On Wednesdays, Over 100 “SkyWalkers” Log Miles and Share Smiles at Somerset

On Wednesdays Over 100 “SkyWalkers” Log Miles and Share Smiles at Somerset

(Mel Corrigan, May 2, 2018)

Troy, MI- While many of us start our mornings off commuting to work or getting kids to school, others park in deserted lots and make their way inside an otherwise empty shopping mall. Mall Walkers across the country enjoy a controlled climate and flat walking surfaces in a closed course before the shopping begins. But at The Somerset Collection, the SkyWalkers’ Club has taken mall walking to a whole new level.

Cliff Wagoner, Director of the SkyWalkers’ Club, recently celebrated his 90th birthday, and he was as happy and energetic as could be when we met outside of The Walking Company Wednesday. “I forgot to reserve the table,” he said. “We’re waiting for it so we can get set-up.”

Each week a different store opens its doors two hours early to accommodate the SkyWalkers’ coffee hours. Registered members receive a discount or other perk when they shop and show their official SkyWalkers’ badge that day.

“I love the coffee hour; it’s two hours of fun,” said Tony Kelof, the SkyWalkers’ first official coffee guy. Tony is the quintessential happy, funny guy of the group. Gently poking fun with his counterparts, he’s the life of the party. He had a heart attack in 2008 and now boasts a healthy heart thanks to traversing the mall with the SkyWalkers. He also enjoys his duties managing the sign-in sheet and setting out the donation cup. “We send the money down to Detroit to….what’s that guy’s name?” After a fellow walker reminds him he says, “Oh, yeah, Mitch Albom!” He laughs. He continues, “The people here are great. They give with a smile.”

The table arrives outside of The Walking Company, and Tony sprints across the way to set it up. He clearly takes his role seriously. Within minutes, coffee, pastries and piles of information adorn the table, beckoning the walkers.

Men and women engage at the table, browse and shop The Walking Company, and talk with others before getting back to their walking. Everyone seemed to know one another, smiling or saying hello, sharing handshakes and pats on back.

Individuals from Rochester Hills to Bloomfield Township and nearly every city in between gather in the early hours of the morning to walk The Somerset Collection in Troy. Many do so five to seven days per week. When asked what brings them back each day, the responses ranged from the camaraderie, diversity, socialization and even the hugs. Hema Joshi from Bloomfield Hills referred to the walking group as “a wonderful, extended family.”

And it feels like a family, indeed. Adrine (pronounced Ah-dree-nay) Ohanian, an Iranian raised in Israel, is a warm, kind woman whose energy truly brightened my morning. She started walking at The Somerset Collection ten years ago after her doctor implored that walking would improve five things: her cholesterol, blood pressure, socialization, exercise, and mental health. But beyond the benefits to her health and wellness, Adrine walks six days each week because “Cliff makes it so enjoyable and treats us all like family.”

Ninety-seven-year-old Skip Eddy started walking when her circle of friends fell away after her husband’s death. She walks every Wednesday and is known as the speed walker whose breakfast comprises a cup of black coffee and square of dark chocolate. How’s that for the key to longevity?

The Somerset Collection started off as one building, south of Big Beaver Road. The North building was erected in 1996, and a skywalk over Big Beaver Road adjoins the two. And hence, the mall walkers began calling themselves the Skywalkers. Cliff eventually capitalized the “W” (SkyWalkers) after he started leading the group. When I first heard about the SkyWalkers it conjured thoughts of Star Wars. “Sometimes they call me Luke,” Cliff said with a chuckle.

I walked into the mall at 7:45 a.m., feeling a bit nervous as I encountered various strangers in my quest to find a guy named Cliff. After two hours of mingling, laughs and a few hugs, I felt like one of the SkyWalkers and as if I’d known Cliff for years. That welcoming, community feel is no coincidence; it was Cliff’s vision for the walking group when he first took the reins, and he has seen it through to fruition.

About a hundred and twenty people sign-in on a typical Wednesday. Cliff said, “Anything less than a hundred feels like a failure.” He’s a man with high expectations. Motivation aside, he is a genuine, personable fellow with a passion for people.

Linda McIntosh, the marketing director for The Somerset Collection and other Forbes Properties, describes Cliff as a “brilliant, kind man with passion and energy like I have seen in no one else. Cliff always smiles and always has time for everyone.” I couldn’t agree more. He never missed a beat as he graciously bounced from our conversation to greeting any one of dozens of walkers and back.

At 9:50 a.m. the SkyWalkers start packing into The Walking Company. Each week, the sponsoring store provides four gift cards for a giveaway. Cliff calls everyone’s attention and starts with a few announcements before the anticipated drawing. “It’s really heartwarming to me to have this group of people and the relationships we have,” Cliff proclaimed. “I’ve set, as a new goal, to make this the friendliest mall in America. And you are a start to that.”

If anyone can achieve that mission, it’s Luke—I mean, Cliff.

To learn more about The SkyWalkers’ Club at The Somerset Collection check out https://www.thesomersetcollection.com/about-us/ or email Cliff Wagoner at cwagoner@thesomersetcollection.com

The “donation cup” proceeds benefit SAY Detroit https://www.facebook.com/SAYDetroit/

Mel Corrigan is a freelance writer from Clarkston, Michigan

melcorrigan.com and https://www.facebook.com/melkcorrigan/

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