More than 100 people gathered at Watson Park on Saturday morning to run a 5k and grab lunch during the kick-off to the weekend-long event, Elvis Visit to End Polio Now.
Several Elvis impersonators and other runners participated in the Visit to End Polio Now 5K walk and run Saturday. Kids in Elvis masks and sequined scarves ran alongside Joesph Hall, an Elvis tribute artist and finalist on season three of “America’s Got Talent.” The day continued with tours of Old West Lawrence, an antique car show and Hall’s Rock ‘N’ Remember tribute concert at the Lied Center.
Ten local Rotary clubs organized the event, which is a fundraiser for Rotary International’s PolioPlus fund, a campaign that began in 1985 with the goal of eradicating polio worldwide.
Lawrence Rotarian Bob Swan brainstormed the idea of introducing the King to the campaign.
“Rotary is international, in more than 200 countries. Elvis is a phenomenon, known all around the world in just as many countries,” Swan said. “He is loved and respected by many, many millions.”
Swan said there is a potential for his idea to spread, and for Elvis to act as a symbol in Rotary events throughout the country. He has spoken with Hall, who is officially recognized by Elivs Presley Enterprises, about arranging other qualified Elvis impersonators to visit multiple communities. The event’s website and schedule, Swan hopes, will act as a template.
Swan is also optimistic that the event will become a fixture in the Lawrence area.
“There are 34,000 Rotary clubs, and hundreds that could take this idea,” Swan said. “And we hope that in Lawrence or KC, wherever the site will be, that it becomes an annual event.
Mary Jean Eisenhower, a granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and polio survivor, was the chairwoman of the event, and attended the tribute concert last night.
The fundraiser continues today with Hall’s visit to First Christian Church, 1000 Kentucky Street, and Free Methodist Church, 3001 Lawrence Avenue. Hall will sing gospel and ask for prayers and offerings for the eradication of polio in the three remaining endemic countries: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Swan said that Rotary’s goal is to completely eradicate polio by 2018.
“Our workers are getting killed in Pakistan and their guards are being murdered in Nigeria,” Swan said. “If people can be that brave, then we should at least raise some money for them.”
How to help
To donate to the PolioPlus fund, make checks payable to Leawood Rotary Charitable Fund and mail to: Elvis Visit, PO Box 1776, Lawrence, KS 66044. You may also donate online at rotary.org.