FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Art Jackson retired from General Electric in 1996 and needed a way to stay active. He started walking at Foster Park for exercise. Before long, Jackson started to see many of the same faces every day. “Some of us were walking individually. Then we started to see one another on a regular basis.” Eventually, Jackson says they asked each other if they wanted to form a group, and the answer was an enthusiastic “yes!” Over the years, the now 81-year-old says the group has grown. “We just see some people and say, come on. Let’s walk together!”
Charles Jackson, no relation to Art, started walking with the group about three months ago. “It’s an inspiration to me to see guys out here every day in their 80’s walking. So I wanted to join those guys and I’ve been out here every day since.” The younger Jackson is diabetic and says his doctor encouraged him to walk, but he wasn’t committed until he joined the group. “When I was walking by myself I would try to make an excuse when I got up about why not to come. But knowing I’m going to be out here talking, joking and laughing with these guys gives me the inspiration to come out here each day.”
82-year Joe Hawkins has been part of the group for about 15-years. “It’s just like a family” he says. “I do it for exercise. I feel better and my aching bones don’t ache anymore because I’m walking. It’s really nice to be out here with them.”
The group isn’t just for men. Mary Brown started walking with the group about three years ago. She became close friends with Vernice Harrell as a result. “I’ve only known Vernice since I’ve been walking out here, but I truly believe that if there was anything I needed or she could do for me, she would do it. That’s just the person she is.” Harrell says the friendship means everything to her. “I enjoy waking up in the morning and coming here because I know I’m going to see her. If I don’t get a text from her saying I’m not walking, I know she’s going to be here.”
The number of walkers varies depending on the day, but it’s not unusual to see a dozen or more together on any given day. Art Jackson says the camaraderie has a healing effect. “Someone might come out and they’re not feeling well. But once we start talking and joking around, everybody feels good!” Jackson’s face lights up with a big smile when he says “We tell a few stories too,” as he breaks up in laughter.
Mary Brown says the stories always flow and the laughs always follow. “In our group we have a joker. We have an instigator. We have an intellectual, and then we have some know-it-alls. You have to keep the joker and the instigator in line because you know how they do,” she says with a knowing grin in good fun.
Myron, wearing his hat inside out and cocked to the side denies that he’s the joker, but the group calls him out with a chorus of laughter. “You know they make me laugh too”, he says. When asked why, Myron deadpans “because they talk about me,” before he breaks out in his trademark laugh as the group roars with approval.
Art Jackson says the walks are like therapy for him. “If I don’t walk, it seems like my whole day is messed up.” The feeling is mutual for others at the park who couldn’t imagine their day without a quick interaction. Emily Van Fossen grew up the area and still lives in the “07” as she calls it. She walks her dogs Lucky and Mack and encounters the group most every day. “They’re so much fun. They always bring me joy and happiness and I look forward to seeing them every time.” Van Fossen thinks so highly of the group, she contacted WANE15 about them and suggested this story for Positively Fort Wayne. “It’s just a good way to start your day. The world needs more happiness and they’re right here walking around the park every day.”
We couldn’t agree more. That’s why the Foster Park Walkers are Positively Fort Wayne.