Steve’s Run founder Ron Gunn serves as master of ceremonies for the 44th race Saturday, July 28, in front of the David C. Briegel Building on Southwestern Michigan College’s Dowagiac campus.
“A lot of people did not know Steve, but everybody knows somebody touched by cancer who fought the same brave, determined battle,” said Gunn, who knew Steve Briegel very well.
“He was my statistician and announcer at home basketball games. We became very close. When he was diagnosed with cancer, I spent time with the family at the Mayo Clinic” in Rochester, Minn. “Steve fought a courageous, 5 ½-year battle, but lost” March 1, 1990, Gunn said.
Steve graduated fifth in the Dowagiac Union High School Class of 1986, from SMC in 1988 and was a junior in Ferris State’s SMC program.
He golfed and played basketball for the Chieftains. Classmates still run in his memory. “He was a real sports fan,” Gunn said, “but had one flaw. He liked the Detroit Pistons, Tigers and Lions.” Gunn prefers Chicago’s Bulls, Cubs and Bears.
“I wanted to do something to honor Steve. We had a run around Edwardsburg’s Eagle Lake in his honor” on July 31, 1991. On Aug. 1, 1992, Steve’s Run embraced Dowagiac. Gunn, dean of sports education, organized races throughout the 1970s-’80s through Roadrunner Track Club. “The first few years it was called the Road and Trail Race, the Bud Lite Run and the Nike-Fair Store Run,” he said.
A magazine named Steve’s Run one of the 10 best vacation runs in the country for its unique combination of highways, Elks golf course and rugged trails with hay bales and log obstacles. “I don’t know of any other race permitted to run on a golf course,” he said.
Monday Night Running Club, founded in 1979, activated countless sedentary community members.
Gunn and David Briegel, business manager, arrived months apart in 1967. Briegel, SMC’s fifth president from 1981-98, and WSBT-TV’s Caroline Torie preside over the post-race awards ceremony.
Gunn, who continues serving on SMC Foundation’s board, calls coming to SMC “one of the best decisions I ever made,” although it almost never happened. “I wasn’t going to take the job.” Gunn had his eye on Carthage College near Lake Michigan in Kenosha, Wis., but SMC’s first president, Dr. Nathan Ivey, persisted. “He convinced me, and I’m sure glad he did. I bleed green and gold. I wanted to start football, but it was too expensive, so I started a track club.”
Gunn built a national powerhouse, including five national cross country championships and three national marathon titles, with more than 130 All-American student-athletes. Five times he was National Junior College Athletic Association Coach of the Year.
SMC’s success brought offers to “move up,” from Ball State University to Northwestern, but Gunn stayed through all seven presidents. “This is my niche,” he decided. “I loved the college and being David among Goliaths. This place has done so much for so many students, traditional and non-traditional.”
When SMC ended intercollegiate athletics in 1997, “We looked for a dynamic way to spark physical education interest. I added white water rafting in West Virginia and rock climbing in Devil’s Lake, Wis.,” Gunn said of transitioning to extreme sports director.
Gunn, 76, remains “very busy. I don’t want to retire.” The Dowagiac resident started Cairn Stone Adventure Tours, leading trips to such destinations as Spain, Scotland and Italy. In 2019, he plans to take three groups to New Zealand, including Hobbiton, the Shire movie set for “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy.
“When I took the running club to the Honolulu marathon, we were in Runner magazine on the library steps in caps, gowns and running shoes for ‘Marathon 101’ graduation.”
His “signature trip” remains Grand Canyon hikes. “Rim-to-rim is 23.8 miles but feels like 50. It’s reverse mountaineering. You start at 8,000 feet, drop down along the river a couple of hours, then go back to 7,000 feet.”
Steve’s 10K run, 5K run/walk and fun run start at 8:30 a.m. SMC and Fifth Third Bank are the premier sponsors. Visit stevesrun.swmich.edu to register.