Walk-A-Thon Honors Coach and Community

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A hundred or more people came out Last Saturday, May 6 to walk, run, bounce, eat and bid at the Watertown-Mayer Parent Teacher Organization’s (WM PTO) third annual Strides for Students Walk-A-Thon.

Organizers say the event started as a fun alternative to more traditional fundraisers.

“We tried to do something that had more of a family fitness focus,” said the PTO President Shannon Wetterlund. “We thought it’d be a great opportunity for our kids to have a service learning project where they are raising money and giving it back to the school.”

One hundred percent of the profits go directly back to the school. According to the PTO, they create grants with the money raised. It goes back into STEM projects like robotics, field trips, transportation, art and outdoor learning.

“Whatever the need is,” said Event Co-Chair Cassie Vogt.

The last couple years the event has had the walk-a-thon and bouncy houses but this year the PTO added a few more elements due to the high demand for the event. The food, silent auction and dedication were new this year.

“The silent auction is a unique feature,” said Event Co-Chair Heidi Guetzkow. “A lot of the teachers are dedicated their time and talent for really fun unique experiences for kids and their families to enjoy.”

The silent auction was a popular stop at the event, families taking their time to read each donation including ‘baskets of books’ and ‘slumber party baskets’.

The biggest part of the event was the dedication to the physical education teacher Joe Traen.

Organizers say it just makes sense to have had the event in honor of his memory given his appreciation for the outdoors and passion for physical fitness. They remember Traen would often take the kids outside for gym.

The PTO dedicated a Royal Red Maple Tree to be planted on school grounds in memory of Coach Traen.

“It’s a good way to bring the school back together,” Wetterlund said. “The loss was immeasurable but so was his legacy.”

At the event hundreds gathered around the young Royal, to take a moment to remember Coach Traen and send love, and flowers, to the family who was front and center.

“We lost an important part of our family,” Wetterlund said the crowd of all ages. “Beauty and strength will grow here always, in memory of Coach Traen.”

Guetzkow says that’s what is so special about the event itself, it brings the community together.

Andi Anderson and her young kids came early to the event. She wanted to make sure to honor Coach Traen and show the family they support what they are going through.

It was their first year at Strides for Students and though her kids were too young to have a desire to walk this year she thinks next year may be different.

“It’s also a good way to raise money for the schools,” Anderson said. “Small schools don’t always get all the funding so it’s a good way to get extra money in the school system.”

Her daughter Evi Anderson enjoyed everything else the event had to offer, including multiple turns on the bouncy houses, face painting, a tour of a fire truck and food.

All together, the Watertown-Mayer students raised $10 thousand.

The kids started raising money four weeks before the event. It was up to them to call and ask for pledges from friends, family and community members. They had incentives of course, ‘golden shoe winners’ who raised at least $100 won things like Lynx tickets, St.Paul Saints tickets and teacher for an hour.

Organizers believe it’s good for the kids to learn confidence and be able to ask for donations from family.

All together $11 thousand was raised from pledges and sponsorship donations. Mario’s Italian Kitchen provided food for the event and additional money was raised by 20 percent of all proceeds from food bought, went back to the school as well.