Supporting Cincinnati’s Heritage, Causes and Events



Photography provided by Western & Southern Thanksgiving Day Race

In Cincinnati on Thanksgiving Day, we don’t just gather around the table, we gather around the starting line. 

Even though the holiday is famous for couch potato pastimes such as parades, football and feasting, one tradition in these parts goes against that grain.

More than 16,000 runners will stream through the streets of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky for the Western & Southern Thanksgiving Day 10k Race. It will be the 106th year for the third-oldest race in the country, slightly younger than the Boston Marathon, and the oldest of its kind in the Midwest. It has grown from 18 participants in 1908, who raced from the Fort Thomas Gym to the YMCA in downtown Cincinnati.

The event generates close to $200,000 a year for several area charities, according to race director Julie Isphording, the 1984 Olympic marathoner who has won the Thanksgiving Day Race eight times.

“It was always my favorite race because it was such a local tradition and I could be in my hometown,” Isphording says. “It was so much fun to compete with all my friends and have my parents waiting for me at the finish line. And when my running career ended, I became a volunteer so I wouldn’t miss the excitement.” 

She became race director in 2002, and has helped grow participation from 3,000 participants a decade ago to more than 16,000 in 2014. Isphording’s goal: “It is my dream to get 20,000 on that starting line.”

Isphording says the race could not have grown to its present size without corporate sponsors like Western & Southern Financial Group, which has been a backer for seven years and the main presenting sponsor for the last three. Isphording said corporate contributions are vital to covering the costs of such a race, which can be staggering when you factor in such pricey necessities as security, insurance, staging and medical staffing. 

The Thanksgiving Race benefits a number of area causes, including the Ronald McDonald House, Girls on the Run, UC Barrett Cancer Center, Salvation Army, Literacy Network, Clark Montessori, Goodwill, Accounting for Kids, Roger Bacon, Melanoma Know More and many others.

What is in that Ohio River water that causes thousands of people to start a notoriously lazy day with a brisk run? Isphording ticks off several factors, including the ongoing national trend toward health and wellness and the fact that Cincinnati is simply a town that loves its traditions. 

“You see generations of families,” she says. “A little boy who was pushed in a stroller in the race now has kids of his own. It has that holiday flavor with 16,000 people going down to the stadium with all their family and friends.” 

Indeed, the race has an emotional hold for many participants – families who use it for gatherings and former high school and college track mates who get together for an annual reunion run. 

“It’s a fun race, not a serious one. There is no big prize money or a car at the end of the finish line,” Isphording says. “You can walk, run, dance it, jump through it or do cart wheels.”

Isphording says sponsorship of the race is typical of what Western & Southern does for the community. 

“They helped us take (the race) to a new level. They lent staff to this and made the race bigger and better when they came on board,” she says. “Western & Southern supports so many Cincinnati heritage events. They are so involved with family events and those that go to the health of our community in the broadest sense – economic, physical, community and those who just play and work here.”

Financial support of events that have rich community traditions is a persistent theme at Western & Southern Financial Group, itself a 127-year-old insurance company that diversified into real estate, investment management and other financial services becoming one of Ohio’s largest private companies. 

“We do like Cincinnati traditions,” says Mike Laatsch, vice president of public relations for Western & Southern. “What we really like is events that make a difference. Our long-term interest is to have a vital, growing, healthy city. We want to promote economic and financial stability, quality health care and educational achievement. We seek partnerships with other organizations in the community to achieve that.”    

The firm’s contributions to local causes are significant. Over the last four years it has donated more than $38 million. In 2014, it was $9.6 million. 

In addition to supporting dozens of smaller initiatives in the area, Western & Southern is the major sponsor of six major Cincinnati legacy events, including the Thanksgiving Race. Its other major sponsorships include: 

Crib of the Nativity: Since 1939, Western & Southern has sponsored the nativity display, now in Eden Park at the Krohn Conservatory, and has matched the gifts donated by those visiting the display, which benefits the annual Christmas drive for the Salvation Army. 

Walk MS: The annual 5k and 10k Walk MS connects people living with multiple sclerosis and those who care about them. Thousands participate in the effort, forming teams and seeking pledges as part of national Walk MS projects held in dozens of U.S. cities raising $870 million to support MS research since the walk-a-thons began in 1988. 

Ride Cincinnati: The event became an instant hit when it was launched eight years ago with thousands of cycling participants of all abilities and ages enjoy bike riding in the annual non-competitive, family-oriented event. The routes, ranging from eight to 63 miles, wind through Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. Ride Cincinnati is the first cycling event in the area to raise funds for breast cancer research. It was co-founded in 2007 by Dr. Harvey Harris and two friends, whose families have been touched by breast cancer, dedicated to the life of Marlene Harris. 

Western & Southern Open: With roots dating to 1899, the tennis tournament is the oldest in the nation still playing in its original city and one of world’s elite tournaments for both men’s and women’s competition. It has an economic impact of $50 million each year on the region. “It brings in a global audience of 70 million viewers and visitors from all 50 states and 30 countries,” says Laatsch. “It’s like an All-Star Game here every year with our city on display.” 

Western & Southern/WEBN Fireworks: Western & Southern is in the first year of a three-year agreement to be main sponsor of the WEBN Fireworks, an end of the summer tradition since 1977. 

“The fireworks have always been special and they’re about as good here as they are anywhere in the world,” says John Barrett, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Western & Southern. “You want to have a city that people want to be in. If we’re going to attract people to Cincinnati, and if we’re going to bring our children back home after college, we have to have the neatest city in the world. We’ve been working on it, and I think we’re getting close,
really close.” 

For information about the Western & Southern 106th Thanksgiving Day 10K Race, please visit www.thanksgivingdayrace.