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  Comments (1) Total Tuesday Apr. 15, 2014
Atkinson Completes ‘Old Man Walking’ Campaign
Walked 151 straight days to raise money for performing arts center
Richard Atkinson cheers to crossing guard Julie Ferda, a greeting that has become a tradition during his daily walk around downtown Whitefish. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
WHITEFISH – It seems like Rich Atkinson has been walking forever and he’s only halfway there.

To raise money for the Whitefish Middle School Performing Arts Center, Atkinson walked nearly four miles a day for 151 consecutive days beginning on Sept. 29 and ending on Feb. 26, which was his 70th birthday. He dubbed the campaign, and himself, “Old Man Walking.”

While his walking is done, his fundraising is not. He hopes to raise another $350,00 or so through other means to fully pay off the $5.2 million auditorium renovation. Atkinson estimates he raised about $100,000 through pledges stemming directly from his walking campaign and roughly $250,000 from other donations.

In total he covered more than 560 miles, which is farther than walking to Seattle to the west, Williston, N.D., to the east and past Edmonton, Alberta, to the north.

“I’m very tired,” Atkinson said. “It’s a ball and chain to have to walk like that everyday.”

Atkinson is one of the main fundraisers on a philanthropic team that includes his wife Carol, John Kramer, David Pickeral and Robert Chambers. Five years ago, the team began raising money to remodel the Central School – now Whitefish Middle School – auditorium on Spokane Avenue.

Atkinson said he and his wife, along with Kramer, were the primary fundraisers, while Pickeral and Chambers handled community relations and tasks like Web site management. Sandy Loy does accounting for them.

“She’s been just marvelous,” Atkinson said of Loy.

The Whitefish Middle project has been complete for some time, with the auditorium serving as a first-rate performing arts and community events center. But even though it’s in use, it’s not paid off, which Atkinson said a lot of people don’t realize.

The team initially raised the full $5.2 million needed for the project, Atkinson said, but when the economy went sour three pledges dropped out, taking away $700,000.

So Atkinson took to the streets to raise money and awareness to chip away at that $700,000. He garnered $100,000 walking and $250,000 through other donations to cut the total of $700,000 in half.

“Hopefully I will have some nice friends to help with the rest,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson wants to pay off the $5.2 million for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the bank has a $1.2 million lien on his house. There is also a $1.2 million lien on Kramer’s business. If the remainder of the money isn’t raised, the lien stays. Atkinson said he and his wife would then have to pay it off or if they sell their house the bank gets to keep that money.

Atkinson began walking each day around 7:30 a.m. on Mondays through Fridays, and sometimes a little later on weekends. Living on the north side of the viaduct, he would cross the viaduct and begin a route that took him up and down the streets of a six-block area between Baker and Spokane avenues and Railway and Third streets.

Most importantly, the route took him past Whitefish Middle School at a time when kids were getting dropped off at school and parents could see him in his green shirt that read: “Old Man Walking.”

“It kind of touched the heartstrings,” he said.

Some people would simply hand him a buck or two, or write him a check on the spot. Others made per-kilometer pledges – he walked six kilometers a day, which is just shy of four miles. Pledges ranged from 10 cents per kilometer to $10 per kilometer.

Atkinson braved snow, cold and lots of ice. On really icy days, Atkinson said the sidewalks were impossible to navigate.

“The only dry spot was the middle of the road,” Atkinson said. “It’s amazing how good your ears get.”

Through it all, Atkinson said his crowning achievement may have been completing the 151 days without falling, cramping up or getting injured.

“That’s probably the miracle of the walk,” he said.
On 03-05-10, CoffeeJunkie commented....
What a great testament to what one man can start and carry out with the support of friends, family and community!  Cheers!
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