Jahn leaves rich legacy to fellow runners

"I just ran 10 miles."

Wallie Jahn offered that sentiment countless times to Greater New Milford area residents, usually with a broad grin creasing his face.

And for every time Wallie said that line, likely there were two times he actually had run 10 miles.

Walter "Wallie" Jahn, a native New Milfordite known for his passion for running, died July 19 at the age of 58.

During the decades leading up to his passing, Jahn had etched his name in the hearts and minds of many in his hometown and throughout the region's running community.

"Last night, I ran Route 109," recounted Peter Orenski, a close friend of Jahn, recently, "and said to myself `This one's for you, Wallie.' "

"How envious I was of him. He was one of those incredible people who lived his passion," he added. "Every time I'd see him running on Main Street, went into his shoe store and saw him working with young runners, I thought how little I do in life in comparison."

"The effect of knowing Wallie will always be with me," Orenski reflected. "I will always in my head say `Wallie, thank you' every time I run."

A graduate of Abbott Technical School in Danbury and a proud U.S. Air Force veteran, Jahn was a familiar sight running the roads of the Greater New Milford area from the 1970s until symptoms of the debilitating Pick's Disease forced him to stop in the past two years.

Jahn, who owned and operated the Road & Track Sports shop for nearly two decades in New Milford, was the founder and director for 15 years of the popular Moonlight Run 5K road race.

He also resurrected and directed the Polar Bear Run around Lake Waramaug for more than 20 years.

He created and conducted for many years a five-kilometer race called the "Run for the Kids" for which the entry fee was Christmas gifts to be given to needy children.

Jahn was also one of the original proponents of the annual walking project that has been popular with students for years at Sarah Noble Intermediate School.

His sports shop was a principal supplier for many years of athletic shoes for the track and cross country teams at New Milford, Shepaug Valley and other area high schools.

Jahn also served for many years as an official or timer at local high school meets and South-West Conference events.

The number of people who were inspired to run by Jahn, and the mushroom effect that has had in this area, is immeasurable.

Even within his own family, he had such an impact.

"He was an amazing man," said a niece, Melissa Jahn Stephens, who lives in the Boston area. "He actually motivated me to start running."

"I'm running a marathon in his honor Oct. 6," she said.

Beyond his charitable and community endeavors, Jahn was perhaps best known for his inexhaustible desire simply to run.

From 5Ks to marathons, and for the countless thousands and thousands of miles of training he did in between races, Jahn was always running.

"Running summed up Wallie's life," said Kent resident Dave Dunleavy, a friend and oft-times running companion of Jahn. "He was a black-and-white type of guy and so is running."

"Either you're putting in the miles or you're not. If you did well, you're the one who could take the credit," he added. "If you did poorly there was no one to blame except yourself."

"Wallie liked that about running," Dunleavy offered. "It bared the soul and brought out, at least while you were doing a 10-miler, who you really were."

Jahn was well known throughout the community, but best by his running friends.

One of his best friends, Charles Greystone, takes solace in his friend's death.

"I miss my friend very badly,' he said, "but I am happy now that his soul is free and walks with the Lord."

"When I picture him up there in my mind's eye," Greystone added, "I laugh because I'm sure he's walking around, shaking hands with that big grin on his face and saying, `Hey! Ya wanna run ten miles?' "

A graveside miltary service for Jahn will be held Monday, Aug. 5 at 2 p.m. at Center Cemetery in New Milford.

For more of his family and friends' thoughts about Wallie Jahn, and for more photos, visit www.newmilfordspectrum.com.

Norm Cummings