Kirk Ongman first heard about Mercy Home through a client he met in his work as a financial planner.

“She was an amazing person,” he remembered. “She was a nun for 20 years, and then left the convent and became a school teacher.”

When she passed away, her estate was divided between three different charities. One of them was Mercy Home. As Kirk worked to settle her estate, he began learning more about the work we do and knew it was an organization he wanted to get involved with. As a longtime marathon runner, joining the Mercy Home Heroes team seemed like a perfect fit. Now, Kirk said, “my family and I do our best to do everything we can [for Mercy Home].”

This year, Kirk is looking forward to running with the Heroes for the sixth consecutive year and completing his 20th and final marathon. And he never runs alone! Kirk’s wife and daughter have joined him for several marathons with the Heroes, and he hopes his other three children and even some of his friends will join him this year.

Though 20 marathons may sound intimidating, Kirk insists that anyone with good ankles, knees, and hips can complete the 26.2-mile journey.

“Honestly, when you meet me, I probably look more like a dockworker or a bouncer than a marathon runner,” he said. “I’m 58 and I’m not the prototypical marathon guy. I sort of run like a turtle and I’m not out to break any land or speed records.”

Instead, he explained, it is just being part of the marathon that he enjoys, especially when his family is involved. “The experience of doing it, especially with a family member, is very rewarding,” he said.

When Kirk looks back at his early marathons, one thing he remembers quite specifically is the fear of not being able to finish. “You go into it not thinking you can finish, [but then] you finish the last couple of miles and the buildings are getting bigger and the bands are getting louder and the people [cheering] are starting to say you’re going to do it and then you realize: you are going to do it,” he said. “Emotionally, it’s very powerful.”

Kirk also finds training for marathons a rewarding time. “The training side is doing these long runs, and finding somewhere for your mind to go,” he said. “I’d memorize scripture, I’d memorize books of the Bible, stuff like that. Personally, one of the things I do when I go to my in-laws in Wisconsin and run in cornfields [is] go through the beatitudes and do a mini-sermon for each. And time passes pretty quickly.”

When Kirk thought back to different times he ran with his family members, running with his daughter Hannah a couple of years ago immediately came to mind. Though Hannah had raised the money required as a Hero, she hadn’t planned to actually run the marathon. However, once she went to the expo, she changed her mind. And though she hadn’t trained, she decided to go for it.

While they were running, she and Kirk ran into a group of special needs children cheering on the runners. His daughter was thrilled to see this group there offering their support to the runners. “She’s slapping high fives and just crying and [I thought], man, oh man, this is great,” he remembered. “It’s really cool to have experienced that with her. Experiencing that with her was probably worth all of the marathon.”

Another highlight of each marathon as a Hero is, of course, the Mercy Mile! Kirk said he enjoys being cheered on by friends and family as he runs past Mercy Home at Mile 16. “I’ve had family there that I’ve seen … it’s fun [and] cool,” he said.

Kirk has big goals for his final year as a Hero. He hopes to raise around $15,000 and use more email blasts and social media to meet his goal. In addition to looking to “philanthropic friends” for support, he also has a unique way of raising money for Mercy Home. Kirk directs the Homewood-Flossmoor Summer Choir, and they perform the national anthem every summer at a Chicago White Sox game. He uses this opportunity to raise both awareness and support for our Home.

When Kirk reflected on why supporting Mercy Home was so important to him, he reflected on his many responsibilities as a husband, father, son, employee, and Christian. “You realize there’s still a lot of challenges out there that you have to work with,” he said. “[In addition to those responsibilities], you still try to do the stuff you should be doing because of the kind of person you should be, what you want to witness as and mentor as, [and] that’s where Mercy Home needs you to be the strongest [supporter] and that’s what helps you with all the other stuff,” he explained. “It impacts me pretty firmly and I wish I could do ten times more.”

We are so thankful to have devoted friends like Kirk who support our boys and girls!

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