Eight Stories in Eight Days. Day 3: Dwan lives on at Road Race Park
Dwan lives on at Road Race Park
LITCHFIELD - It is a small park by anybody’s standards, not much bigger than an overgrown postage stamp. Even Dorothy’s Munchkins would struggle putting more than a few of their bodies in the confines of the tight dimensions.
But size has absolutely nothing to do with it unless you are talking about the heart. Because that is what Road Race Park is all about.
The Litchfield Hills Road Race has always been about big laughs and big hearts. Much more than fast legs. The event is more about a good time than good times. And what the people who been putting this on for 36 years can remember they don’t forget. It is an enduring charm.
And nobody will forget George Dwan. From the race’s inception in 1977 until he passed away in 2008, Dwan was an LHRR marshal and stood on a little spot of grass at the junction of the Plumb Hill Complex exit and the highway (about the 2.5 mile mark of the race for you runners out there), giving out water and other beverages for those runners and others who passed by.
“When the lead truck would come around the corner, someone would yell out `GEORGE’ and he would come running out with a couple of cold ones,” remembered LHRR co-founder Bill Neller with a smile. “George’s family was one of our first sponsors and even when George wasn’t well and in a wheel chair he had a tent and was out there. He couldn’t talk but he could smile.”
Roberta Coffill Healy, a high school buddy, stood with Dwan all those years except one and was part of a dynamic duo and spot that took on a life of its own. On Road Race day it was one of the more entertaining water spots on the course, but it didn’t take long to become a year around highlight.
Dwan and Roberta were big on tacky and they fed their appetite for the unusual.
“During the year George would buy tacky stuff and ship it to Roberta’s house,” said Neller.
“One year George called me up and said I would be getting something in the mail,” said Roberta. “He surprised me with a silver Christmas tree.” The tree lives on every LHRR.
On St. Patrick’s Day you might see shamrocks in the trees and a shamrock on a stick. Christmas always brings a wreath and Easter a rabbit and Easter eggs. Don’t forget the pink flamingos. Of course all is visible on the second Sunday in June during the running of the race.
Runners would start stopping by more than a drink. Well, not the Kenyans, they actually wanted to win the race. But, the more casual crowd that is the lifeblood of the race.
“Even now, friends will come by and say hi to George even though he has been gone for four years,” said Roberta.
They don’t forget in Litchfield. The day before the race a contingent is known to have a beer and long conservation with LHRR co-founder Joe Concannon and Joe has been gone for a bit of time now. Still, it is quality conversation.
When Dwan passed away, Roberta did the corner for a while but was going to give it all up after last year’s race only to be convinced to keep on keeping on.
“Billy (Neller) and the staff said, “You can’t go anywhere, too many memories,’ says Robert while choking back a tear.
These days Robert has a partner with husband Jack, whom she married in 2007.
“I told George in 2008 that Jack would help. George was pretty sick,’ said Roberta. “George just shook his head and he died 20 days later.”
In 2009, George’s spot was officially commemorated. When you pass or stop by you will see a marker in honor of George. Decorated with a flamingo, it reads:
Towards the back on a stone it says: LHRR, Est. 1977 – A Labor of Love; Celebration of the Community.
On the back of the stone is a running beer mug. You get the idea that George would have loved it all.
The Litchfield Hills Road Race has always been about people. And the nice thing is that you are forever. In a sense, Monument Park is the biggest park in town and one of the best. George Dwan will be there Sunday and every Sunday the LHRR goes on.
Roberta and Jack know that. We all do. They never forget in Litchfield. Hey George, tell Joe we’ll be by this weekend and you guys behave.