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The man who loved Olana

September 15, 2018 12:32 am

If Barry Hopkins had a slogan, it would have been “Have Journal, Will Travel.” He recorded his experiences and those of the people around him with wit and erudition. He was also frequently seen carrying a sketchbook, for he was an accomplished artist as well as a raconteur.

His charisma was so powerful that Greene County alone could not contain it. He branched out to Columbia County, where he fell in love with the Olana State Historic Site. Since 2007, when Hopkins died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 59, Olana has been the site of the Barry Hopkins Memorial Run. Hopkins was an artist and a diarist, but he was also an educator and a runner.

Hopkins loved fantasy literature, which inspired him in 1978 to start the Bilbo Frodo Birthday Run, named for the characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The awards presented at the end of the 3.8-mile Memorial Run are based on Tolkien’s writings.

Hopkins ran at Olana each week. After his death, a tree was planted in his memory at Frederic Church’s castle on the hill. He inspired Memorial Run co-director Kathleen Balthazar to become a runner. She became a teacher because of him.

“He loved to introduce people to running at Olana, so this was the perfect way to make his memory go on and on,” his widow Karen Hopkins said.

His students at Catskill Middle School were as devoted to him as he was to them. He taught art as a means of awakening, exploration and discovery. Just as the mythical Tolkien characters pressed on in their quest, the students and runners inspired by Hopkins would not be denied. He reminded the community that lamented his death that the power of education came from the journey more than the destination. Where you were going didn’t mean as much as what you experienced along the way. Don’t stop learning and don’t stop running the course. To Hopkins, anything less meant surrender.