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A Walk to Remember


Article by Sue Baldani

Photography by Provided by Midland Care

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As the English poet George Eliot once said, “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” For the last 26 years, Midland Care has been helping those who have lost loved ones remember them in a most beautiful way.

“The Celebration Walk is an opportunity to truly celebrate life,” says Jennifer Friedley, senior director of development and the director of the Walk. “Midland Care provides hope, comfort, and support for people, and this event really embodies that. And for those family members who are newly grieving, we provide them with hope that one day, they're going to celebrate again.”

This year, the Walk will be held on May 13th at 6:00 pm. It was originally started as a way to raise money for Midland’s charity care for hospice and bereavement services, and to also bring awareness about how critical their services are to the community. They offer a variety of programs and are especially known for their hospice, PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, which helps seniors receive care in their homes), and Meals on Wheels programs.

“Illness and death really couldn’t care less what you're planning, what you are or your economic status, but Midland does care and we provide the support people need to help them through this end of life journey, which can be frightening,” Friedley says

The event is open to everyone – not just those served by Midland Care. Attendees of the event can make a donation for luminaries either before the event or on that evening, and these will be placed, accompanied by their loved ones’ names, along the mile or so walkway on their 22-acre campus in Topeka. Most years, there are over 2000 luminaries lighting the path.

“One of the special things we do leading up to the Walk is our children's coloring contest,” says Jennifer. “Any child can submit their artwork, which is then judged by participants in

our PACE program, and the winners are announced at 7:00 pm that evening. The children get to come up on stage and get a prize.”

Another great event that takes place beforehand is their silent auction, which begins on April 1st and runs through April 29th at 5:00 pm. There are trips, artwork, game night baskets with autographed items and sports memorabilia, and many other amazing offerings.

The day of the Celebration Walk, Midland Care will welcome, on average, around 2500 people to their campus. “Individuals can stroll the walkway around our campus and see everything,” she says. “There’s no absolute start and stop time; it’s really just a stroll. We encourage people to bring lawn chairs and even their pets.”

Upon arrival, attendees will be directed to the Welcome Center, where there will be information about their programs, T-shirts for sale, and luminaries. “You'll be greeted by the Santa Fe Band,” says Jennifer. “There will be 10 to 13 bands all around the grounds. The Paradise Band has played at the event for over 13 years. We even put some acoustic bands and acoustic acts inside our hospice house so that our families who are visiting there can enjoy some music.”

Later that evening, the main stage program will begin with a salute to veterans and the singing of the national anthem. Afterwards, butterflies will be released by families and friends in memory of their loved ones.

“We start lighting all the luminaries at 8:00,” she says. “There are these butterflies floating around and we're walking through the luminaries and it's really hard to describe. You just have to experience it. It has so much meaning to everyone who attends and to our volunteers.” Attendees can also leave sidewalk messages in chalk throughout the grounds.

“People can walk around, see the names and remember people that they've lost,” says Jennifer. “It gives them the opportunity to celebrate their life, who they were, what they meant to them and how their life touched them.”

Closing ceremonies take place around 8:30 pm, which consists of the reading of the names of individuals who had a donation made in their name. “We're saying their names; they're not

forgotten,” she says. They also put out luminaries for their clients who had passed away the previous year, and if the families so desire, those names will be read as well.

No one who takes part in the event is paid; they’re all volunteers, so all the money raised goes towards providing services for those who cannot afford them. In addition to individual donations, they also have sponsorships available for corporations. Depending on the sponsorship levels, the businesses’ will receive special recognition.

It takes over 200 volunteers to ensure a successful night. Prior to the Celebration Walk, they will be holding what they call a “beach party” on April 22nd where people are needed to fill the luminary bags with sand and candles, fold t-shirts and put together gift baskets.

On the day of the event, they need people to help out at the food court, face painters at the children's area and at the bounce house, and others to take care of the entertainers and make sure they have everything they need. Also, since there's no parking on the grounds [everyone is shuttled in] drivers are needed to transport people in and out.

“When Midland Care opened over 40 years ago, it made two promises to the community,” says Jennifer. “One was that we would accept all referrals regardless of their ability to pay, and the other was that we would always remember. So, the Celebration Walk is a way for us to not only raise money for our hospice care so we can continue to provide for those who seek our services and can't afford it, but also to provide a way for people to remember their loved ones.”

To learn more and dedicate a luminary, go to

To bid on the silent auction, go to

To volunteer to help, email Jennifer at

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