Annual 5K and Oktoberfest to raise funds for park maintenance
By Tyler S. Witkop Turley Publications Staff Writer
WILRBAHAM – This weekend, the Spec Pond pavilion will undergo its annual transformation from a Wilbraham spectacle to a Bavarian “Biergarten.” Featuring authentic German music, food and of course, beer, residents will have the opportunity to experience a scaled down version of the classic Oktoberfest on Saturday, Sept. 24 from 6 to 10 p.m. But while the event is nothing new, being the third running of the social gathering, this year’s Oktoberfest will give attendants new reason to raise their steins and say “Prost,” as the community remembers one of its most impassioned supporters of recreation. According to Wilbraham Parks and Recreation Director Bryan Litz, this year’s event will serve to memorialize Brad Pinney, naming the pavilion in his honor. Pinney was the founder of the Wilbraham Friends of Recreation and was pivotal in developing the plans for what has become the Spec Pond Recreation Complex. “Brad was a Wilbraham firefighter and started the Wilbraham Friends of Recreation,” Litz explained, “He did a ton for the town. This is something we thought about for years.” Litz said that Pinney compiled the first master plan for Spec Pond back in 1991 and was around and had a hand in the second plan when Litz came aboard in 2006. Pinney passed away exactly eight years ago to the day of this year’s Oktoberfest on Sept. 24, 2008 following a six-month battle with melanoma. The 1968 graduate of Minnechaug Regional High School served in the U.S. Marine Corps and spent 29 years as a member of the Wilbraham Fire Department, developing the department’s photography division that became the Fire and Arson Investigation Unit. He retired in 1998 as a captain. Pinney served as president of the Friends from its inception in 1992 until his passing. During that time he was instrumental in making improvements to Spec Pond and the various athletic fields around town. In 2016, through the work of the Friends, the department and other community partners, the facility has evolved to include baseball and football fields, a playground, spray park and a handicapped accessible beach area. As a matter of pride, Litz remarked that one local professional baseball player has even asked to use the baseball field because the field closely resembles what he is accustomed to playing in during the season. For Litz, the Oktoberfest is a fun community event that gets people to visit the facility while socializing with their friends and neighbors. “It’s kind of like a backyard German barbecue,” he said, noting there will be bratwurst, cabbage and German potato salad to eat and Oktoberfest style and light beer options, wine and soft drinks available. He noted Wilbraham’s Rudi Scherff, former owner of The Student Prince and The Fort Restaurant in Springfield will help with the food. Prior to the evening’s German festivities, folks are invited to take part in a 5K run through the Crane Hill Recreation Area, starting from the disc golf course on Crane Hill Road. The race starts at 10 a.m. and rather than running 3.1 miles around Spec Pond, runners will experience a cross country style run through a moderate trail system. Litz commented the area is “a great place where people can get lost and disconnect from the world in the comforts of nature.” Registration for the 5K is underway now and is $25 the day of the run. All of the profits from the 5K and Oktoberfest support the maintenance fund of the Parks and Recreation Department. Litz noted that by increasing the maintenance fund, the department is able to keep all of the town’s recreational facilities in top shape without asking for additional revenue through taxes. “We’re making sure we have an eye towards the future,” he said, adding that by maintaining the fields “we can keep them the best in Western Mass.” The Oktoberfest is limited to 200 participants. For more information or to register for either event, log on to wilbrahamrec.com. ... See MoreSee Less
Wilbraham teacher performs, sells book at The Big E
WILBRAHAM – Soule Road School Band Director Denise Gendron has published a book to coincide with the 100th anniversary of The Big E this year, which she will release during a special performance Thursday, Sept. 22 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Grange Building at the Eastern States Exposition. Gendron’s book, “Concert at the Grange,” featuring artwork by Amanda LaBoeuf, commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Strings and Friends group in Hampden and Wilbraham founded by Elaine Holdsworth, and the region’s largest fair. The book offers a rhymed tour of the fair, ending with a recording of “Whately Waltz” written by Gendron and linked to the one room schoolhouse at Storrowton Village on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition. Copies will be available in the Grange Building Thursday night or through the publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org. ... See MoreSee Less
Mikey Flynn hopes to raise $2,000 for diabetes research
By Tyler S. Witkop Turley Publications Staff Writer
HAMPDEN – At 14-years-old Mikey Flynn isn’t eligible for his learner’s permit, but that hasn’t stopped the Minnechaug freshman from wrapping up Rookie of the Year honors in the Late Model division at the New London Waterford Speedbowl in Waterford, Connecticut. With three races left in the season, as the Times goes to press, the Hampden native sits ninth in the division points with an outside chance at the track championship. But while those individual honors push him each week as he pursues his dream of one day trading paint with the nation’s top stock car talent in NASCAR, it’s a cause that hits closer to home that drives him at the track each weekend. This season, Mikey has been “Racing Toward a Cure” for juvenile diabetes, bringing buckets to each race and asking fans, fellow drivers and teams for donations to the Joslin Diabetes Center. Inspired by his younger sister Maggie, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 8, he knows firsthand how far the money can go. “Diabetes is not a fun thing to have,” he said. “Nobody deserves to have it. I want everyone to feel better.” Mikey, with the help of his parents Cindy and Cornelius “Neil” Flynn, has successfully raised $1,000 this season. The goal is to give $2,000 to Joslin by the season’s end. Cindy explained that the money has been earmarked for pediatric research through Joslin’s High Hopes Fund and said researchers are on the verge of making breakthroughs with diabetes treatment. “A lot of the drivers do community service,” she said. “Mikey and I sat down and came up with ‘Racing Toward a Cure’ and Joslin came on board.” Additionally, other community partners have helped spread the word, including Hampden Sign Corp., who made a banner and stickers for drivers to put on their cars.
1 in 500 Joslin Diabetes Center is located in Boston, affiliated with Harvard Medical School. The center has pioneered many of the developments and treatments associated with diabetes since its founding in 1898 by Dr. Elliott P. Joslin. Its research center uses a team of more than 300 people and 40 faculty-level staff focused on curing and preventing type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The clinic cares for more than 23,000 adult and pediatric patients annually. According to Joslin, type 1 diabetes, which is commonly referred to as juvenile diabetes, may develop at any age, though it is commonly diagnosed in childhood. The chronic auto-immune disease attacks insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas, destroying the body’s ability to make the hormone that breaks down glucose (a form of sugar). Without insulin, high levels of fat and glucose remain in the bloodstream, which can damage organs. The cause is currently unknown, however, researchers suspect a mix of environmental and genetic factors are to blame. Type 1 diabetes accounts for between 5 and 10 percent of all cases and represents roughly one in 500 children nationwide. Maggie said she’s impressed by her big brother’s commitment to helping improve treatment and research for diabetes. “It’s super cool that they’d be into that stuff,” she said of her brother and other racers donating to Joslin. She added that it makes her feel good to see the other drivers have the special blue stickers on their cars.
Community ‘Like No Other’ Much of the money Mikey raises he collects from fellow drivers, teams and fans at the race track. Some he gets from the stands or from friends and neighbors, but most comes from the pre-race pit parties when fans get to meet the drivers and get autographs. At the drop of the green flag, each driver is focused individually on crossing the finish line first, but before and after the race, he explained it’s just like one big family that supports each other. “I go against the best driver in the Late Models [Keith Rocco], but he’s been really supportive and has sort of taken me under his wing,” Mikey explained. Rocco, the track championship leader in the Late Model division, also sits in second place in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I national standings. “The racing community is like no other.” Mikey races the green and black number 24 Chevrolet, sponsored by Hampden Engineering Corp. His mother notes the green is a unique blend created from different General Motors models that has become his signature. In the superstitious world of auto racing, green is considered to be bad luck. Despite the superstition, Mikey has managed to turn heads with his performance. He also competes in the Legends series at the Speedbowl and other storied New England tracks like Stafford Motor Speedway in nearby Stafford Springs, Connecticut. Legends cars, which were unveiled at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1992, are a 5/8 scale full-fendered version of a classic NASCAR modified from the 50s and 60s, when teams modified coupes of the day for the track. Legends cars have a height of 46 inches, a 73-inch wheel base, and a 1250 cubic centimeter Yamaha engine. Mikey finished the season in seventh place at the New London Waterford Speedbowl, driving his signature green number 24. Nationally, he sits 30th of 199 drivers in the INEX Pro Division among asphalt racers. “I’m trying to go all the way,” he said, noting he would love to race in NASCAR’s top Sprint Cup Series. “If you’re going to go big, go big.”
Future He got his start in racing several years ago, racing snowmobiles. The love of high octane adrenaline progressed into the warmer months and four wheels, racing go-karts. His mother explained he’s essentially grown up with Mike Christopher Jr. (of the famed Christopher racing family in Southern New England racing circles), and the two have been considered by some to represent the region’s racing future. “It’s funny, they never talk racing,” she noted of the two friends. And while he’s impressed his family and the racing community with his talents on the track, he has also managed to make the varsity football team as a freshman at Minnechaug, playing on both the offensive and defensive lines. Cindy noted that for most football players, once they graduate high school and college, their playing days are typically over. She said he’ll always have racing, whether he’s tearing up the local tracks or racing on the national stage. In the meantime, “I just love my sister and whatever helps her get better and get the treatment she needs, I’ll do it,” Mikey said. Those looking to help Mikey in his “Racing Toward a Cure” campaign can make donations online at giving.joslin.org/goto/RacingTowardACure. ... See MoreSee Less