my own for another 30 years," O'Brien said.

Though he lost his co-chairman, O'Brien did not complete the event on his own. Volunteers, though always in short supply, were invaluable.

"Registration morning is always a zoo. Fortunately I had really good volunteer help," O'Brien said. "Cindy Rasmussen and Cathy Argo, who did the registration before each race, and they did it all 30 years that I was there."

O'Brien said that many others also helped out annually with preparation, handing out T-shirts and guiding runners.

The local police department and ambulance crew always assisted as well, and the ambulance was once put to good use, O'Brien said. The partnerships did not end there. Clean Harbors always donated money to help purchase bib numbers and medals as well.

"We always had great support from the community," he added. "The chamber of commerce gave us $200 every year to give out in gift certificate drawings."

The original five mile route, designed by both Peters and O'Brien, ran east of town on Highway 30, then up the hill to the recreation area before heading back into Kimball along the link to Interstate 80. Though the longer route has changed, the shorter run remains around Gotte Park and back to the starting line.

"After a couple of years, I hated running up that hill, so we turned it around," he said. "It stayed the same until they did the bypass. When that came in we lost our road to go up to the rec area. We didn't want to run on the highway, so we just ran straight out of town."

The starting/finish line also changed through the years. Originally at the community room above American National Bank, now Points West Community Bank, it is now at the Kimball Volunteer Fire Department, O'Brien said.

"It was nice having restroom available beforehand, too," he said.

As a teacher, O'Brien tried to involve as many youngsters as possible, and often that led to families participating together. The fun run got many students excited about running and O'Brien loved to encourage family time together with the added benefit of physical activity.

Along the same lines, his wife and children were also involved, both running, occasionally, and helping each year.

"I would always work with the PE teacher at the time and we would do a challenge in which each class would compete against each another to see which class had the most participants," he said. "As a track coach, I kind of had an ulterior motive. It would give me an idea of kids who could run."

Also, seeing the photo taken by Tom Southard annually of the starting line-up filled with eager young runners is one of O'Brien's happiest moments.

The event, which grew to around 200 participants towards the end of O'Brien's reign, always ended just prior to the parade so participants from out of town could watch the parade, have a burger and stay in town for the day to enjoy the celebration.

"I had a lot of friends in the running community in the Panhandle and they would come and run," he said. "And we had a lot of kids who graduated high school here and they would come back and participate, too."

Those records have been made and have been broken, but one record that remains is the one person who has run in every single Farmers Day Fun Run, Pat O'Brien.

"I have participated in every one of them. There were three of us for a long time. Phyllis Howard and Kathy Van Pelt and myself, we participated in every one of them," he said.

O'Brien has participated in more than 100 other running events, including the Bolder Boulder and the Lincoln Marathon. He ran in Georgetown, seven and a half miles up a mountain, which was a little tougher than a marathon, but not the craziest thing he has ever done.

"The craziest thing I got into, when Mike Murphy was here, he was the cross country coach, and he and I ran a race in Laramie," he said. "We ran around some mountain, and over boulders and through a lake and all this stuff. It was a 13 mile race in and around Laramie."

Though he quit running a couple of years ago in all the marathons and fun runs that he once participated in, he planned to walk again this year in what is undoubtedly his favorite – the Farmers Day Fun Run.


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