There is a pew of pals inside James B. Street Elementary School with the phrase “hello, my friend” written on it. It’s how Richard Martinez greeted every student he met during the school day – a small but powerful way to help them feel welcome and valued.
Martinez died in 2015 from prostate cancer that had spread to his bones. Lupe Martinez, his older sister, housemate and care partner, said he would have loved to sit on that bench and chat with anyone who needed a kind word. He would also be honored by the teachers who continue to walk in his memory during the annual Journey of Hope walk organized by the Wings of Hope Cancer Support Center.
The 2022 walk will take place Saturday at 8 a.m. at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park in Council Bluffs. The event will include food, music from DJ Miguel Chavez, raffles and more. Walkers can choose between three-mile or one-mile routes. The cost, which includes a Walk with Wings 2022 t-shirt, is $30 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under. All funds raised help cancer patients and their partners in care in the Council Bluffs metro area and throughout Southwestern Iowa.
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“Richard loved working with children,” said Lupe Martinez.
Prior to becoming a paraprofessional at Rue, he worked in child care at Christ Child Center, Chicano Awareness Center, and University of Nebraska Omaha Child Care Center, all in Omaha.
The Martinez family grew up in Omaha’s Little Italy, where Richard was a member of the Sons of Italy. A devout Catholic who once considered becoming a priest, his favorite saint was Santa Lucia, and his dream was to see his niece perform as the queen of the neighborhood’s annual Santa Lucia festival.
The honor, first awarded in 1929 in the fifth year of the Omaha Festival, is open to girls between the ages of 14 and 21 who have been baptized into the Catholic faith. Today, the competition is based on academics, community service, and raffle ticket sales. At the time, Lupe said, Richard’s niece was too young to participate, but the festival committee allowed her to perform as a princess so Richard could see her dream come true before she died.
The family’s connection to Wings of Hope was established in the office of a local oncologist. One afternoon, while Lupe was waiting for Richard’s date to end, she noticed a Wings of Hope informational flyer on a table.
“I remember picking it up, folding it up, and putting it in my purse to look at it later,” she said.
Her first call to Wings of Hope was the first of many for the sister and care partner.
“It was easy to talk to Carolyn,” Lupe said of Carolyn Ettinger, executive director of Wings of Hope and the organization’s licensed mental health practitioner. “I could go there and cry or get advice on what I should ask the doctors. When I could see that Rich was starting to have trouble getting out of bed, she even helped me find a hospital bed and set it up.
One afternoon after Richard passed away, Lupe was at home thinking about her brother and a way to remember him. Grateful for the support she received from Wings of Hope during an incredibly difficult time in her life, she approached Ettinger and asked to honor Richard’s memory at the organization’s fall walk, which already existed. .
It was a natural partnership.
Since that time, the walk has grown and Lupe’s family plays an active role in its planning and execution. In addition to remembering Richard and others who have passed away from cancer, the walk allows Wings of Hope to highlight the needs of those touched by cancer and to honor the many who are currently battling cancer. Participants can personalize their T-shirt by writing on the back the name(s) of those for whom they are walking using the markers provided at the start of the event.
It always takes place as close to September 28 as possible – Richard’s birthday.
“We can’t thank Lupe and her family enough for helping us make our Journey of Hope Walk a success,” said Ettinger. “The funds we raise will be used to help people on the cancer journey get the emotional and practical support they need and deserve.
To register for the walk or for more information, call 712-325-8970 or visit wingsofhope.org/walk. For more information on Wings of Hope programs and services, visit wingsofhope.org/programs-services.