Story by Angela Brandt
Photos by Nikki Carlson
Havreite Cecil Schend said walking regularly at the mall helps with his health and social life.
“I'm 78 years old and never had an operation, still got my tonsils and appendix. So, that ain't too bad. I must be doing something right,” Schend said.
He participates with the mall walkers at the Holiday Village Shopping Center. Schend said he averages four laps around the mall, which equals about a mile and a half. The mall has markers so walkers can keep track of their distance.
Schend meets with a group three times a week - Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 a.m. After they walk, they go to Taco John's to chat and drink free coffee and juice provided for them by the restaurant.
Mall walker Ruth Meredith said it's always nice to visit, which is almost as beneficial as the exercise.
Claire Wendland, a Northern Montana Hospital employee who coordinates the mall walkers program, said emotional and social issues are just as important as physical ones. Wendland added that one woman told her, “I like to walk pretty well but I like to talk just as much.”
“We walk and tell lies and listen to a few,” Schend said. “Even tell the truth every so often.”
Betty Thackeray said she started with the walkers about 13 years ago, when the senior group walked in and around Northern Montana Hospital. On one morning, she said, the seniors walked in the hospital when it was 42 degrees below zero outside.
The seniors moved to the mall in about 1994 after the hospital was remodeled.
Meredith estimates the group at about 20 regulars.
Thackeray said she began walking after she retired and received a book on the advantages of walking from her daughter.
“Once I got started, I was hooked,” Thackeray said.
She continues to walk five times a week. Her husband, Raymond, goes six times a week.
Thackeray said she used to go for long walks when she lived in the country and recalled a time that she ventured two miles from home, turned around and saw black storm clouds. Luckily, her husband also saw the clouds and came to pick her up.
Wendland said the mall is a safe, clean environment and walkers “don't have to worry about snakes, ice or wind.”
People walk laps at the mall all times and days. All ages are welcome and no sign-up is required.
Frances Kuzmaul, who has been with the group about 12 years, said that on Monday morning she saw new walkers at the mall.
Interested parties can go to the mall and just start walking.
Mall Walker Appreciation Day is every third Friday, which includes blood pressure measurements starting at 8:15 a.m. and a presentation about a health issue at 9 a.m.