Hundreds walk, run to celebrate Dzierzynski Skerston’s memory

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A number of IVCC employees gather for a photo at the Oct. 10 Connie Dzierzynski Skerston Memorial Run/Walk.

By the IV Leader Staff

More than 250 walkers and runners gathered Oct. 10 for the first Connie Dzierzynski Skerston 5K Run/Walk at IVCC, raising money for a scholarship in Dzierzynski Skerston’s name.

Skerston’s daughter Amber Dzierzynski said the family decided to plan the run/walk because it was tied to the campus that her mom loved so much and would raise funds for the educational legacy that
will continue through the scholarship.

“She used to walk here every day,” Amber said. “This just seemed fitting.”

As the runners and walkers took their places, Amber said, “As assistant director of admissions, my mother’s was often the first smiling face most new students saw. Her positivity and light seemed boundless. It was an unexpected tragedy to lose her so suddenly that morning this past March.”

However, she reminded participants, “Her educational legacy, the Connie Dzierzynski Skerston Memorial Scholarship, is already changing the lives of local students.”

Greg Dzierzynski, Skerston’s brother and run organizer, told the crowd that the run/walk will be an annual event held the second Saturday of October because the date will always be close to his sister’s
Oct. 16 birthday. He said his sister was “all about service,” and the family has used that as the impetus in memorial activities.

BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER

For many of the friends, family, students and supporters, it was a chance to gather again to remember the longtime IVCC employee who died March 5 at the age of 45 after suffering a brain aneurysm
on campus.

“This is a good event. It’s good for the campus,” said Sue Isermann, associate vice president for academic affairs and dean of the Workforce Development Division. “It is good for everyone to have a chance to
heal more.”

Isermann had knee replacement surgery Feb. 17 and has a second knee surgery scheduled for Oct. 27. While she knew she could not walk in the event, she still wanted to be a part of the day.

“I wanted to be here to remember Connie,” she said. “I can’t do the walk or run, but I needed to be here in spirit. She was a force on our campus and she is missed every day.”

Many said their attendance was inspired by following Dzierzynski Skerston’s lead. Brianna Huss, a La Salle-Peru High School and 2015 IVCC grad who is now a student at Illinois State University, said, “Connie gave so much to IVCC, and I want to be like that. I wanted to be a part of this today to give something back like she would have done.”

Mark Gryzbowski, IVCC’s associate vice president of student services, said he attended “to remember my friend and do what she would have done on a beautiful day like this: enjoy music and the outdoors.”

The crowd included several, like Huss, who graduated from IVCC, and several who used to work for the college. Amy Rogowski, IVCC’s former student trustee who now attends Illinois State University, said, “I will always remember Connie’s vibrant personality and how much she had to offer and give to the school. I wanted to be here today and be a part of this.”

Likewise, Maria Turinetti, a 2013 graduate of IVCC and a 2015 graduate of Illinois State University, said, “As a student worker in admissions, I worked with Connie every day. She was always smiling. She never had a bad day.”

Tracy Morris, IVCC’s former associate vice president of student services who now works at Illinois Central College in East Peoria, said, “Anytime Connie got a whole bunch of people together to celebrate, it
was a good thing. While Connie would not want to be the center of attention, she would love this event.”

In addition to those with an IVCC tie, many in attendance were part of the Dzierzynski family.

“This is the type of thing Connie would have organized,” said Michelle Dzierzynski, whose husband is Connie’s cousin. “She was always looking to help others.”

RUN/WALK RESULTS

Dan Kasperski of Tonica crossed the finish line first with a time of 19:23. While Kasperski did not know Skerston, he said he definitely would run the event again.

The first female finisher was Kelly Dzierzynski of Cherry, whose husband Vincent is Skerston’s first coursin. “I wanted to run for Connie and everything she embodied,” Kelly Dzierzynski said. “She was so full of life and spirit and she gave to the community as Amber spoke about so beautifully. I had to do this
for her. It’s what Connie would have done and I’m happy to be a part of that.”

Complete race results are available on the Starved Rock Runners website, http:starvedrockrunners.org.

Those who chose not to do the 5K took part in a 1.5 mile Walk in Her Steps, which followed the path that Skerston walked daily on campus. Gryzbowski and Betty Dzierzynski, Skerston’s mother, led walkers
on that path.

Participants in the event wore red T-shirts printed with a design borrowed from a painting created by one of Skerston’s co-workers, Jill Hejl. Hejl’s goal “was to create a piece of art that embodied the true nature of service and enthusiasm that was my mother and her mission to advance the lives of students
in the Illinois Valley,” Amber Dzierzynski said. “Jill’s intent was to utilize the spirit of a force of life that could hardly be contained. ‘Our ‘little tornado,’ as my mother was seen by her co-workers, is a symbol
that we can all offer in guidance of our own lives and in relentless enthusiastic service of those around us.”

OTHER EVENTS

In less than a year of fund raising, Amber Dzierzynski said, the scholarship for her mother has already been endowed with the IVCC Foundation, meaning enough principal has been deposited that the scholarship will be offered from earned interest. However, the family wants to continue to build the scholarship fund.

The scholarship’s first recipient Heather McCutcheon of Ladd, a mother of four who is currently enrolled in IVCC’s nursing program, also attended the run/walk.

“Connie was the first person I saw when I came to IVCC,” McCutcheon said. “She’s the reason I came back to school. She gave me that incentive.”

Besides the run, the event included a silent auction, bake sale and balloon release. Food was sold by Country Catering, IVCC’s catering service.

Cynthia Burcar from Country Catering said, “Connie was always fabulous and open to trying new and different things whenever she had a food event, which is always fun for us. We were glad to be
able to help with the scholarship.”

A number of sponsors made it possible for all the proceeds from entry fees for the walk to go directly to the scholarship fund.

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