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Running miles for ‘Smiles’

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Ferris State Torch by Blase Gapinski.

Sigma Alpha Eplison’s brothers cross the finish line of the Smiles for Miles 5K. (Photo by Blase)

On Saturday, April 6, Sigma Alpha Epsilon hosted their first Smiles for Miles 5K fundraiser for the community to commemorate their brother Jesse Hernandez.

SAE collected $10 from participants to walk or run the course, with all proceeds donated to the Thin Blue Line of Michigan, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families of law enforcement who have been injured or died on the job.

The race began at the North Quad and took participants across campus. Sigma Alpha Epsilon raised over $5,000 for the organization through proceeds and donations. The event is planned to become an annual tradition dedicated to all members of law enforcement while honoring their brother who was an active member of that field.

Hernandez died on Nov. 5, 2023. Fairfax County police officers found Hernandez dead at the scene of a shooting. According to MidMichigan Now, the 911 caller said someone was “unintentionally shot inside of an apartment.”

Hernandez graduated from Ferris in December 2022 after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s in criminal justice. During his time on campus, Hernandez served as SAE’s vice president. His love for CrossFit and law enforcement was the inspiration behind the fundraiser.

Nursing senior and SAE member Tommy Johnson was welcomed into the fraternity with open arms by Hernandez.

“He meant a lot to me,” Tommy said. “He was always a cheerful guy and was a good friend to me. He was one of the guys that was there for me when I first started and if you needed help with something, he’d be there for you from start to finish.”

Tommy felt that Hernandez impacted his brothers and inspired them with his positive attitude. He was a role model to Tommy and the rest of the members and will continue to guide them with the mark he made on the fraternity.

“He was a real lead from the front type of guy,” Tommy said. “He led by example and legacy-wise, he left a ton of joy. We all fondly remember him, he’s everything we all wish we could be. All the stuff he’s taught me, I’m going to carry with me for the rest of my life.”

SAE president Dustin Herrmann was one of the many coordinators of this event. Herrmann wanted to remember Hernandez in a way that everyone could get involved with.

“We decided to go with the 5K because maintaining his physical health was something he loved and all of the proceeds are going to a really good cause,” Hermann said. “We went with the name ‘Smiles’ because that was one of his nicknames. You could tell him bad news and he’d still find a way to smile through.”

For SAE, bringing the community together is a way to memorialize Hernandez and the positivity he left behind. Herrmann wants to continue this event annually to keep his legacy alive while sharing it with others.

“I think it’s really important to celebrate who Jesse was and the memory of him,” Herrmann said. “He was the happiest person I knew and was a great leader for us younger guys. He was such a great guy and it’s a way to continue recognizing that.”

Community member Matt Johnson showed his support by participating in the race. His nephew, Tommy, had mentioned the event to him, so he and his family gladly came to help the cause.

“I know lots of people just casually walked through the course,” Johnson said. “I mostly walked and finished just over 33 minutes. It’s about being social and seeing faces you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s great for active people and for people who just want to be here to show support.”

Matt reiterates the idea of the community coming together. Events like these show how important it is to take advantage of the time that we have with loved ones.

“It’s about showing support and being there for one another. It brings awareness to the idea that life isn’t forever. We need to cherish all the time we have with each other, and we need to be careful and responsible,” Matt said.

Ferris and SAE alumnus Jerod Goodale returned for this event to represent his best friend and spoke about him after the race. He met Hernandez his freshman year in the dorms, and the two instantly formed a bond.

“When we first got here at Ferris, we kind of hit it off right from the start,” Goodale said. “We decided we were going to try and figure this college thing out together. He was a great guy that would never ask you to do something you wouldn’t want to do or he wouldn’t do himself. Similarly, he was someone you could always count on. His nickname is Smiles and I think that says a lot. Year to year, even if something bad was going on, he’d still find a way to crack a grin.”

Goodale was shocked to receive the news about his friend. He was appreciative to have the opportunity to attend the event and honor his friend with such high regard. It has made him reflect on the idea that tomorrow isn’t promised and each day is a gift.

The time that we all get with each other is finite and that’s both beautiful and cruel,” Goodale said. “We cherish the times we can with one another by making the most of everything and that shows through events like this. It’s all finite and we are blessed with the time that we have with each other.”

For donation inquiries and more information regarding the Thin Blue Line of Michigan, visit their website:

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