Expect to see a few hundred enthusiasts of both Elvis and running in downtown Lawrence on June 22. A group of area Rotary Clubs will host a unique event: Elvis Visit to End Polio Now.
The event is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at Watson Park with a 5K walk and run that will travel around the park and through the Old West Lawrence neighborhood. (Just to be clear, you don’t have to wear an Elvis costume to run, but all the cool kids will be.) The Rotary Clubs that evening will host a concert by noted Elvis tribute artist Joseph Hall at 7:30 p.m. at the Lied Center. Unless you are like me, the 5K run and walk shouldn’t take you until 7:30. (In my defense, blue suede shoes, a guitar, and 15 pounds of hair oil will slow a guy down.) Organizers will provide lunch to the runners, host several Elvis-themed contests, and also have some tours of Lawrence set up for out-of-town visitors to enjoy before the concert.
The event is part of Rotary’s effort to eradicate polio, which is known to still exist in three countries: Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan. Rotary has made eradicating polio by 2018 a major international mission for years, but this is the first time they have enlisted the help of the King. The idea of combining the worldwide brand of Elvis with the worldwide effort to end polio was the brainchild of Lawrence Rotarian Bob Swan.
“I just felt like we needed a new tool to fight polio,” said Swan, a member of Lawrence’s Central Rotary Club. “We need to do something to get the support of nonRotarians.”
Swan had seen Hall — who was a finalist on the television program America’s Got Talent — perform several time at Branson, Mo. Swan figured nothing packs in a crowd like Elvis, so he began planting the seed of an Elvis-themed fundraising event.
Members of about a dozen area Rotary Clubs have helped organize the event. Proceeds from both the concert and the run will go to Rotary’s worldwide fund to fight polio. Swan said he hopes the event will raise several thousand dollars, and will become a model for area Rotary clubs across the country to use in fundraising.
But if Elvis isn’t your thing, there will be another celebrity of a sorts on hand. Mary Jean Eisenhower, a granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is lending her support to the event. Eisenhower — who is a Kansas City area resident and has been a leader of the People to People International organization founded by her grandfather — is a polio survivor, and plans to be on hand for both the race and the concert event.
People interested in more information on either the race or the concert, can find additional details at elvisendspolio.org.
Lawrence city commissioners at their meeting tonight are being asked to give final approval for the group’s use of Watson Park for the race and associated events. The item is on the city’s consent agenda, so approval is not expected to be a problem.
UPDATE: Since we're talking about Elvis, I also put a call into Downtown Lawrence Inc. to see if it was again planning to host its Elvis Spectacular, an event where numerous Elvis personalities come to downtown. Well, you are in luck King fans. The second annual event is set for Sept. 28. It will be held in conjunction with the Rev It Up car show that is held in and along South Park. Look for more details as the event gets closer. But DLI director tells me the event will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of "Viva Las Vegas."