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SOMERS, Wis. — Step by step, the Vonco 5K Run/Walk is starting to gain a little bit of steam, and it’s all in the name of a good cause.

Vonco 5K run/walk for American Heart Association AHA
Runners, walkers and everyone in between line up to start the Vonco 5K Run/Walk. – Credit: Megan Martin, AHA

In just its third year, and the second on the UW-Parkside campus, the event Saturday morning drew more than 100 walkers and runners, with just shy of $22,000 raised to benefit the American Heart Association.

Last year, the event raised $3,410.12.

“The event was a big success,” said Vonco President Keith Smith.

Smith, an avid runner himself who competed in the 5K on the Wayne Dennehl National Cross Country Course, was pleased to see both the numbers and the dollars raised for the Association increase.

“More companies joined this year, (and we had) more involvement from different area running clubs,” he said. “Overall, the community effort of coming together to raise money and spread awareness for the AHA, and the dedication of so many people to learn and live healthy lifestyles (is most important).

It’s that community involvement that made the difference this time around, Smith said. As a company, Vonco hosted its own event with just employees at Lake Andrea in the Village of Mount Pleasant in 2021, before it moved to Parkside a year ago.

“We saw a bigger turnout this year with more company and community involvement,” Smith said. “This event has gained tremendous traction within our local community, and we are excited to keep expanding year after year. The future opportunities for this event are very exciting.”

Remembering a friend

Sadly, the day began on a somber note, as those in attendance remembered Kenosha teenager Lily Lachman, 14, who died Aug. 15. Lachman, who would have been a high school freshman this fall, was the American Heart Association’s featured survivor at the 2022 Heart and Stroke Ball.

Lachman was a heart transplant recipient seven years ago. Funeral services for Lachman were held Tuesday in Kenosha.

Vonco 5K run/walk for American Heart Association AHA
Anna and Manny Rios, of Kenosha, sport shirts for the event that honor Manny’s friend, the 2019 featured Heart Ball survivor, Lily Lachman, who passed away on Aug. 15, 2023. – Credit: Megan Martin, AHA

Another Kenosha teenager, Manny Rios, and his mother, Anna, spoke about their relationship with Lily prior to Saturday’s event. Manny, who will be a junior at Kenosha Tremper High School this fall, was the Heart Association’s featured Heart Ball survivor in 2019, and like Lily, was a heart transplant recipient.

The connections ran deep for the two teenagers, Anna Rios said, and the loss of his friend led her son to dedicate the day to Lily.

“He said he wanted to do something to always remember her,” Anna said. “So, he said he wanted to put her name on the back of his ‘Manny’s Strong’ shirt.

“Lily’s smile and laughter was contagious and would melt your heart,” she added.

The connections ran deep between the parents and the two children, Anna Rios said.

“We know exactly what they are going through,” she said. “We never expected or could imagine our kids at a young age to have a stroke, to have heart failure, to end up having a heart transplant, to have to be strong enough to get through the day, still be a kid and do what kids like to do.”

The work by the American Heart Association is made possible through events like the one on Saturday, and must continue, Rios said.

“(Lily’s passing) is a reminder that we as a community need to work harder to support the AHA so they can work harder in their resources to help everyone live a longer, heart-healthy life,” she said.

Vonco shares same motivation

Vonco 5K run/walk for American Heart Association AHA
Vonco President Keith Smith addresses the crowd of over 100 participants in the third annual Vonco 5K Run/Walk held at UW-Parkside. Manny and Anna Rios stand in the background. – Credit: Megan Martin, AHA

That message is the driving force behind Vonco’s involvement as well, Smith said, and why his company continues to participate.

“(Supporting the AHA) is very important,” he said. “It is a personal matter for many people, and I can tell our associates have the drive and dedication to not only living healthier lifestyles for themselves, but also spreading awareness and resources for others to do the same.

“I am super grateful for all that have generously participated in a great cause of supporting life-saving prevention, detection and procedures to ultimately rid our society of heart disease. It is a wonderful day that brings together community, commerce, health, academics and athletics. I love how the people of Kenosha and Racine counties support each other to build a thriving community.”

About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources.

Kenosha-area company Vonco building event to benefit Southeast Wisconsin Heart and Stroke Walk, American Heart Association

The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.

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