Fundraising by foot, from Spokane to Issaquah

July 31, 2012

By Katie Larsen

Arlene Carter, Providence Marianwood Foundation executive director (left) photographs Johann Neethling and his daughter Maria Henderson as they break the finish-line tape and are showered with confetti thrown by staffing coordinator Amy Lewis (right), after their cross-state fundraising walk. By Greg Farrar

Dozens of staff members and residents of Providence Marianwood cheered for Chaplain Johann Neethling as he crossed the finish line July 25 after a more than 300-mile walk from Spokane.

Neethling, 65, began walking across the state July 18 alongside his daughter Maria Henderson. He arrived at Marianwood right at 1 p.m., as scheduled. The Issaquah Brass, a quintet from Issaquah High School, repeatedly played “When the Saints Go Marching In” as the trio made their finish.

Ian Kennedy, support service director at Marianwood, an assisted-care facility, said the walk was a “labor of love” before each traveler talked about his or her journey. Henderson started crying as she described the amazing time she had.

“He just cares so much, he loves you guys,” Henderson said. “It was a treasure to be part of that.”

Neethling, who walks to work from his home in Klahanie, said it would take awhile to process the experience and said he, his daughter and his wife made many memories on their journey. (His wife Anne drove a support car along the trip.)

Arlene Carter, executive director for the Providence Marianwood Foundation, said the fundraising effort has raised close to $8,000 so far. The money will help fund changing two existing rooms into a bistro and family lounge.

“I think it’s brought us all closer together,” Carter said. “He’s inspired us all. I think especially now when there’s a lot of bad news, good things are going on.”

Neethling updated a blog at each stop, which residents from Marianwood would check frequently from the lobby computer.

“It’s another way they felt connected with him on the trip,” Carter said. “It made them feel like they were doing this with him.”

On the Web

Read about Johann Neethling’s trip across the state on foot, and see pictures from the journey, on his blog

How to help

Donate to the fundraising trip by calling Arlene Carter at Providence Marianwood at 391-2895 or go to

The blog got comments from supporters, which helped Henderson and Neethling continue the trip, despite bad blisters and pain in their feet. Neethling’s youngest daughter, Marieke Culby, from South Carolina, posted scriptures on the blog and sent inspiring text messages to the trio. She also advised the walkers to abandon their heavy-duty hiking boots and buy cheap sneakers and support stockings from Walmart, which ended up helping them tremendously.

“The blog posts helped keep me connected with my support team here and across the country,” Neethling said.

The trio booked hotel rooms to sleep in each night in advance. But after getting to the Wenatchee area and deciding unexpectedly to stay the night there, they could not find a hotel because of the number of events going on. They ended up sleeping in their car in the Walmart parking lot.

Henderson is a kindergarten teacher in Whidbey Island, where Neethling had walked to from Issaquah on his first on-foot journey.

“I think just the idea of being involved in something bigger than yourself,” was Henderson’s favorite part of participating.

Neethling said the amount of goodness they saw on the road surprised them. On the way, strangers that heard about the cause bought meals for them or just laid money on their table as donations to the effort.

“With God on your side, you can do pretty much anything,” Anne Neethling said.

Chaplain Neethling said he felt exhilarated to be at the end of the journey.

“This is probably going to be one of the best experiences of my life,” he said.

In preparation for the trip, Anne and Johann Neethling drove the route three times, and the state Department of Transportation sent a letter with authorization and rules for walking the distance.

“I’m not going to have shoes on for the next four days,” Chaplain Neethling said.

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