Charleen Lawrence ran the first Women’s Fitness Celebration back in 1992. The next year, her daughter came home from college and ran it with her.
The third year, they invited their mother and grandmother, June Batt, to walk with them. The rest, as they say, is history.
A year or two after June’s first race, Charleen’s sister and June’s youngest daughter, Tammi Lowrie, joined the festivities, bringing along with her daughters. In year 10, they called themselves Team Generations, spanning June to her then months-old great-granddaughter.
For 19 years since the first race — save for one year due to illness — you’d find June walking the route, sporting her race bib and a huge grin, accompanied by a growing number of family who also made the walk an annual tradition.
Charlene: “It was the highlight of her year.”
But earlier this year, June’s health began to deteriorate. To encourage her, Charleen registered both of them early for the race, now FitOne.
“I said, ‘Mother, even if you only walk 20 steps, I’ll push you the rest of the way in the wheelchair.’ ”
June died July 30. But her friends and family are determined that she will be honored in what would have been her 20th race. People from Touchmark at Meadow Lake Village, the retirement home where June lived, and 20 members of her family plus friends — 50 or 60 all told — will be walking the race course in memory of June.
“The whole day is going to be emotional.”
June grew up on a dairy farm in Yakima, Wash., which made her no stranger to hard work; she started milking cows when she was 6 years old.
When June’s sister got married, the groom’s best friend was invited to the wedding, a handsome young Army man named Fred. Just 10 months later, June’s parents let her take the bus to Chattanooga, Tenn., where Fred was stationed and they were married. She was 19.
Fred was deployed for a year and a half and had his own brushes with history, including landing on Normandy beach the day after the invasion.
“They went through everything together. World War II, the (end of the) Depression. ...”
After the war, Fred and June returned to Yakima, where they had two daughters. Fred worked for a furniture store and, after watching the carpet installers for a while, decided to start his own business. Or, rather, Fred and June started a business.
“Both my parents were just salt of the earth. They were the hardest working people I’ve ever known — and carpet laying is not an easy job. She went right along with my dad. She did a lot of the sewing of the seams; they worked as a team. It was amazing they worked that long.”
They laid carpet for 54 years, well into their 80s.
“Work ethic is one of the biggest things Mother and Daddy taught us. They taught us to work hard and not expect things for free. That’s one of the biggest things: making our own way.
“They didn’t waste and they were very resourceful. They were very thrifty. ... We raised gardens, she canned; she very rarely splurged on things. That was huge for me.
“They didn’t ever have a house payment. ... They dug the basement with a team of horses and lived in the basement as Daddy built the upstairs. ... It took Daddy four and a half years; they built as they could pay for it.
“They never had a mortgage, never had car payments, didn’t have credit cards. That was an invaluable lesson.”
When Fred was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the couple moved to the retirement home in Meridian. June cared for Fred until he died two and a half years ago.
The biggest part of who June was?
Tammi: “Her love. That she would show for all of us and other people.
“A cousin told me: ‘Aunt June had enough love for all of us. And she made us know that — that she loved all of us.’
“And family was everything to Mom. Even people she would meet ... she could tell you their whole life story. She was interested in everybody and cared about everybody.
“She was a great mom, a great mother, wife, sister, aunt.”
Some of that caring came through in her cooking.
Charleen: “Being Italian, she was very proud of her heritage. She loved to cook; she was an excellent cook. You never went to her house without her refrigerator being full of food, because she always welcomed (and fed) whoever came. She passed that off to us.”
June would make plates of pizzelles, Italian anise cookies, to give away. Charleen would make the dough and June would do the baking in a special electric iron. June became so well-known for distributing her pizzelles that the chef at Touchmark volunteered to learn how to make them to serve at June’s memorial service..
Tammi: “To me, that just shows how dear she was to so many people.”
Every September, Tammi and her daughters and later her granddaughters would pile into the car and drive down from Yakima for the Women’s Fitness Celebration/FitOne. They’d make a weekend of it.
Tammi: “It thrilled her and was a joy do to it with her. ... (We came) because we loved her so much. She enjoyed it and it was something fun to do with her.”
Tammi especially remembers post-walk festivities in which women participants over 70 were honored. The women would be escorted by young men in tuxedos and they’d dance on stage to “Pretty Woman.”
Tammi: “It was just a joy. When I stood down in the audience, I would just stand there and cry and didn’t know why.”
Charleen: “She had never really been in the limelight of anything in her life and for her to be her in the limelight with all those other over-70s — it was very touching ... She loved it. She would be beaming.”
June was 72 years old when she walked her first race. She would train all year for the race, walking a couple of miles a day before going to work.
Tammi: “She would just want to show that she was able to do all this, through all the years, especially as she got older and older. It made her feel good that she could accomplish that.”
In the last few years, June would only be able to walk the shortened version of the race. But she was still going. She was still active.
Charleen: “‘You’re never too old.’ That was her motto. You just keep moving and you’re never too old to be fit.”
June’s last name is Batt, and her grandson took liberties with that.
Charleen: “So whenever (my son) would call her, he’d always say, ‘Hi, Ding;’ he’d never call her Grandma.
She said she swore that ‘Ding’ was going to be on her headstone. Of course, we didn’t do that.”
However, the T-shirts this year will read ‘In memory of June Batt.’ But the group will be called, of course, the ‘Ding Batts.’
Angie Bell is organizing the “Ding Batts” from Touchmark.
Angie: “Ending June’s Women’s Celebration/FitOne race legacy by walking in that 20th race, (by) earning that 20th race medal for her (is) the best way to honor this lady ...
“It (is) a perfect representation of who she was and what she stands for — which was always her children, family and friends.”
Tammi: “It’s going to be an honor to walk for her. And it’s going to be sad. ... She will be in our thoughts.”
Charleen: “Even though it’s a bittersweet day, we’ll all be together again. ...
“She’ll be looking down and cheering us on that day.”
Anne Epeldi whose fervent wish was to live in her home for the rest of her life, died on Sept. 13. Her wish ended up not being possible, but she was surrounded by family until the end. “I was lucky enough to be holding her in my arms,” said her niece-by-marriage, Deborah David-Simonds, “giving her love and thanks for all she had meant to me.”