The Aquin fourth grade class takes a break on the Heritage Trail’s parallel bars. From left, Maci Martin, Allison Decker, Carter Rollinger, Oliver Cook, Katelyn Kurt, Ronan Hartbecke, Chloe Henneberry, Melanie Green, Brynn Schockemoehl, Millie Hosch, Johnnie Lynch, James Coyle and Aiden Knuth.

On May 6, the fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade classes of Aquin Elementary took part in the annual Aquin charity walkathon on 10-mile walk along Heritage Trail from Farley to Dyersville and back. This event has been held for the past 42 years, with 2020 being the only year to miss one due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Teachers in 1978 came up with the idea that they wanted to help poor people,” said Meg O’Brien, a fifth-grade teacher at Aquin, “so they started to think of a walk-a-thon, a way to walk and have the kids pledge money. They had mass at Garryowen Church and then walked the Garryowen road to Cascade for twelve miles.”

According to O’Brien, the route changed two times over the years due to safety concerns.

“The Garryowen road was resurfaced and there were lots of trucks and traffic, so we decided to come up with something different. We went from Fillmore Church across the highway down Higginsport, came back to Fillmore Park and Golf Course for lunch, crossed the highway back to church and then bused to Cascade. Again, not safe. We did it a couple years and then thought this is a good trail. It’s accessible, and we’ve been doing it ever since.”

While the official walk in 2020 was canceled, a number of Aquin students and teachers still chose to make a virtual walkathon with their own families on May 1st and 2nd and make individual pledges to the missions of their choice. According to the school, the walkathon has raised close to $168,000 in pledges over the past 42 years to be distributed locally, statewide, nationally, and internationally, with the majority of recipients having a direct connection to the Cascade or Aquin communities.

To ensure safety for participants, grades were staggered along the trail to account for social distancing. The group was also accompanied by a nurse, with a vehicle meeting them at various checkpoints on the trail in case the walk proved too physically strenuous for any students. The walkathon served as a replacement for the entirety of the school day and began with an 8:30 prayer service at Aquin before students were driven by parents to the walk’s start in Farley.

This year, students were visited by two religious sisters and Cascade natives, who taught them about two of the charities their pledges would support. Sr. Suzanne Takes PBVM in Bolivia, South America spoke to the kids via Zoom and shared details about life in a mountain village in Bolivia and how she has used the walkathon donations to help individuals in need. Sr. Rita Goedken OSF share information about the Franciscan Sister Water Project and Excel Learning Center in Morton, Mississippi.

To support these missions, students collected pledges, often from family and family friends, before setting out on the trail.

“I really enjoy it because it just makes me happy that I’m walking and the money I make as I walk is going to go to people who need it”, said fifth-grader Adelyn Topping. ”We were super excited to finally go on the walk and help others.”