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posted: 8/4/2013 5:00 AM

St. Charles runner, Lombard walker should inspire us all

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Actual official company email sent by me on a Saturday to staff writer James Fuller:

"Jim ... Just read your story on Steve Spear and had to tell you what a nice job you did on it. Great intro and a truly moving account. Inspiring. Made me want to get out my checkbook on the spot ... Excellent work! ... Jim D."

Fuller's July 20 account was a profile on a former pastor from St. Charles, a guy who admittedly hates running, so, of course, he's running across the U.S. to try to raise $1.5 million so a village in Africa will have water. Fuller caught up with Spear as he passed through the suburbs on his 3,243-mile run, and listed his travails -- a bout of flu, inclement weather and reaching a point where he was just so fed up with the whole thing he "felt like crawling up in a fetal position and just calling an end to it." Spear's herculean efforts notwithstanding, it was the stories he relayed to Fuller about the kindness of strangers that was the tipping point for me: a group of children from a Christian school in Gallup, New Mexico, in the third-poorest county in the nation, donating $345; a blue-collar family giving Spear their $5,000 tax refund to support the cause.

On a less-dramatic scale, but certainly no less deserving of attention, is William Glass of Lombard. He quit his job, did a crash course in social media, and on Monday begins a 750-mile walk to Atlanta, where his mother was diagnosed three years ago with Alzheimer's disease. His goal is far more modest than that of Spear; Glass wants to raise $10,000 to assist in the fight against the disease. Equally, though, he wants to raise consciousness about Alzheimer's, which affects nearly everyone: More than 5 million Americans have it, another 15 million people take care of those patients, and the disease is expected to cost the nation $203 billion this year. "I was blown away by the facts," Glass told staff writer Marie Wilson.

Two suburbanites doing extreme things for extremely diverse goals. But they embody what goes on all the time across the suburbs. And that's one of my favorite things that we attempt to cover regularly.

Several years ago, Christie Willhite, an assistant city editor, took stock of the way we'd been writing about walks for various causes. Perhaps, she thought, the people involved might be able to tell their stories as well as we could. She wasn't disappointed in the first walker's essay, and the quality of their first-person stories hasn't diminished.

Consider this description from Steph Nowak, who was moved to take on an internship at Little Friends in Naperville because of her brother: "I have a heavy, yet happy heart when it comes to agencies like Little Friends. The work they do -- providing meaningful lives for individuals with disabilities -- is close to my heart. I have an older brother who is learning disabled. His life was hard from the beginning; he was constantly in and out of the hospital or going to speech therapy or physical therapy.

"Growing up was much harder for him because he never was given the opportunities that my younger brothers and I had. We would walk down the street and people would stare at him as if he was from another planet."

We call this feature, which runs in our Neighbor section, "Why we walk." It morphed into something even bigger, Caring in Action, which we run in Neighbor but tease to from our front page. It's not confined to walks, but chronicles man's humanity toward man in ways big and small.

Our most recent "Caring" story detailed an event that one might characterize as a party for the well-to-do: Guests dressed in evening wear ride a carousel built in France in 1890 and housed at a North Barrington estate. From there, they collect donations on their cellphones and aren't let off the ride until they've achieved their pledged amount. It's no doubt a night of fun -- and certainly less effort than, say, running across the country or walking to Atlanta -- but it serves the same purpose. It's hoped the fundraiser, held Saturday night, will net $300,000 -- money targeted for St. Jude's Hospital and Ronald McDonald House Charities.

So, one man runs across the nation, another walks to Atlanta, while others shake down friends for charitable donations. Maybe the cause is water for an African village, Alzheimer's research or helping sick children. And whether you're the do-er or the donor, isn't the end result the same?

Makes me want to get my checkbook out on the spot.

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