WMass Runners Hall of Fame to welcome inaugural class

  • The Tuesday night Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club 5K cross country run begins, Aug. 13, 2019 at Northampton Community Gardens. The race has been organized by Don and Sue Grant since 1986. The Grants are members of the inaugural class of the Western Mass Runners Hall of Fame. JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 3/5/2020 6:02:43 PM
Modified: 3/5/2020 6:02:33 PM

After years of planning, the inaugural class of the Western Mass Runners Hall of Fame will be inducted on Saturday during a ceremony at the Holyoke Elks Club.

“With the process starting two years ago, the western Mass. running community felt as if there needed to be something to recognize these wonderful runners and organizers that came from western Mass.,” board member David Reinhart said.

The Class of 2020 will honor 10 individuals.

“We plan to recognize not just the elite runners who have competed at the highest levels in New England and nationally, but also the people who made the race events in our area an important part of the sport’s landscape in our community,” board member Don Towse said.

The class is highlighted by the late Tommy Leonard of Westfield.

Leonard, who founded the famous Falmouth Road Race and the Holyoke Talking Turkey Race, died at the age of 85 in 2019.

Another notable inductee is Nancy Conz, who grew up in Southampton and became a world-class runner. In 1981 she won the Avon Marathon in Ottawa, beating future Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson. In 1982 she won the Chicago Marathon.

She set several records at various distances along the way and won many local road races. She also spent many years working at a running store in Northampton. Conz died of cancer at 59 in 2017.

“The nominees this year were pretty easy to select. They stood out as outstanding runners and race managers,” Reinhart said. “They really have had a huge impact locally, statewide, nationally and even internationally in some cases.”

Other inductees include Bill Harbilis of Holyoke, and Don and Sue Grant of Northampton.

Since 1986, the Grants have hosted the famous Tuesday night 5K cross country races at the Northampton Community Gardens.

Harbilis went on to run the Boston Marathon 12 times. Under the direction of Leonard, Harbilis managed the Talking Turkey Race.

“There are thousands of runners and the impact of these races that were created play a huge role. These races allow people to show their abilities,” Reinhart said.

Carol L’Esperance, Dan Dillon, Dick Atkinson, Peter Stasz and Walter Childs are also members of the first hall of fame class.

The late Brian Goddu will received an award for his decades long volunteer service to running in western Mass.

The hall of fame will be featured at www.wmassrunnershof.com.

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