Paying it forward: Walker Foundation’s gift to SAU Track & Field

by Katlyne Heath

With the beginning of fall has come the completion of the Ralph G. Walker Memorial Track & Field Complex at SAU! The lead gift for this facility was generously provided by Martin “Skip” Walker and Don Walker ’78 through the Martin D. & Mary J. Walker Foundation. Skip, a former SAU trustee, and Don, a current SAU board member and former SAU cross-country athlete, both agree this will be a boon to track and cross-country athletes at SAU for years to come.

The new facility will feature a brand new, eight-lane track with a top-of-the-line, 13mm latex-coated granulated rubber surface. It will include new long jump, triple jump, javelin and pole vault runways and pits, as well as a new high jump apron, steeplechase water barrier and combined hammer- and discus-throwing cage.

“The facility will be a world-class complex,” says SAU president Dr. Brent Ellis.

The story of SAU’s new track and field complex, and many new facilities that are given by donors, is about “paying it forward,” and it begins in 1974, the year that Walker entered Spring Arbor College (SAC) as a freshman.

A talented athlete, Walker could have run cross country at any number of colleges after graduating from high school. Yet, when he visited SAC during his senior year, his interactions with the faculty and cross-country coaching staff convinced him that SAC was the school for him. On his visit day, Walker discovered that much of the cross-country team was planning to run in the Grand Valley Marathon the next day. Without having trained appropriately for a marathon, Walker decided to tag along, ultimately having to bow out 23 miles into the race. Then cross-country coach Ted Comden gave an embarrassed Walker a lift in the school van. “The way he handled the situation said a lot to me,” says Walker. “There were many times during my career at Spring Arbor in which I saw firsthand what a class-act Ted Comden was — and is.” In that moment, Walker realized “what a great decision it was to come to Spring Arbor.”

Now a member of the board — and a director of supply and demand planning at Eli Lilly and Company — Walker loves SAU more than ever. He believes that the SAU experience is singular in its uniquity, and, like many of our donors, he has dedicated himself to improving that experience for subsequent generations of students. “I want to leave the world a better place than it was when I was born. I want to do the same for SAU and the programs that mean the most to me,” says Walker.

Walker’s desire to see a new track and field complex on SAU’s campus flows from his great appreciation for the track and field and cross-country programs. As a result, Walker’s relationship with SAU — much like the Ralph G. Walker Memorial Track & Field Complex — has come full-circle.

By “paying it forward,” Walker helps to ensure that the positive and impactful experience that he had as an athlete at SAU will be shared by current and future students. “My hope is that this project will bless the lives of hundreds of athletes over the next decade,” says Walker, “and that it will benefit students and community members alike.”

Jeremy Smith, director of SAU’s cross country and track and field programs, is likewise thrilled about the complex. He, like Walker, wants the new facility to be a blessing to students, faculty, staff and members of the community. For him, it all comes down to a single question: “How can we show the love of Christ, even through track and field?”

Smith believes that the new facility will improve athletes’ safety — and performance. The new surface of the track will be thicker, softer and safer for joints. The addition of practice facilities for each of the track and field events will allow athletes to better prepare for competition. Furthermore, the update will provide opportunities for SAU to host meets and other community events on campus. Bringing the competition to campus will garner support for the track and field and cross-country teams among students.

Walker’s gift to this project, like those of every other donor, has made SAU’s campus more welcoming and accessible. Smith speaks for many when he says, “I’m very grateful and very thankful.” If you would like to join the list of donors to this project, please visit arbor.edu/trackcomplex.

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