Canton walkers honor those lost to COVID-19

Betty Smith, director of the EN-RICH-MENT Fine Arts Academy, wears her late husband's light-colored "Jesus Speaks" shirt as she walks Saturday, July 23, 2022, in downtown Canton with friends and family during a COVID-19 memory event dedicated to victims of the pandemic.

CANTON – Betty Smith felt the presence of her late husband, Mark, as a group walked Saturday morning down Market Avenue in memory of loved ones they lost to COVID-19.

Smith wore a light-colored shirt her husband once wore. It bore the name of the ministry for which Mark Smith worked as a longtime pastor – Jesus Speaks, at 1103 McKinley Ave. NW.

“I had to cut it up a little bit because he’s a big guy,” said Smith, the director of EN-RICH-MENT Fine Arts Academy.

Mark Smith, her husband of 23 years, died Aug. 1, 2021, at Mercy Medical Center. He was 88. Betty Smith also battled a serious case of COVID. She has recovered, but struggled with lingering symptoms.

More:‘He’s OK. God’s got him.’ EN-RICH-MENT director recalls losing husband to COVID

“I was very teary eyed because I thought about my husband, who I know is looking down on me,” Smith said Saturday. “And I know he would be so pleased and so proud that we’re here. And some members of his church are here. And there’s another lady who lost her husband (to COVID), and we had a chance to embrace. So it was wonderful.”

The 5K had at least 52 finishers, and an unknown number of people participated in the one-mile walk. Temperatures rose to the high 70s on a morning with high humidity.

Smith, of Jackson Township, estimated about 15 participants lost family members to COVID. The walk went from Fifth Street North and Market Avenue North down to the area in front of The Canton Repository, at South Market Avenue, then back to Centennial Plaza. 

EN-RICH-MENT’s drumline corps performed as the runners and walkers started and finished.

Smith said her experiences walking two Chicago Marathons in 1995 and 1996 in honor of a leukemia patient inspired her to come up with the idea for the walk and 5K to kick off the second day of EN-RICH-MENT’s two-day African American Arts Festival at Centennial Plaza.

EN-RICH_MENT commissioned the race company Run To You Racing, directed by Jim Chaney, to put on the race. Run to You Racing also organizes the Canton Hall of Fame Marathon every spring, as well as other races throughout the year. 

“My husband loved to work out. He loved to walk. He loved to go to the gym. And we both did. So I said, ‘What’s a better way to honor him than a walk and a race for health,” said Smith. “Then do a miler for people who lost their loved ones to COVID in honor of him.”

Smith said she was able to persuade friends who had never run a 5K race to sign up.

BevAnn Burgess of Perry Township also took part in the walk to honor her father, Anthony G. Flex, of the Canton area who died July 9, 2020, from COVID-19.

“It was a little emotional,” Burgess said. “But I know he was watching us because of all of the (sunlight during the race). He loved sunshine.”

Terry Seeberger ran the 5K in about 30 minutes, with some teenage runners he didn’t know helping to pace him across the finish line. He said he wasn’t aware the one-mile walk to honor COVID victims was taking place.

Seeberger, a local attorney, said he lost his in-laws to COVID around January 2021.

“COVID shouldn’t be forgotten. But it will be,” said Seeberger, a member of the board that oversees the Stark County Health Department. “That’s too bad, and not only for the people that it took but also the lessons from what we learned of COVID.”

Smith said she plans to put on the 5K and one-miler against next year.

“This is about fun, family, fitness and faith,” she said. “And we’re doing it here right in downtown Canton.” 

Reach Robert at robert.wang@cantonrep.com. Twitter: @rwangREP.

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