Hartsdale, NY, Resident Gil Erskine, Founder of the “Hike for Our Churches” Fundraising Walk, Raises Money for Faith Organizations

Hartsdale resident Gil Erskine has a bad back. But that didn’t stop the 90-year-old—yes, 90—from completing a 10-mile walk this past May, part of the second annual “Hike for Our Churches.” Erskine founded the walk to raise money for an ever-growing list of 29 different faith organizations throughout the county; this year’s walk netted $9,635.

The former athlete—he was the founder of the Westchester Triathlon—was among 30 hikers who walked from the Hitchcock Presbyterian Church in Scarsdale up along the Bronx River Parkway Trail just short of the Kensico Dam and back, for what totaled to be about five hours for Erskine. It was the second hike Erskine has planned and organized; last year’s event drew 15 hikers and raised $8,755. And, though Erskine admits he was sure he wouldn’t be able to complete the trek this year (there is that bad back, after all), he managed—much of it with a big smile on his face. In fact, he’s already planning next year’s walk, tentatively scheduled for May 2012.

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The idea to do a fundraising hike with money going to multiple faith organizations stemmed from a sermon Erskine heard from Dr. Edward Schreur, pastor of the Greenville Community Church, about uncovering your mission. And though the father and grandfather of three had spent his long career working and helping others—he was the president of a multiple-employer pension fund, served as a member of the Edgemont PTA and the Fox Meadow Tennis Club, and was director of the White Plains Family YMCA as well as a trustee of St. Agnes Hospital—he started thinking about what he could do.

“Hiking is a nice, healthy activity where one can make friends, admire nature, and, yes, commune with God,” he says. Participants were asked to pledge $50 or more (next year, it will be $80) payable to a church, synagogue, or place of worship of their choice. “Even an atheist has to admit that churches are a force of good.”

He continues: “I’m happy that this idea has a future and that it’s lined up to exist even after I’m gone. How did I, not particularly innovative and clouded by dementia, come up with this program? And how, considering my low expectations, was I ever able to do the whole ten miles?”

It doesn’t take long for him to answer: “Thanks to a great hiking companion, Andrew Zeyer, some intense prayer, a pre-hike cortisone injection, hiking poles, and five ibuprofen, all followed up at hike’s end with a stiff vodka and tonic. Ever since, I’ve felt euphoric.”

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