Like a Thanksgiving Parade…Only Faster… For 10 Years Running!

Native Madisonian Jim Berbee founded his namesake company in 1993. A veteran runner, he came across an article in the Wall Street Journal about Thanksgiving Day runs. “Turkey Trots”—5K or 10K races–were common all over the country and very successful. It seemed like a no brainer that a big running community like Madison would support such a race, and that it could potentially raise money for a worthy cause. Jim and his staff set out to create the race and run it near the company’s headquarters in Fitchburg.

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But what was the right worthy cause? Eager to find something that would be in line with the company’s activities and philosophy, Jim and company CEO Paul Shain hit on the idea of something that would help promote the use of technology in classrooms and non-profit organizations. “Technology changes so quickly, and it’s important that kids are exposed to it,” Jim Berbee said. “The problem is that it’s also expensive, and there really wasn’t a good source of private funding dedicated to it in Madison.”

And so, the Technology Education Foundation was born, and became the designated beneficiary for proceeds from the annual Berbee Derby.

The first Berbee Derby in 2004 featured about 900 runners, full of enthusiasm and sent on their way by then-Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle. The company’s employees embraced the race full throttle—many of the team leaders and volunteers came from the ranks of Berbee staffers. The first race director, Sarah Weber, was in Berbee’s marketing group. (Some of the original Berbee employees continue to volunteer for the race to this day.) When Berbee was sold in 2006, Jim Berbee and his wife assumed responsibility for the event and new owner CDW signed on as a major sponsor of the Derby, helping to ensure the tradition would continue.

Every year, the race has attracted more runners who are excited about supporting a good cause and doing something healthy and fun to start out the holiday. Working off your turkey dinner and pumpkin pie has become a popular mantra with area runners, and people from all over the country who are visiting family in the area. Families love the race and its format of both runs and a walk available, allowing fast family members to run and others to do a more leisurely walk. Teams are a big part of the Derby—families, friends and businesses field teams and receive the Berbee Derby’s famed “Team T-shirt” which is customized with the team’s name. Costumes on race day are seen everywhere—everything from Green Bay Packers (and the occasional Chicago Bears) gear to every kind of turkey or pilgrim hat imaginable. In 2012, the weather gods shined on the race, allowing the warmest start time ever, and the first visit to the event by the UW Med Flight Helicopter.

Today, the Berbee Derby attracts more than 8,000 runners and is well on its way to becoming a local Thanksgiving Day tradition. But its purpose still remains the same: To raise funds for the Technology Education Foundation to fund grants for purchasing technology for use in classrooms and non-profits in the Madison area. To date, the Berbee Derby has raised more than $688,000 for this purpose. “We are proud that the Derby has continued, but particularly that it is truly a non-profit race—100 percent of the proceeds go to grants for the Technology Education Fund,” said Jim Berbee.

In 2013, the Berbee Derby celebrates 10 years of being a Madison Thanksgiving tradition. Part of the celebration is a “10 Years Running” photo contest, which invites people to take pictures of themselves in their Berbee Derby shirts while in vacation and doing fun things at home. (Take your shirt on vacation, runners/walkers—let’s do this!)

No event can reach the 10-year mark without the help of many people. We want to take this opportunity to thank to everyone, past and present, who has supported the Berbee Derby in any way. This includes our wonderful sponsors, dedicated volunteers, the city of Fitchburg, Lands’ End and their fabulous shirts, our many suppliers and partners, and of course, our runners and walkers. Without your continued interest, dedication and support, there couldn’t be a Berbee Derby. When we stand out in the cold on Thanksgiving morning, we remember why we do this: The smiles on the faces of our runners and walkers, and the many technology education grants we will be able to award because of the Derby’s success.

Berbee Derby Race Directors

  • 2004-2005: Sarah Weber Hurley
  • 2006-2007: Emily Schlueter Tigert
  • 2008: Dustin Wilfling
  • 2009-2012: Birgit Bach (co-director Lyn Johnson)
  • 2013: Karen Walsh (co-director Lyn Johnson)
  • 2014: Jessica Benson (co-director Lyn Johnson)

Race Director Memories

2004-2005: Sarah (Weber) Hurley

I was fortunate to not only be a part of establishing the Berbee Derby from the ground up, but I also had the humbling experience of presenting the first grant award from the Technology Education Foundation to our recipients. My favorite Berbee Derby memory actually came 11 months before the first Berbee Derby. I was at my desk at work and Jim Berbee called and asked that I come down to his office. I was a little nervous on my way there because I had no idea what the meeting was in regard to. He simply started the conversation with, “Sarah, I have an idea…” and this was the start of an amazing event that I will forever be grateful to have been a part of.

2006-2007: Emily (Schlueter) Tigert

I have so many great memories of my Berbee Derby years – endless planning, sleepless nights, wonderful friendships, lots of laughter, and maybe even a few tears. Surprisingly, my favorite memory was not actually during my time as race director, but rather my first experience as a participant, years later. For the first time I truly saw the event from the runner’s perspective – start to finish. Knowing first-hand the amount of work and detail put in from a director’s perspective, that sea of people at the finish line meant more than it ever had before, and I felt so proud to play a part in building such a successful event. I also felt REALLY bad about that 10K hill everyone was always complaining about! WOW, you were all right… it really IS bad! While I admit I still have the occasional Berbee Derby nightmare, I’m confident my Thanksgiving Day will always start off on the right foot (pun intended). It’s a fun event, for a great cause, with a lot of hardworking people behind it. Thanks for the memories!

2008: Dustin Wilfling

Dustin, we can’t find you – please contact us so we can share your story!

2009-2012: Birgit Bach

I really enjoyed my four years with the Berbee Derby/Technology Education Foundation. The highlights for me were working with all of the wonderful, dedicated volunteers and, of course, race day!

2013: Karen Walsh

Watching all those stoked people cross the starting line was the best reward for months of hard work. You meet so many great people working on the Derby–sponsors, vendors, volunteers, runners and walkers. The most amazing collection of people come together to put on this race every year. The participants may not  know it, but some of our committee chairs and volunteers have been working on this race for years, laboring and planning for weeks and months so that everything goes as smoothly as possible for them. (Not to mention getting up REALLY EARLY on Thanksgiving Day.) That’s dedication! The City of Fitchburg is such a supportive host–we couldn’t ask for a better community partner. And we do it all keeping in mind our goal–more grants to non-profits for technology education in the Madison area. A million thanks to everyone who helps us reach that goal!

2009-2014: Lyn Johnson (co-director)

2014 is my 6th year as co-race director of the Berbee Derby. My favorite part of working for the Berbee Derby is raceday! Knowing all of the coordination and hard work that goes on behind the scenes for the Berbee Derby makes me appreciate a well-run race.

The Berbee Derby is a family and friends event which kicks-off the Thanksgiving Day Weekend. I thoroughly enjoy seeing those who run year after year keeping with their tradition to those who are running or walking their very first 5 or 10k. Providing a fun-filled raceday in which all proceeds flow directly to the Technology Education Foundation is a true win-win situation and I love being part of it!!!

2014: Jessica Benson

Being a participant was my first experience with the Berbee Derby.  As a participant, I really appreciated family and friends coming together on Thanksgiving for such a fun event.  Now as director I take pride in what the Berbee Derby stands for, and I am honored to be a part of the Berbee Derby and the Technology Education Foundation.  The grants awarded from the Technology Education Foundation go back into the community, which makes the journey…so amazing and rewarding!