Along with the tie-dyed and other colorful T-shirts donned by hundreds of participants, something else stood out at Saturday’s March of Dimes walk in Mount Airy: the bald head of 6-month-old Grady Clukey.
The healthy-looking baby drew smiles from onlookers as he sat patiently in the arms of his dad, Dan Clukey, while mom Dana applied sunscreen (SPF 50) to the extremely fair skin of his face and head before the annual walk. After all, it was to be a 3.5-mile trek along the Emily B. Taylor Greenway under a nearly clear sky.
But the Clukeys had already experienced a major journey, one that made them appreciate the need for such events to raise funds for research on birth defects and premature babies — plus awareness of how they severely impact families.
“We already lost a baby in November of 2010,” Dana Clukey explained of the kind of tragedy that can result, “so we know how painful it is, going through hard times.”
The family lives in Charlotte, but “I grew up here,” she added, and “just walking for babies” was the main reason the Clukeys took part in Saturday’s event here.
“This is a great turnout!” its chairman, Scott Kniskern, said while surveying the crowd assembled for the mid-morning walk that started from Veterans Memorial Park. A police estimate put it at about 300 people.
Around 60 “teams” representing local companies, schools and families were involved, which had generated money through a variety of ways — from bingo games to benefit events linked to the NCAA Tournament.
“It should wind up being a pretty good fundraising year,” Kniskern said of the cumulative sum realized, which was expected to be between $40,000 and $45,000. “We’re looking at well over our goal.”
That money will aid research into birth-related medical issues and help with expenses of individual families coping with their effects.
“With the March of Dimes, the way that I think about it is there are a lot of premature babies, children born with defects,” Kniskern said of the organization founded in 1938, originally to fight polio. The nationwide March for Babies, the group’s biggest fundraiser, was established in 1970.
“I got into it real big when my wife got pregnant with our first child,” Kniskern added of the March of Dimes. Although their child was born healthy, “I wanted it to be there in case we had a premature baby,” he said of the assistance it can offer.
One clear beneficiary of March of Dimes efforts was the “ambassador family” for this year’s walk, that of Chuck and Anya Tilley-Martin of Mount Airy. At one point, they lined up in front of a big purple banner to lead the crowd to the greenway.
The couple had more than themselves to move along the trail. They also were accompanied by a stroller carrying twin sons Finn and Gib, who were delivered premature in 2009.
Yet the situation could have been much worse. Thanks to a drug developed by the March of Dimes, the babies’ lungs were able to develop before they were born and now “they’re perfect,” the young mother told a reporter as the boys ran around beneath her.
“They came out breathing on their own because of contributions from people like you,” Anya Tilley-Martin later told the crowd during a brief program before Saturday’s walk. She credited such efforts with allowing physicians and scientists to develop new treatment methods.
“Your ‘nickel’ means more babies have been born full-term,” Kniskern also told the walkers.
The Martins now are wanting to show their gratitude. “So we do these walks to help other babies,” Tilley-Martin said. “I started the year after they (the twins) were born.”
Tilley-Martin said the family planned to complete the entire 3.5 miles. “We’ll be walking hard, pushing that big old stroller.”
Griggs Hampton Tribute
Another highlight of Saturday’s event was a special remembrance of Griggs Hampton, a Mount Airy man who died of brain cancer last December. Being born with cerebral palsy did not stop Hampton from becoming a fundraiser extraordinaire for causes including the March of Dimes, for which he was a financial supporter before he was 10 years old.
Hampton was posthumously named an honorary ambassador for Saturday’s walk, which was held in his honor.
During his 62 years, Hampton had become legendary for the unique ways he devised to raise money, one of which was selling golf balls scavenged from a course near his home.
Buckets of golf balls were placed on the speaker’s stand before Saturday’s walk, which caused some puzzled looks. But their purpose soon became clear after Hampton’s cousin, Gail Miller, announced that March of Dimes volunteers would be tossing them out to the crowd as special souvenirs commemorating his fundraising efforts.
Those lucky enough to retrieve the golf balls were urged to take them home “and remember Griggs Hampton.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.