KENNEBUNK – This spring will mark the 15th anniversary of Mary’s Walk and the Kerrymen Pub 5K, and it will be the first time in as many years that Joel Croteau and Mel Uchenick have not served as the race directors.
Croteau, a 68-year-old Biddeford resident and member of the Maine Running Hall of Fame, has been with the race from the very beginning.
“Joel was a friend of the Kerry family and he was here when we started in 1999,” said Gene Libby.
Libby and others started Mary’s Walk as a way to recognize and acknowledge the gifts of life that his wife, Mary Kerry Libby, shared with her family, friends and the community before she died from cancer in 1997.
“Joel had run in many races at the Kerrymen and he saw this as a way of combining the two events,” Libby said.
As plans for the walk and the run were progressing, Libby saw that Croteau had a real passion for the race and the community it served.
“From the very beginning he had vision for what the race could be and might become,” Libby said. “That first year I think the race raised $5,000 and we donated it to a runner in Sanford who was battling cancer,” Libby said.
The next year, Libby and Croteau were overwhelmed with requests for financial help and knew they it would be nearly impossible to decide how to distribute the money. The Mary’s Walk and Kerrymen Pub 5K Board members decided to align themselves with the Maine Cancer Foundation.
Fourteen years later, the group has raised $2.1 million and donated more than $1.8 million. Libby is quick to point out that the most of the material, goods and services used to hold the two events are donated by members of the community.
This year, the event will have a title sponsor for the first time. Libby announced that CRI-SIl Silicone Technologies, LLC of Biddeford has agreed to be the $15,000, 15th anniversary sponsor for both events.
Both the race and the walk will be known as “Mary’s Walk and the Kerrymen 5K sponsored by CRI-SIL Technologies, LLC,” Libby said.
“I am thrilled this is happening in our 15th year,” Libby said.
Over the years, Croteau and Uchenick worked together to build the local race to a point where more than 1,100 runners toed the line in 2012.
“Early on Joel told me we could grow the race and have more than 1,000 runners. I’m so happy it happened last year,” Libby said.
As Libby described it, “I never really had to worry about the race. Joel and Mel had such a passion for the event and with their group, they took care of everything.”
Uchenick came to the event after retiring and moving to Kennebunk. He quickly became active in the community and, when he heard about the race, he contacted Sue Rowan, then the executive director for the Maine Cancer Foundation.
She put him in touch with Croteau and the two have worked together ever since.
Libby and Croteau are quick to credit others as well. Carol and Mike Landry helped with registrations. Thornton Academy provides more than 200 volunteers every year to man the intersections and direct runners and walkers.
Over the years, Croteau worked to get the 5K course certified by USA Track and Field, which is the national governing body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the United States.
“Joel knew that a certified course would be important to the runners,” Libby said. “He was right.
Libby laughed and smiled when he thought about how well the two retired men worked together.
“In many ways, Joel was the general and Mel was the lieutenant,” he said. “Together they handled everything.”