Star Tribune Praises Mentor For Going the Extra Mile

August 24, 2009

stanthonySigEffort to raise cash for charity really rolling along
As Published on August 22, 2009 By Neal St. Anthony, Star Tribune

The trip to Washington, D.C., on a pair of skates is just Gary Walters’ latest money-raising adventure for Kinship.

What a high-stakes week at the intersection of commerce, celebrity and sports.

Tiger Woods and Y.E. Yang battle for the PGA championship in spectacular competitive civility.

Minnesota Viking Brett Favre … that’s entertainment, I guess.

But Gary Walters, a Brainerd insurance business owner, is my superstar jock of the week.

Walters, 43, and his son, Ronald Jackson Walters, 15, are roller-blading to Washington, D.C., to raise cash for Kinship, the mentoring organization, and to call attention to the importance of men and women who spend time regularly with a youngster who can use an adult friend.

Walters, a sturdy, bighearted guy, takes vacation time every year to promote the cause of mentoring. In 2005, Walters and his three adopted kids walked from Brainerd to the Canadian border. In 2006, he swam the 14 miles across Lake Mille Lacs in 22 hours.

“That was humbling,” he recalled. “I guess fat guys do float.”

Last fall, he road a unicycle during the second half of a Brainerd High football game — and for most of the next 24 hours.

“Every year, it’s the adventure of a lifetime,” Walters said during a stop at Lake Calhoun last Saturday. “I walk some and sort of work myself into shape in the first few days. I just do it. It’s just like mentoring. Just do it for a kid.”

They left Brainerd on Aug. 20 and expect to arrive in Washington, D.C., around Sept. 9. U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., plans to greet them on the Capitol steps.

“My son is kind of my mentor on blades,” Walters said outside Madison, Wis., on Thursday. “He slows down when I slow down. Sometimes I walk. We go until 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. every day. Then I head for the hot tub.”

Walters’ oldest son, Reggie, 19, is serving in Iraq. Gary’s wife, Lisa, and daughter, Jessica, 14, trail Gary and Ronald in the family van. Jessica occasionally bikes alongside the guys. Walters is a funny, self-effacing entrepreneur on a serious mission to make a point: Mentoring works.
Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, child-advocacy experts, Darrell Thompson (who runs Bolder Options, a youth intervention program) and juvenile judges, among others, can show that the most important influence on a kid’s life, particularly one who may be drifting, can be a caring adult. In many cases, it can be what keeps a boy or girl in school and out of trouble.

Volunteer mentors, many of them recruited from business, save lives and save the taxpayers millions of dollars that might otherwise be spent on police, truancy, teen pregnancy and jail. Bottom line: A good mentor also is creating the next generation of educated young people who contribute to and benefit from our economy.

Good news. Judith Kahn and Mai-Anh Kapanke at the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota, an umbrella organization for the state’s 400-plus mentoring organizations, report the number of youth served by mentors rose 9 percent to 185,000 in 2007 over 2005, according to their two-year survey. And despite the recession, they believe the number is about the same today, based on field reports.

“Beyond the dollars and publicity Gary Walters is raising, he is modeling the commitment and grit we all need to see,” said Kevin Stirtz , a Burnsville businessman who manages Kinship Inc., the corporate umbrella for Kinship around the state. “He’s a mentoring rock star.”

Walters has raised up to $25,000 with his summertime-sports escapades for Kinship and millions’ worth of inspiration for all mentoring outfits.

He’s the “Tiger Gary” of the Minnesota mentoring scene this summer.

You can track Gary and Ronald at www.kinshippartners.org. Mentoring info: www.mentoringworks.org.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • nstanthony@startribune.com