Becky Hooper of Lawrenceville, her dog Abbie, Linda Brummer, her dog Bacchus, and Lea Anne Cavanaugh, left, of Buford cross the finish line while participating in the 6th annual Ella’s 5K and Fun Run at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford Saturday. The event celebrates the life of Meredith Hope Emerson, who was kidnapped and murdered while hiking near Blairsville on New Year’s Day 2008. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
BUFORD — One of Meredith Hope Emerson’s favorite things about college was studying abroad, particularly in southern France.
In the Department of Romance Languages at the University of Georgia, she was known as a top student who had an easy-going and friendly personality and earned a prestigious award for studying French literature and culture. She also loved the outdoors, and hiking with her dog, Ella.
Those passions merged again on a damp Saturday morning with temperatures in the 50s at the sixth annual Ella’s Run event at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford.
Ella’s Run is to celebrate the memory of Emerson, who went missing on Jan. 1, 2008, while hiking in Blairsville with Ella, who she adopted from a rescue shelter. Emerson was found six days later murdered in the woods.
Not everyone out of the crowd of more than 300 participants, and their dogs, in the 5K race and fun run knew Emerson, and not many knew her like her roommate, Julie Karrenbauer, or professor, Jonathan Krell, did.
“Students come and go and most of them I forget,” said Krell, who has taught at UGA for 20 years. “But she was someone myself and several of my colleagues never forgot, and never would forget. She was special, brilliant, friendly.”
That’s why people who knew her at UGA established the Meredith Hope Emerson Memorial Award for Study Abroad, which is now an endowed scholarship. Krell said seven students have been selected for the award, which is a $1,000 prize that’s awarded for French-language study in a French-speaking country, with preference given to current and former residents of the French Language Community.
“We thought the best thing we could do was raise some money to fund the scholarship in her name to study abroad in France,” Krell said. “She was just thrilled about it.”
Proceeds from Ella’s Run support the scholarship, and emergency solar/wireless phones for greenways, parks and trailheads through a nonprofit, Right to Hike, that Karrenbauer and others established in Emerson’s memory. It also supports animal rescues and microchipping.
The group has donated three phones to area parks, one each at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center, Suwanee Greenway and Gary Pirkle Park in Sugar Hill. Karrenbauer said Right to Hike has plans to donate six more phones in the coming months around the Gwinnett area.
The Environmental and Heritage Center is special to those who knew Emerson because she used to go there with Ella.
T.J. Bultema of Suwanee ran with his dog Dokebi, a boxer mix, and finished first among runners who ran with a dog in 21:44. Bultema has participated in all but one of the Ella’s Run events. He said Ella’s Run is one of the few running events that allow dogs.
“The reason for the event in my opinion is a horrible tragedy and if there’s any way I can support Right to Hike, I want to do that,” Bultema said.
The event has become a mainstay on the calendars of 5K and outdoors enthusiasts, and Karrenbauer said the participants and sponsors have been an extension of the Right to Hike family. She’s watched families grow, and each year bring more kids and dogs with them.
“We didn’t let something as senseless as what happened to Meredith go without taking action against it,” Karrenbauer said. “Right to Hike is just our small way of continuing her memory. This community is a safe place and we want to continue to make it safer for everybody to enjoy the outdoors just as Meredith did.”
MOBILE USERS: Click here to view video.
Ella's Run - 2013 - 6th Annual
More than 300 people participated in the 6th Annual Ella's 5K and Fun Run at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford Saturday.