By Mae Cleveland and Herb Wills

Tonight’s Hall of Fame inductee is no stranger to a variety of race distances. From 800 meters to 50 miles, he can say “Been there, done that.” Before talking about his road racing accomplishments over the past twenty years, I present Herb Wills, our Honoree’s fellow cross-
country teammate, to sum up the pre-Tallahassee road racing days.

“This year’s Gulf Winds Track Club Hall-of-Fame Inductee is a runner I’ve known for quite a few years, more years than the track club has had a Hall of Fame. Back in the twentieth century, we both ran track at Leon High School, where he specialized in the half mile (in these degenerate times, this has been replaced by the 800 meters). This middle-distance background must still show, because years later, after what is now the Turkey Trot 15K, John Parker stared at tonight’s Hall of Famer and finally asked him if he was a miler.

He graduated high school in 1977, a year ahead of me. I lost track of him until 1981, where I saw him running a 2:29:52 marathon at Savannah. Since high school, he had enlisted in the army where he discovered that he really loved to run, running not only marathons but a 50-mile run in Korea. No, Mr. Parker, he’s really not a miler.

In the fall of 1981 he was enrolled at Florida State University, where he was part of the Seminole Cross Country team. 1981 was the year that FSU finished 8th at the NCAA cross country championships; the school’s highest finish ever.”

Our honored runner is no stranger to Tallahasseans. He is probably the best known runner in town, if not by name, then by the picture-perfect running form hundreds of people observe as he glides along the busy roads of Tallahassee in his daily training run. Dr. Jim Story, director of the Rose City Run, says the photographers love him because it is impossible to get a bad picture of him. But, of course, those of us in Gulf Winds Track Club know him by name. In fact, if you’ve figured out who we’re talking about, some of you are probably saying to yourself, “Gee, I thought he was already in the Hall of Fame,” while the rest will be thinking, “Well, it’s about time.”

In over twenty years of competitive road racing in the Tallahassee area, he has had, and continues to have, outstanding racing accomplishments. Here are a few of them:

o He has won at least one time every Gulf Winds Track Club race he has entered. That includes the marathon and all distances down to the 5K.

o Between 1987 and 1992 he won the GWTC Grand Prix four times and finished 2nd once.

o Not surprisingly he has been our Runner of the Year, in 1989.

o He has won the Springtime 10K a total of five times, the Rose City 10K eight times, and he has crossed the finish line first at the Turkey Trot 15K six times. These wins do not all date back to his glory days of youth. In 2005 he had wins at Rose City and the Turkey Trot and no one would be surprised to learn he set 45-49 age group records while he was at it.

He loves running, and while he has not competed frequently over the past 7 or 8 years, and will seldom admit it, he is probably always ready for a race. Perhaps this is because his love of running includes some tough track workouts. Rex Cleveland tells of the time he arrived at the FSU Mike Long track when Jessie (everyone must know by now we could only be talking about Jessie Close) was finishing an interval session. Was he getting ready for a special future race? No, “I just like to do track workouts. They are part of my routine,” was Jessie’s reply.

Jessie’s impressive running accomplishments alone no doubt qualify him for our Hall of Fame.