Tyler Smith Memorial 5K: ‘It's keeping his memory alive in a positive way’

The fourth annual Tyler Smith Memorial 5K and after party will take place Sunday, Sept. 11 in Rochelle.

Proceeds benefit nonprofits and scholarships for RTHS students

ROCHELLE — The fourth annual Tyler Smith Memorial 5K and after party will take place Sunday, Sept. 11 in Rochelle.

The 5K run/walk begins at 9 a.m. at Atwood Park. Check-in begins at 7:30 a.m. at Kids Ground at Cooper Park. 

The cost to participate is $25 and includes race entry and lunch. To register, go online to raceentry.com or go in-person to the Rochelle Park District office at The REC Center. The after party will take place at the Rochelle VFW from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will include lunch, a 50/50 raffle, a silent auction and music. Tickets for lunch-only are $10. Proceeds from the events will benefit the Tyler Smith Memorial Fund. 

Smith, a graduate of Rochelle Township High School and Western Illinois University, was 23 when he was found dead on Sept. 15, 2018 in Cedar Fork Creek in Galesburg. He was in the Army National Guard and was in the area at the time for drill training. 

After the Galesburg Police Department initiated the investigation into Smith’s death and ruled it accidental from drowning, the Illinois State Police Division of Criminal Investigation got involved in Sept. 2020 and launched an investigation into Tyler’s case that is still ongoing.  

“They've had several leads and they go through every lead,” Smith’s mother, Sandy Halsne, said. “There have been some promising leads. It's very hard to be patient, but it just takes time. We hope that something will still come out of it. We know his death is completely different from what they said originally. But they are still working on it. I stay in contact with the state police every week and they update me. They can't tell me everything, but they've made it very clear that this isn't over."

Smith’s birthday is Sept. 12, and his mother’s follows a day after. The family always did something together to celebrate. That has continued with the 5K event. 

“This is our way of celebrating Tyler's life,” Halsne said. “Also with him being our only child and him having friends that are now growing and having families and moving forward, it's nice to get everybody together in memory of Tyler. It's family-friendly. We've had a great response this year. There's been great support from the community."

The Tyler Smith Memorial Fund gives two annual $500 scholarships to Rochelle Township High School students. It has donated to nonprofits in the past as well including military causes to honor Smith’s service. A donation was given to the San Jose Police Department, where Smith planned to have a career, for a youth outreach program. The family has also given to the Darkhorse Lodge, an organization that helps veterans.

There’s a Rochelle Area Community Foundation fund in Smith’s honor, which was used last year to give a grant to Central School to help with a sensory room for kids.

"The most important thing is that Tyler wanted to serve people,” Halsne said. “He wanted to be a police officer. He was staying in the military and that's serving your country. That's just the kind of kid he was. He seemed to have friends from all walks of life and didn't judge anyone. It was important for us to keep that legacy of him going by helping others in his name."

Halsne said she and her family feel “very supported and blessed” on the day of the 5K event each year. Smith’s friends and family attend and honor his memory. Friends from Rochelle, college and the military make the trip from long and short distances away.

“We have family members from other states that come,” Halsne said. “It's really become like a reunion of friends and family and we just all are able to see each other and celebrate his life. We also get to see what's going on in their lives as well. Not having Tyler around makes it a little harder for us to see everyone and stay in contact with them. It's really nice.”

Halsne called the local support for the event “amazing.” Businesses have made donations. The park district has helped with its facilities, taking sign-ups and advertising. The VFW donates its space for the after party. Hicks BBQ donates the food each year.

“It's amazing how people can give and participate and take the time out of their day or a few dollars out of their pocket to help an organization that helps their community,” Halsne said. “We feel very blessed, honored and humbled by it. It's about bringing everybody together and having a good day and getting exercise.”

Halsne said she wanted to thank the community for its support and said the 5K event is a great way to bring people together that knew Tyler, along with those that didn’t, so they can have a chance to get to know his story.

“We can do something positive in Tyler's name, despite the tragedy that happened to him,” Halsne said. “It's keeping his memory alive in a positive way."