Time: 9 a.m.
Cost: $25 for event and 2015 shirt, $15 with another year’s shirt, $10 for event only.
July 4, 1975: In the midst of the phenomenon known as the “running boom” that became that decade’s athletic focus, and several weeks after the passing of Oregon cross-country/track and field legend Steve Prefontaine, a few dozen individuals gathered for a footrace from Odell to Hood River.
Four decades later, the event, now known as the Kollas-Cranmer Memorial Run, is still going, and has become a Hood River County tradition, serving as the kickoff to the area’s Independence Day celebrations.
Since that 1975 race, the numbers have grown from a few dozen to a few hundred, with last year’s official tally of registered participants listed as 387 runners and 118 walkers, according to race organizer Mary Gumm, who has served as the race’s organizer since the late 1990s.
Nearly as many participants, and likely more, are expected to run next Saturday in what will be the 40th anniversary of the first “official” running of the event — nobody kept race times in the few runnings of the event prior to 1975, Gumm points out, and 1975 is considered the year when the race began in earnest.
The race is named in memory of Joe Kollas and Jerry Cranmer: two Hood River Valley residents who were both passionate about running and were both involved in organizing the event at different points in its existence.
Kollas, who was born in 1909 in Hood River, was an orchardist and an accomplished photographer, but was well-known in the valley as an avid biker and runner before running became a popular sport in the 1970s. A Nov. 28, 1974 Hood River News article that profiled Kollas noted that the 65-year-old Odell resident had dedicated himself to “an almost daily ritual… of at least a 10 mile jog or 20 to 30 mile bicycle jaunt.”
Or as, Gumm puts it: “It was kind of like Forrest Gump — he just ran and ran.”
Kollas was part of a small group of like-minded cross-country enthusiasts, who called themselves the Mid-Columbia Track Club, according to the event website, and was one of the founders of the July 4 race. Originally referred to as the “July 4th Odell to Hood River Run” (according to the 1975 timesheets) or the “Mini-Marathon” (according to newspaper clippings of the day), it eventually became known as the Joe Kollas Fourth of July Run, and then received the “Memorial” tag after Kollas’ death in 1979 at age 70 after battling what was called “a long illness” in his death notice that ran in the News.
Kollas ran in the 1975 race, posting a time of 1 hour, 21 minutes. At 66, he was the oldest individual to run in the event.
Also running in the event that day was Jerry Cranmer (misspelled as Cramner on the timesheet), who, then 20 years old, ran the event in 58:33.
Like Kollas, Cranmer was born and raised in Hood River and spent the vast majority of his life in the valley. He eventually took over the operation of the Vagabond Lodge from his family, but like Kollas, was also interested in photography and especially botany, joking in a 1990 Hood River News profile of him that his motel served as “only a front for my arboretum.”
In high school, he was active in cross country and eventually came to help organize the Joe Kollas run, manning the water stops. Gumm, a longtime friend of Cranmer’s who took over for him as race organizer in the late 1990s, said that Cranmer was dedicated to the run, supporting the event for 25 years.
“When he was managing the event, and what most people don’t know, is that he was paying for almost everything out of his own pocket,” Gumm remembers.
“He always called it a ‘fun run’ because he wanted to encourage as many people to come out and experience the valley and enjoy what he enjoyed his whole life,” she adds.
Tragically, Cranmer’s life was senselessly cut short in September 2009, when he was murdered during a robbery of his motel. The next year, Cranmer’s name was added to the run, as a tribute to the longtime supporter of the event. Today, Cranmer’s nephew and current owner of the Vagabond Lodge, Grant Polson, helps manage the finances of the event, Gumm says.
Though the name has gone through a few changes over the years, the run has pretty much stayed the same. The run still goes from Odell to Hood River on July 4. Race t-shirts, which feature a new design every year, are still “a main part of the event.” It’s certainly become less informal and much larger than the early events, but it’s largely remained a locals-oriented run, with little outside advertisement of the event as it grows every year. Even in 1980, organizers desired a local focus.
“We want it primarily as a Mid-Columbia event,” organizer Carroll Davis, who passed away last year, was quoted as saying in a June 26, 1980 edition of the News. “Anyone who happens to arrive here is welcome to race, but we’re not going to wholesale advertise.”
Local organizations are also both the volunteers and beneficiaries of the event. The Boosters Club, Hood River County Sheriff’s Office, the Lions Club, Odell Fire Department, H2Oregon, and the Hood River Valley High School Wrestling Team all help out at the event in various capacities, with Gumm noting that coach Trent Kroll gives his wrestlers the choice of either running or working the event. Much of the leftover money from the race goes to the wrestling team, with the Odell Fire Department and the Lions Club often receiving funds as well.
Gumm says there aren’t any special plans made to honor the 40th anniversary of the run this year, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a special occasion.
“Every year, we try to make it something to celebrate,” she says.