OWies celebrate 50 years

Local running group forms friendships through fitness for half-century

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Paul Oppenheim

Guest Columnist

In 1968 Don Offermann taught English and coached track at Oak Park and River Forest High School, and Rich Brooks was a new member of the track team.

A common routine was for Offermann and his team to run from the school to the Concordia University track in River Forest for workouts, and afterwards, past Offermann's home at the corner of Oak and William Streets.

In the off-season and during the following years, Offermann and Brooks kept up their regular runs a few times a week. Eventually a few others joined in, and their morning runs gradually became an established routine.

They called themselves the Oak-William Runners, or O-Ws, and they met at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 7 a.m. on Saturdays. They still do, still including Offermann, now age 80. Weekday routes take them west on Oak Street, north on Keystone through the Dominican University campus, then east on Greenfield and back to the starting point after a lap around the Concordia track, about three and a half total miles.

In the early 2000s the group's name evolved to "OWies," that new name originally mentioned in a newspaper story by a former running columnist who was attempting to irritate the group members. But the name stuck and now they call themselves OWies.

Recently a couple of the more observant runners realized that the group has now accumulated a 50-year history. This obviously called for a major celebration. So on the evening of June 15 at the Oak Park Country Club, hosted by OWie Kevin Conway, about 35 current and former OWies showed up with spouses and family members to commemorate this significant event.

Offermann and Brooks were there to address the gathering. Offermann had his old running jacket from 1968, which still looks good – and he can still wear it (but perhaps it's just a bit more snug after a half century).

Mark Witt arranged for the production of new fluorescent green OWies 50th Anniversary shirts. Don (Sven) Jensen put together an expert slideshow of the group's history using many flattering photos of individual members. And Rev. Harry Parker, a former OWies captain, recited the group's 11 commandments, including grave pronouncements such as: "If a runner in front of thee shall stumble and fall, thou shalt feign concern, but thou shalt not stop running."

Parker also observed that this group of distinguished, educated and highly accomplished adults could still show up to run, acting like a bunch of 13-year-olds. And that's a good thing.

OWies participation has always been open to newcomers – 5:30 a.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays at the corner of Oak and William in River Forest, and Saturdays 7 a.m. at the same place.

Here's looking forward to the next 50 years.

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