Twenty-five years ago this month, the "Tucson Mall Walkers Club" was officially established.
The club was the brainchild of Tammy Garrett, whose parents owned the McDonald's restaurant that was then in the mall. Garrett noticed that people were already walking the mall every day and wanted to find a way to serve and encourage them.
McDonald's was the original headquarters for the club, and Monday through Saturday members gathered there to enjoy a free drink, register their miles and chat with other walkers.
When McDonald's moved out of the mall, other sponsors stepped up over the years, including Luby's, Marie Callender's and Chick-fil-a. Now mall management sponsors a monthly doughnut and bagel breakfast, and Burger King offers older members a senior discount. The mall management also makes copies for the club of its monthly newsletter.
Since its inception the club has registered more than 800 members, and on any given day up to 200 walkers may be seen making the rounds.
The objective of the club is to encourage everyone to walk for their health. Many of the members have or have had heart problems, some are on oxygen and some have other health issues - all of which benefit from regular walking.
A complete round of the mall downstairs or upstairs is one mile. Several walkers complete five to six miles a day. Others who are more limited may complete one round or less.
One longtime walker recently completed her 20,000th mile inside the mall. Many of the original members from 1986 are still walking. New members are always welcome (no dues, no meetings, no elections, just walking and talking and enjoying each other's company).
Over the years the mall has undergone significant changes. Stores have come and gone and the mall ownership has changed. The Mall Walkers have been observers of all the changes and occasionally reminisce about things they miss:
The upstairs drugstore; the 99-cent store; the bookstore; the carousel; the piano concerts in the food court; the Easter Parade mall walk in decorated hats; the scary costumes at Halloween; the flu and blood pressure clinics; the poinsettia Christmas tree in the center court; and acting as mall greeters on Black Friday sale day to direct incoming customers.
Times change, people change, but the "Tucson Mall Walkers Club" hopes that the next 25 years are as good as the past 25.
Mall Walkers' stories
"Winnie and Kurt Kochendorfer were faithful walkers even after Kurt had to have a portable oxygen tent. A granddaughter printed a fancy T-shirt for him proclaiming 'Tucson Mall Walkers - Hot Wheels Division.' "
- Jon and Sharon Guenther
"I am a 10-year breast cancer survivor and have had both hips and one knee replaced. My doctor and therapist keep telling me to keep walking - it works!"
- Mable Knight
"Following Wilhelm's heart attack, it was suggested that he start an exercise routine. Unfortunately, the motivation just wasn't there and it was easy to come up with all types of excuses not to walk. We heard about a walkers' program at the mall and decided to go one early cold morning in February. From the moment we entered the mall, we immediately felt a sense of community and knew that this could be the motivating factor for us to return."
- Father and daughter walking team Wilhelm Duren and Roxanne Duren-Walters