With every step, Fergus Falls man raised money to help cancer survivors
Walt Smith has always walked for exercise, but on Oct. 11 the 82-year-old walked for a special cause. He made the 9.5-mile trek from Underwood’s Under-Mart to the Fergus Falls East Subway store raising funds for Fergus Falls Cancer Center patients.
“It’s like getting hit between the eyes,” the Fergus Falls man said. “It’s so scary. How long are you going to live? What’s going to happen? It’s a sudden shock.”
His first bout with the disease came in 1989 when a surgeon told Smith he had prostate cancer. He had surgery in Fergus Falls to remove the cancer.
Smith’s second bout came in 1992 when he had problems with his right arm. Doctors thought it was tendonitis, but the prescribed treatments didn’t work, he said. Smith was referred twice, first to a bone specialist in Fargo, N.D., and then to the Mayo. At the Rochester-based medical facility, physicians removed the cancer from the inner bone of his right forearm and grafted a piece of bone from his hip to the area.
“I can’t say enough about the Mayo,” he said. “And, knock on wood, I have been going good ever since. The good Lord has kept me going so I could do things like this…like the walk.”
The idea for the fundraising walk has been on his mind for some time. The problem was Smith was always busy. When he retired this summer from a 36-year career as Productive Alternative’s woodshop foreman, Smith took action to make his fundraising idea a reality.
Smith is an idea man whose “crazy” plans sometimes caused his wife, Arlene, to roll her eyes at his thoughts.
“But she always went along with the ideas,” he said with a smile.
Take, for example, his thoughts on moving from the couple’s native Connecticut. Smith had been renting the family farm but wanted a place of his own. He put a great deal of thought behind the move, he said. Even though he could’ve moved further west, Smith chose Minnesota.
“I wanted to go west, but this was as far as I wanted to go,” he said. “In Connecticut, we get 40 inches of rain. Further west they get a lot less. I wanted an area with similar moisture to Connecticut. This was just right.”
He had been renting the family farm in his native state, but he wanted his own farm. He had $5,000 in his pocket when he got off the bus in Fergus Falls. Realtor Jim Erbach showed him farms, but Smith knew he didn’t have money to purchase one. He used his money for a down payment on a house and was thrilled to get a job milking cows at the State Hospital’s farm. Arlene soon joined him.
In 1974 he suffered a mild heart attack he said was caused by gases as he worked with silage. After his recovery, he went to driving school and hauled cattle for Daggett and Evensons. He also worked at Gambles store and, with Arlene, started the Bear’s Den, a store in the Westridge Mall. At the same time, he joined others walking for exercise in the mall’s hallways.
The couple eventually closed the store, but Walt remained a regular among the “mall walkers.”
It’s proven to be great training as he’s prepared for his fundraiser.
Walt has walked six days a week logging eight miles each time, he said. Sunday mornings are spent at church, but he swings by the mall for a four to five-mile walk in the afternoon.
“It takes me about five hours,” Walt said. “I do about six miles an hour, just like a John Deere in first gear — eight miles a day.”
“I am delighted to be able to do whatever I can to raise money to help cancer patients,” he said.
He’s been excited to raise money that will be used locally.
“The expenses are so high now, it bankrupts people,” he said. “I know what I had to go through.”
Money raised from the event was all given to Caring Partners, a support group for local cancer patients. All of the money raised by Caring Partners benefits Fergus Falls Cancer Center patients . It’s used for Fergus Bucks and gas cards which are given to social workers who distribute them to patients in need of assistance. Also, wigs are purchased and given free to patients losing their hair.
“It’s like it’s all been preplanned,” he said. “I am delighted to be able to do what I can to raise the money to help cancer patients.”
For more information, contact Pat Melkert of Caring Partners at 218-770-6086.