As word spread that attendance at the Mike Reese Memorial 5K Run/Walk Sunday would likely surpass the inaugural event a year ago at Westmoreland County’s Mammoth Park, it came as no surprise to his childhood friend Chad Zaucha.
After all, Zaucha and his family had traveled 360 miles from Yorktown, Ind., to help raise funds and honor the memory of the late State Representative from the 59th District who died on January 2, 2021 of an apparent brain aneurysm. Reese served 12 years in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and was elected to his seventh term in November 2021.
He has represented residents in parts of Westmoreland and Somerset counties.
“Mike was so respected and appreciated, even throughout high school, and across the community over his lifetime, it’s really no surprise at all that this event is hugely popular,” Zaucha said. “I could see when we got here today that there were more people this year.
“It’s so fitting (that) his life is honored in this way with a fundraising event for local athletes. I can tell you that when I was growing up, people already looked up to him as a leader and role model,” Zaucha said.
Zaucha and Reese grew up together in Mt. Pleasant Township, where the county park is located and where the race is held each year. The couple played several sports together at Mt. Pleasant Area High School, including baseball.
Reese, a 1996 graduate of Mt. Pleasant, went on to play football at Duquesne University while Zaucha, a 1997 graduate, played baseball while attending Indiana State University.
Zaucha is now the general manager of the YMCA of Muncie, Ind. He and his wife, Ashley, have four children, two boys and two girls aged 6 to 15.
“Our eldest son is named Reese after the Reese family – that’s how much I thought of them,” Zaucha said.
Event organizers said last year’s event drew around 230 attendees.
“Our pre-registration for today was already at 225 and we have a lot of people lined up here still registering this morning, so we’ll probably have over 300 attendees in total,” said Dawn Keefer, organizer of the event and family friend.
In addition to the race, the 4th of July weekend event includes a post-race pork roast, games and gift basket raffles to raise money for the memorial fund.
Last year approximately $15,000 was raised. Keefer said the funds were used to provide scholarships to local high school graduates and athletes seeking to participate in travel team sports programs but who have limited financial resources.
Grants have also been awarded to sports organizations for equipment and capital improvements.
“We hope this event will continue to grow each year,” Keefer said.
Angela Reese, Mike’s wife, said she was moved by the outpouring of support for her late husband.
“I am really satisfied. It’s amazing,” she said.
Angela Reese thanked the participants before the start of the race.
Reese’s cousin, Cody Reese, 22, of Greensburg, was the first to cross the finish line.
“He was just a great guy. The whole family was really proud of him,” he said.
The first woman to finish was Meghan Obusek, who lives near the park in the township. Eleven-year-old Nolan Kelly of Mt. Pleasant finished second.
More information about the fund is available at mikereesememorialfund.com