‘It’s about the vets’

Balaton Veterans Run a success, organizers say

Photo by Jenny Kirk Linda Meaden, left, and Brian Haack look over silent auction items during the 2nd annual Veterans Run on Saturday at the former football field in Balaton.

BALATON — A large American flag waved freely in the breeze as people came together to show their respect for veterans at the second annual Balaton Veterans Run on Saturday.

“I pulled up and thought, ‘Wow, that’s cool,'” Balaton resident Linda Meaden said about the flag. “I think this is an awesome event.”

Along with a motorcycle and vehicle run, the event featured a steak supper, silent auction, prize drawings, raffle drawings and a band. Volunteers Amy and Gregg Schultz of Russell were quick to point out the importance of the event.

“It’s a really good cause,” Gregg Schultz said. “There are a lot of good causes. This happens to be one of them. It’s about the vets, it’s for the vets and the money we raise goes to them.”

A signature part of the annual run is that there is no cost for southwest Minnesota area veterans to eat. At last count, 56 veterans were in attendance amongst a couple hundred other people.

“There are other donation runs, but not a lot of donation runs feed our veterans for free,” Amy Schultz said. “It’s amazing to see how patriotism there is here.”

Schultz started to tear up when talking about honoring the veterans for the sacrifices they’ve given.

“Some veterans lose their families, they lose their limbs, they lose their lives — they give up everything for us,” she said. “So we plan to ride in the rain or ride when it’s shining because they fight for us in rain, shine or hell,” Schultz said.

The couple did road guard duty again this year, helping slow traffic down to make sure the riders got safely across the major highways. They said they appreciated the positive attention the riders got throughout the day.

“A lot of people were honking and taking pictures of the run,” Gregg Schultz said. “It’s quite a show when you’re going down the road and you see bikes lined up for more than a half mile. It’s a pretty neat thing to see.”

Balaton residents Jim Skarl and Scott Thomasson were instrumental in starting the Balaton Run last year. Despite the rain showers late in the day, the organizers said they thought the event went well.

“I’m very impressed,” Thomasson said. “Last time I counted, we were at 350 who ate. And the last number I heard was that there were 126 bikes and 200-plus people.”

Balaton teenager Natalie Henderson celebrated her 17th birthday at the event.

“I saw it on Facebook and said, ‘Yeah, I’m going,'” Henderson said. “It was my birthday present from my dad (Steve). So for my golden birthday, my dad and I came out and did the run. My dad drives a bike, and riding is one of my favorite things to do.”

Henderson admits that she’s been riding motorcycles since she was really little.

“We could only go for a mile or two or else I’d fall asleep,” she said. “Now, we’re going on bike rides together. (The Balaton run) was awesome. I was glad there was no rain. It was great.”

Cottonwood residents Hilary and Terry Kesteloot also took part in the run.

“The ride was good and the weather was nice,” Terry Kesteloot said. “They were talking that it was supposed to rain at 2 o’clock, but it didn’t. We haven’t been on this run before. It was our first time this year.”

Hilary Kesteloot agreed, noting that she rides with him.

“It was a good turnout,” she said. “There were lots of people, it was nice weather and we had good stops along the way. We started in Balaton, went to Key Largo and then to Breezy. Then we went to Tracy, Garvin and back to Balaton.”

Like so many other dedicated participants, the Kesteloots took part in the annual L.T.D. Motorcycle Memorial Tour until its 10th and final year in 2015. The L.T.D. run was named in honor of Sgt. Jesse Lhotka, First Lt. Jason Timmerman and Staff Sgt. David Day — local heroes who were killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2005.

“We did the L.T.D. ride pretty much every year,” Hilary Kesteloot said. “Terry was in Iraq with those three. So now we do this one.”

That ride served as a source of healing for the three men’s family, friends and fellow servicemembers. The hope is that the Balaton run will also provide support for veterans and their families.

“They have a really good setup here,” Kesteloot said. “Supper was really good. The silent auction was nice, too.”

Balaton resident Laura Swick participated in the run for the second year.

“It was awesome,” she said of this year’s event. “It was a good, safe run and it was a beautiful day. We had a lot of people and we raised a lot of money.”

The proceeds this year are slated to go to the Eagles Healing Nest, which treats post-traumatic stress disorder.

Organizers expressed their gratitude for everyone who donated toward the cause. Most of the donated items were part of the silent auction.

Gregg Schultz said it takes a lot of hands, especially this past week, to pull off an event like the Balaton Veterans Run. Sean Kirk was among those who helped set up multiple large tents beforehand.

“It’s just a lot of work from a lot of people,” he said. “The last few days, it’s been 12-hour days out here getting things set up. Jim and Scott are the best. They’re the ones that run the show. We just help out the best we can.”

A large number of people stepped up to help because they wanted to make sure veterans were treated with honor and respect, something veterans, especially those during the Vietnam era, don’t always receive.

“Scott and Jimmy told us the story about their friend who was treated badly and it really touched us,” Amy Schultz said. “Nobody deserves to be treated that way.”

Organizers said they want to improve on the event each year. They were determined to have a large flag flying overhead at this year’s festivities along with individual flags representing the different branches of the service.

“We couldn’t get one donated yet on Amazon, so we had to buy one,” Swick said. “Jimmy (Skarl) bought it out of his own pocket because we couldn’t get one donated.”