Grove Express: Community Tradition Continues Under New Name and Management


Photo Courtesy of Grove Express

Participants run out at the start of the 2021 Grove Express

Quinn Kelly, Feature Editor

The Bonfield Express 5K has been a constant tradition in the Downers Grove community since its inception in 2004. In recent years the race has held over 6,000 participants, and the foundation has given nearly $1 million in scholarships to students at local high schools.

In August, the Bonfield Foundation announced that it would no longer hold the Thanksgiving 5K, but would continue to give scholarships as long as its funding allowed. 

In the absence of the Bonfield, several groups in the community stepped up to fill the void and organize a new race to be run on Thanksgiving morning. Roadrunners Soccer Club, District 58, and the Downers Grove Rotary Club worked together to conduct a race similar to the Bonfield Express, called the Grove Express that will keep the Downers Grove tradition alive.

Rotary Club president Jonathan Twitty said that they were quick to organize, and “actually got things going pretty quickly.” The three groups that collaborated to organize the race were initially competing to do so. 

Don Renner, treasurer of Roadrunners, spoke on the involvement of the village in the process, saying that with “competing applications, [they] suggested that we hold a meeting with all three organizations.” All three organizations submitted their applications to host the race within the days after the Bonfield Foundation’s announcement.

The transition from the Bonfield Foundation to the new leadership went rather smoothly. District 58 Education Foundation President Janet Alikpala had high praise for the Bonfield Foundation and their willingness to hand over the torch.

“[They] have been extremely supportive from the beginning and many of their original race committee members are consulting and advising us throughout the race planning process.”

While most of the race was the same, there were still some differences presented with new management. Debbie Hare was the communications director for the Bonfield Express, and remains in that role under new management. She has been impressed with the job done by the Grove Express leaders. 

“They’ve put a new spin on a very traditional race,” Hare said.

Registration is also easier, as participants can sign up online in under five minutes. Packet pickup was conducted at DGN, and was more efficient than it had been in the past at Good Samaritan hospital. People are also able to sign up Monday through Wednesday of race week now, and even on race day for a slightly higher price. Hare continued her praise of the Grove Express and their ability to improve a race that has been such an important tradition in the Downers Grove area, saying that  “we had 17 years to perfect the race, they had four months, I’m in awe of what they’ve been able to accomplish.”

Will Kupisch has been the race director for every Bonfield Express since the inaugural one in 2004, and will continue to take this role for the Grove Express. Kupisch spent over 30 years working at DGN as a student counselor, PE and social studies teacher, and cross country coach. He is also excited about what is to come with the new race. 

“There are a lot of improvements. New people, different organizations coming in and taking it over, and they’ll tweak it to their fancy, but the core of what it is still stays the same, which is supporting high school students. We’re really thrilled about that,” Kupisch said.

The continued scholarships from the Bonfield foundation will be joined by scholarships from District 58, the Rotary club, and Roadrunners. To many, these are the most important part of the event. Kupisch says that the race is “really about making a difference.” 

Alikpala added that, “our school and youth communities need additional funding for projects, grants, recognition programs and scholarships annually. [The race] allows us to create a call to action to raise necessary funding while getting family and friends to do something good for the community.”

While there will certainly be changes, the Grove Express will continue the mission of the Bonfield. The Downers Grove community has relied on a 5K on Thanksgiving morning, especially according to Renner, claiming that “it had to continue. There was no doubt in my mind that the race had to continue.” Every year at the race, the community shows that it is really a gathering for thousands of family and friends every Thanksgiving.

Kupisch knows that while the Bonfield Foundation was initially responsible for organizing the race, it would be nothing without the people that make it happen every year.

“It’s the community that has made this thing come alive.”

With new people in charge, innovation and improvement is expected from this year’s Grove Express. The sense of giving back to the community, and the togetherness of thousands of people are what the Grove Express is really about.