Oak Apple Run History: Questions for the Race Director
In 1978, Kim Frentz had an idea for an event that promoted fitness and he ran with it.
Last year, nearly 1,600 runners and walkers and hundreds more supporters and volunteers swarmed on Royal Oak for the annual Oak Apple Run.
Patch caught up with the event's director, Kim Frentz, at the Royal Oak First United Methodist Church on Friday to ask him a few questions about the race he founded 34 years ago.
Royal Oak Patch: How did the Oak Apple Run come about?
Frentz: My running partner, Rev. John Park, and I were out running and brainstorming on how we could expand the Royal Oak First United Methodist Church's outreach within the city, and we were precisely at the Grand Trunk Railroad viaduct on Farnum Street when we decided we were going to have the church put on a community "fun run."
Barbara Hallman was a councilwoman (later she became our mayor) in 1978 when we started the race. Some years before she implemented Oak Apple Days, which was a community festival in the city.
We decided to ask her permission to link up with her event and to use "oak apple." Six or seven years later, unfortunately, Oak Apple Days ended, but the race has continued on.
Royal Oak Patch: Was it initially meant to be a fundraiser?
Frentz: No, it was meant to create awareness for the church. Once it was established, and we had excess funds to donate, we supported the OCC firefighter school scholarship fund.
In recent years, we are committed to the good work done by Brett Tillander and all involved with the Boys & Girls Club.
Royal Oak Patch: About how many people ran in the first race?
Frentz: My friend, Rev. John Park (whose memory is sometimes flawed) imagines there was about 200 runners between the two races. However, I remember distinctly it was just under 100.
It must be noted, my friend snuck out of town after just one year and disavowed any connection. Actually, he does come back on occasion to help and this year I put him in charge of the portable toilets.
Royal Oak Patch: Has the event changed a lot from the earliest Oak Apple Run?
Frentz: Yes, in a lot of ways. However, the initial purpose of highlighting the church and fitness awareness, has not changed. What has changed is the finish line management.
What used to be performed by over 200 volunteers, is now executed via technology. The primary finish line function of timing, which used to be handed out with finish place tongue depressors, is now completed by a computer chip.
The finish crew now consists of about 20 people. We still require volunteers on the course to provide safety for the runners. They are connected by a series of hand radios.
Also, all the gear for the first race fit in the back of 1976 Chevy. This year it takes two 16-foot Penske trucks.
The volunteer spirit of those involved is as strong today as it was 35 years ago.
Royal Oak Patch: Any year or perhaps a runner that really stands out? Maybe a day that was really cold or hot or a runner that surprised you in some way.
Frentz: Every year there have been at least a few surprises, but here are just a few:
One year before we barricaded the race route, a car found its way on the course and was the first through finish line. But that's not the best car story because another time, the lead police that the runners follow made a wrong turn and inadvertently changed the race route.
Another year, there was a start delay for the race because of lightning storm.
Medals have also given us a few memories. There was a year that the company who makes our medals bailed on us because of their obligation to make some for the Olympics.
On a different year, someone left the majority of the medals in their car.
As far as runners go, Ella Willis set the 10K woman record in 1989, 35:23, and then the 2 mile record, 11:20, in 1992. Other multi-year race runners include Todd Kelly and Brett Sanborn. Sanborn won both the 10K and 2 mile races in the same year.
Bill Weidenback holds the men's 10K record, 30:21, set in 1983. Anthony Pavicic holds the men's 2 mile record, 9:26, set in 2004.
This year will have a great memory, too. Our 1/4 mile kids run, which was started to get younger children to move from the TV or computer to a more active activity, will have a record of participants — more than 200!
Royal Oak Patch: What is the Apple part? Everyone always wonders about that!
Frentz: The apple of the "oak apple" is actually a cancerous growth found on oak trees. Unfortunately, we can no longer ask the late Barbara Hallman why she joined the famous Royal Oak tree with a cancerous growth to name her special event. (Hallman passed away in 1988.)
We do believe that it originates back in England from our sister city.
Oak Apple Days
Muriel Versagi, curator of the Royal Oak History Society Museum, remembers the Oak Apple Days as a festival where all the city's service groups — Lions Club, Kiwanis, Women's Club, Optimist Club and more — gathered downtown and sold items such as baked goods.
Versagi agrees that Hallman, who she referred to as "the tree lady," came up with the name Oak Apple Days after she took a trip to England where she celebrated Oak Apple Day, also known as Royal Oak Day — a holiday that commemorates the return of Charles II and restoration of England’s Monarchy.