Walkers at Eastwood Mall step it up, rain or shine, to improve their health and spend time with friends.
"I started walking the neighborhood, and there were too many dogs and broken sidewalks, and it was getting scary, and so I thought I'd come in here," said Barb Liberatore, 75, of Warren. "It doesn't rain in here, it doesn't snow, and it's a good temperature."
"We used to fill this whole area," said her husband, Frank Liberatore, 79, gesturing to the tables and chairs in the eating area of Target at the Eastwood Mall. "There were a lot of mall walkers who would just come in and leave, but we would stay here and have coffee and talk."
Tribune Chronicle photos / R. Michael Semple
From left, Marty Deak of Warren, Dan Martino of Brookfield, Anita Deak of Warren, and Richard O’Brien of Warren, get their morning walk in at the Eastwood Mall.
"You walk, you see the same people, everybody stops for coffee, you get to be friends with everyone," he said. "If we didn't walk, we wouldn't even meet any of these people."
Eastwood Mall property manager Kenneth Kollar said, "Some of the mall walkers we have here are very, very intense. Some are under doctor's care, some are doing it for fun, some are doing it for camaraderie.
"We've had up to 5,000 people signed up for the Mall Walkers program. We don't have 5,000 people here every day, but there is a nucleus of them who are here in the summer and in the winter, whether it's 100 degrees outside or 32 below. It's amazing. It's a really neat little thing we have going here," he said.
Get fit at the mall
Want to be a mall walker? Stop by the St. Joe's storefront in the Eastwood Mall by Sears and sign up.
The mall walkers seem to be living proof that getting a little exercise can improve one's health.
"I had a hip replacement and then two months later, in January of this year, I had congestive heart failure,'' said a Howland man in his 80s who goes by the name of Little Joe. ''After the congestive heart failure, I absolutely could not walk an eighth of a mile. Now I'm up to a little over a mile and about every two weeks I can feel myself getting stronger and walking further.
''You've got to stay physically and mentally alert. That old phrase, use it or lose it, I used to think it only applied to sex until I got older," he said.
"The heart doctor told me to walk, said it would be good for me,'' said Richard Tock, 76, of Niles. "The doctor loves it when I tell him I walk two miles every day. I walk less now, but I did walk two before."
"We used to do three laps, then we went to two laps, now we're down to one lap because we're getting older. But I think the halls are just getting longer,'' said Frank Liberatore.
"I can do less now, but I still keep moving," said Barb Liberatore.
"A lap is 1.3 miles if you follow the perimeter of the mall," Kollar said. "We open our doors before the mall opens at 7 a.m. so people can come in and walk at their pace. We have people who walk backwards, sideways, and we have people who do a little jog in between. In today's society, health is a big concern, so if we can give our local patrons the chance to get in here and stay in shape year round, it's a good thing."
Tock said, "I keep walking because if I quit walking, I'm done. I told my wife, if I quit walking, I'll probably deteriorate so bad. I have to keep walking, it's become part of my life now, I have to come out.''
And he has plenty of friends, new and old, waiting for him each morning.
This group of mall walkers has been meeting for exercise and conversation every weekday since the 1980s. "It's wonderful camaraderie, but we've lost a lot of walkers over the years too," said Barb Liberatore.
"They keep passing away on us, but that's life, you gotta keep moving, keep walking, stay active, mentally and physically. Just get moving," added Frank Liberatore.
Kollar said, "There are some wonderful, wonderful friends I've made over the years through the walking program, and to me that's what life's about. Grab as many friends as you can and that's something special."