“To have a friend is to be a friend”

My mother’s famous line was ” to have a friend is to be a friend.” No one could embody that statement more than Hot Harry Kirsch. All of us in the North Park Running and Cycling community lost a friend tonight when we heard the news that Hot Harry had ” run his last mile at 8:30 PM.” With his family around him, he passed quietly and peacefully.

Hot Harry was an icon in the running scene in Pittsburgh. As a marine, and a retired trolley/bus driver, Harry began running in earnest in his 50s and over the course of his life he ran over 50 marathons including his beloved Marine Corps Marathon. Organizing bus trips to Washington D.C for years, Harry supported the Marines by bringing hundreds of runners together to hear the Marine at the top of the hill shouting,” Pain is fleeting, pride is forever.” Harry ran countless Boston Marathons , one of which in 1987, I was fortunate enough to be his room mate. Harry was always supportive to first time marathoners with his cheery disposition and friendly ways. He encouraged veteran runners as well in advance of events and in the glow of the finish line.

For years, runners who parked at Stone Field in North Park finished their runs seeing the familiar open trunk on Harry’s car filled with bottles of drinks and cups that Harry would provide not only on race days but every day of running in the park. He had a way of gathering people and generating enthusiasm and even started the first running club in the park -Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. At events nationwide, runners would often see the singlet of the club at events and inquire about Hot Harry. The North Park runners were only too happy to oblige in telling the tales of the retired bus driver who attracted so many runners to his fold.

Harry loved the ladies and ran often with a group of accomplished women runners many of whom were national class. They loved Harry and made a point to run with him whenever they could.

Harry also attracted the characters. Doc Chuck, Merz, and a host of others whom he named. Big nose Bill, Sad Bill, Bushy Debbie, 10 Mile Bill, the Pretty Boys,and many, many more who all claimed Harry as their fearless leader. He would invite all the runners and their families to picnics at his farm in Evans City and we all would see Harry giving the kids tractor rides tirelessly into the evening. Harry loved the Park and enjoyed every moment meeting new people and welcoming them and encouraging them to join in his community. He drank a lot of coffee. Boy did he like coffee!!

Hot Harry was truly a friend to all of us in the North Park running community. He made the effort to be there for all of us and not only in the fun times of after work running and the weekend races, but there for us in sad times as well. Harry valued the friendships and made an effort to contact people who were hurting and people who were injured, sick, or just having a bad day. When you saw that smile and his familiar,” Heyyyyyyyyy” , you know that no matter what was going on in your life, Harry would make you smile and make you feel that things were better in your world.

Second Corinthians 5 says that we all will abandon our earthly bodies and take on the new bodies that we will have for eternity in heaven. I believe that Harry willingly left this world and his earthly body behind, with all of its mileage and marathons, and strapped on a new pair of celestial NIKE shoes and streaked toward the finish line at the pearly gates. There he was welcomed with the statement” well done my good and faithful servant.” Thanks for everything Harry. We will miss you.

Remember

One of my most memorable family trips was when we ventured on a bus tour to Washington, DC. Rob and Denise Dunbar, our friends, organized the trip and one of the highlights was a tour of the White House. Rob’s grandfather was a U.S Congressman and Rob and Denise knew the ropes to getting our security clearance and a tour of a truly magnificent historical residence.

Everyone needs to do this trip several times because there are so many historically significant monuments to see as well as the varied museums and galleries. Our nation’s capitol is remarkable any time of the year and I can’t wait to go back someday. But the memory that sticks out to me, even to this day, was when we were immersed in the solemnity at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The silence of the crowd was definitely noticeable as we watched the guard meticulously march in front of the tomb in the prescribed cadence and number of steps. This ceremony goes on at all times in all weather – night and day. It is a true honor to be chosen as one of the guards in this prestigious ceremony and we were all placed in a somber, reverent mood when we made our way through Arlington National Cemetery. Standing in that silent, and tranquil setting, my eyes gazed upon the rows and rows of the graves of the fallen soldiers who had been buried there. As far as the eye could see, the perfectly aligned sites,adorned with the white monuments bearing the statistics of the fallen, made me stop rigid in my tracks- taking in the enormity of the moment. I am a history buff, as you know from former posts, and I took some time to reflect on all of the wars, the sacrifices, the honored dead that were privileged enough to be laid to rest there. You could not help but think about the service that our men and women in uniform afford us, protecting our freedom every day, in the most demanding of situations world wide. I thought about my Uncle Jack, a B-24 Bomber Pilot in World War II, who flew 52 missions over Italy in the Anzio Campaign. Coming back each night with hundreds of flak holes in his fuselage, only to be repaired and sent out the next day on yet another perilous mission.

I always admire anyone who has served in the military. Their courage, dedication, and sacrifice, is most exemplary. As the song goes, ” Some gave all, all gave some.” On the bus ride back , I sat in silence as my family slept and thought about how close I was to serving. I had a #11 draft number in college and had the Vietnam war continued on one more year, I would have been plucked from my comfortable early post office lounge in my dorm room and splatted down in some rice paddy in South Vietnam battling the North Vietnamese. I am friends with many who went and served and I respect them so wholeheartedly. What a rugged and unforgiving experience they had. Some made it back and some did not. I pray for their families and for all the families of the service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. They should never be forgotten and if you ever stand in the center of Arlington, the moment and experience will be forever etched in your memory.

So, as we embark on the holiday weekend, with our picnics, our mountain bike rides, hikes, horseback rides or rounds of golf, let’s all take a moment and remember those silent warriors who are buried in Arlington and in other sites around the world. Memorial Day is the official start to summer for sure, but it should never be lost on any of us, what the true meaning of that day is to our country. God bless and protect our service men and women and thanks for reading.