While an employee of a Westmont fitness center was looking to organize a 5K run as a way to honor her fiancé, who was killed in Iraq last year, she felt it was to big of a task.
But thanks to Westmont community members and a Westmont police officer, he was not forgotten on Memorial Day.
The Westmont Park District and the Village of Westmont held the 5K Race to the Flag run Sunday, May 30 at Ty Warner Park both to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and to honor Terry Barnich, a civilian contractor who was killed in Iraq on Memorial Day in 2009.
Race coordinator Mike Ramsey said the event went well, and that the plan is to anchor the annual fundraiser on Memorial Day weekend in future years.
“It may take a few days to find out how much we raised, since the Westmont Lions Club has said they will donate some proceeds from their pancake breakfast to the cause as well,” Ramsey said.
The goal was to bring in $5,000, he said.
After the race, a special ceremony was held at the monument at the park, where more than two dozen members of Barnich’s family attended, some coming all the way from Austin, Texas, to be there.
“This was such an honor, since both Terry and I were marathon runners,” said Sheila Grace, Barnich’s fiancee when he was killed. “Terry would have been honored and to make this event for St. Jude’s is something real special.
One of the highlights of the event was the presentation of a flag to Barnich’s family by state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-24th District, of Hinsdale, Ramsey said.
Grace works as physical trainer at MBC Fitness, 28 N. Cass Ave., and lives with her three children in Clarendon Hills.
Barnich, who was employed by the State Department serving as deputy director of the Iraq Transition Assistance Office, was killed along with two others when a roadside bomb went off near Fallujah, Iraq, just three weeks before he was expected to return home, where he and Grace were going to be married.
She and Barnich had dated for about five years, and he had taken a leave of absence as an attorney to work as a contractor in Iraq, leaving in 2007.
“Terry had skills in public policy, and wanted to he out with the Iraqi development,” Grace said. “He always felt that if someone could help, they should, and his skills were needed. He felt so strongly he ended up sacrificing his life.”
While he was planning to stay for nine months when he originally left for Iraq, Grace said Barnich kept extending his stay because he felt progress was being made.
With both Grace and Barnich being avid runners, she was looking to organize an event to honor Barnich, but the logistics and timing was challenging to coordinate.
Westmont police Sgt. Jim Schlicher, who also works as a trainer with Grace at MBC, said he was familiar with Barnich’s story. He thought with the annual St. Jude’ s run being held Memorial Day weekend, it was a good way to honor Barnich. Schlicher also is a member of the Village of Westmont’s Health and Wellness Committee, which organizes the race each year.
“The committee decided that we wanted to do something to honor the men and women who serve our country,” said Schlicher. “After we came up with the name of the race, we thought it would be a good thing to basically hold the event in Barnich’ s honor, and for all veterans.”
Grace said hen Schlicher approached her about the idea, it was “like a dream coming true.”
“It was like getting a gift on a silver platter when Jim told me about it, because it is the perfect way to honor Terry,” she said.