Literally, From the Heart

May 1, 2015

When thinking of Valentine’s Day, one will think of chocolate, roses and a romantic supper with a significant other. Valentine’s Day is not often thought of as a life-changing day, But for a few families in Owatonna each year, Valentine’s Day may mean the difference between making it through the next year or not. From the heart of the community, comes an outpouring of love for those families being affected by cancer.

For the past six years, an annual event has taken place in the community of Owatonna- an event that has changed lives. As cancer affects more people, families lose beloved members. The financial strain that accompanies the diagnosis, often makes families feel alone. The From the Heart Race is an annual event dedicated to families and fighters of cancer. It was started after Beth Svenby, an influential person in the Owatonna community, heard about Lisa Hilstad’s battle with cancer. She pulled together a committee and in the memory of Lisa Hilstad, the From the Heart benefit was born.

Each year, a committee of seven chooses families who have been impacted by cancer to receive the donations of the From the Heart race and benefit. The recipients are announced on Valentine’s Day, changing the lives of those families. This year, the recipients are Paul Grannes (prostate cancer), Pete Kalan (Stage 4 brain cancer) and Tracy Williams (Stage 2B breast cancer).

There are many elements that go into putting this event on, and it takes many hands. According to volunteer coordinator and Owatonna High School counselor, Margo McKay, “None of this could happen without the volunteers.” And she is right. From selling tickets, making baskets for the silent auction, serving at the spaghetti dinner, packing race bags, handing out water during the race and everything in between, this event is put on by the community volunteers.

My mom runs a daycare, and when she was diagnosed with cancer, she lost some kids. We weren’t sure if we’d be able to keep the house.

— Junior Rachel Williams

The event officially kicks off on Friday, May 1, with a spaghetti dinner held at the Owatonna Junior High. Tickets are $7 in advance and $8 at the door. See Mrs. Nancy Williams if you would like to purchase tickets. Children five and under are free. Diners are served a meal and encouraged to bid on the over 100 silent auction baskets and items. There are kids activities put on by the Trinity Youth program at the same time.

While this is the first public event, the preparation has been underway for months. It started with the committee sending out sponsor letters to the Owatonna businesses. McKay said, “That’s where much of the money raised comes from- the community businesses.” It speaks to the fact that this IS a community event. Preparation for pulling together race bags, silent auction items and baskets have also been underway for quite some time.

Of course, the biggest fundraising part of the From the Heart event is the race. This year, it will take place on Saturday, May 2 at Lake Kohlmier. There are many different pieces of the race. The half-marathon begins at 8 a.m. The Kids’ Run starts at 8:10 a.m., and the 5K walk/run begins at 8:30 a.m. Last year, there were over 1000 adults and children who participated in the walk/run. To sign up, visit

One of the recipients this year, Tracy Williams, has a daughter attending the Owatonna High School. Junior Rachel Williams said, “This means a lot to us. My mom runs a daycare, and when she was diagnosed with cancer, she lost some kids. We weren’t sure if we’d be able to keep the house. This has relieved so much stress, and it drastically helps.” In Rachel’s mind, this cause is something easy to support and worth the while. In her words, “There are a lot of athletes in the high school. Walking a 5K won’t kill them.”

To support the cause, which has raised a quarter of a million dollars in the past six years, one may donate by cash or check. Proceeds go to the chosen recipients and also to the Tyler Harlicker Scholarship Fund, which was created in his memory after he tragically passed away due to leukemia. Tyler Harlicker and his family were recipients of the From the Heart race. McKay said, “Those who receive come back to give back. It’s a cycle.”

As a community, this is a way to show those going through tough times, they are not alone. They are cared for, and their struggle has not gone unnoticed. Even if you are not running and/or volunteering, the runners need someone to cheer them on, and eating spaghetti is an easy way to raise money for these families, too.

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