Runners honor a hero and friend
The last Brian McMillen Memorial Run is May 27
Organizers from Lincoln Land Community College, the Illinois State Police and Illinois Air National Guard will host the Brian McMillen Memorial Run/Walk Saturday, May 27, at 8 a.m. on the LLCC Campus. At this 10th and final celebration of McMillen’s joy, service and sacrifice, his friends and family will provide the remaining funds to endow the LLCC veterans scholarship in his name.
“It has been great to see everyone come together over the years and spread love in so many ways in Brian’s name,” says Mindy Carroll, who knew McMillen at the Illinois State Police Academy. “Since this is the 10th year and the committee has reached its goal, it will be the last year for the run/walk and we would like to reach out to as many people as possible to tell them about Brian and honor his memory.”
Close friends organized the first run in appreciation for their friend’s zeal for life, and to encourage other veterans to pursue their education. Jenny Gietl and the Lincoln Land Veterans Club held that first run as their first club project. “We were starting a veterans club and met one evening to talk about what we could do as a memory of Brian and all he did for us.
“That first run turned out to be a tremendous success. We were so happy,” Gietl continues. “That weather that day was storming until 10 minutes before the race started. Then the rain stopped, the sunshine came out and there was blue sky for the run. It was unbelievable, almost like Brian was saying, ‘It’s all right.’”
Both Gietl and Carroll describe McMillen in the same fond terms of affection and admiration. “Everything he did, he did with his whole heart, 110 percent,” says Carroll of the young man who served as Illinois State Police Cadet Class 113 president, sergeant in the Air National Guard, and had completed three military deployments before being killed by two intoxicated drivers while he was on police duty responding to a call for help from a Sangamon County deputy. “He had an amazing spirit about him,” Carroll says. “He never quit, and he was probably the most gregarious one in our [ISP] class. He always made sure everyone in the class was OK.”
McMillen was working on his master’s degree at the University of Illinois Springfield the year he was killed at age 24. “When he was killed in 2007,” says Gietl, it crushed me. “All who met him knew they had met someone special. He was very giving and had a presence, an aura around him, the gift of making everyone around him comfortable.”
McMillen’s family is grateful for everyone’s efforts to provide education scholarships for veterans into the future. “It has been a source of healing for us,” says his mother, Jane McMillen. “As we go every year, it’s been a family reunion for us. We see the same sponsors, participants, and committee members every year who come to honor and remember Brian, and they have become like family as well.”
The whole McMillen family turns out for the race every year, coming from all directions across the state. Brian was one of 11 children, his mother explains, and they bring their spouses and children as well. So it’s a large memorial gathering for everyone.
“It’s a fitting way to spend Memorial Day weekend, honoring Brian and the veterans,” says Jane. “Family and friends who never ran until this event have become runners for life because they wanted to run for Brian, and this got them started.”
And the scholarship has become very important to area veterans attending Lincoln Land Community College. Each year, a $1,000 gift is given to a veteran in McMillen’s name. This final run will ensure that the scholarship fund is endowed indefinitely.
“Brian loved helping people, and it means the world to know that Brian’s work is continuing to help the veterans. He worked to make sure they had money and whatever they needed for their education,” says Jane McMillen.
The organizing committee is hoping for a great turnout this year to go out strong. The 10K/5K run/walk opens at 8 a.m., Saturday, May 27, on the LLCC-Springfield campus, 5250 Shepherd Road. The post-event party will be at Chatham VFW Post 4763, 501 W. Mulberry St., Chatham, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with music by “Off the Wall” 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more information, to purchase after party tickets and to register, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit https://www.facebook.com/BMcMRun/. Click the checkmark box link to https://secure.getmeregistered.com/ on the Facebook page to register online.
DiAnne Crown is a frequent contributor to Illinois Times.