Walking 15,000 miles in Andy’s boots

BALDWIN — The curtain opened to a scene of a primitive log cabin belonging to Andy Horujko, a Nirvana man who walked from Anchorage, Alaska, to the tip of South America beginning in 1970.

Lake County Historical Society President Bruce Micinski portrayed the life story of the local legend during a special program at the Lake County Historical Museum last Wednesday evening.

The reenactment, “Walk in my Boots,”  was well-received by a full crowd. This is Micinski’s fourth time reenacting the life of the hiker.

“I have been playing the part of Andy since 2014, and have done a presentation in Baldwin, Pentwater, Fountain and now at the museum,” he said.

Other actors in the skit were Marilyn Drake, playing the part of Horujko’s mother, and John Drake, as Dr. Fields, the Chase doctor who drove to the Horujko farm to deliver Andy and his twin sister, Monya, in 1921.

With a slight Eastern European accent, Micinski gave an account of Horujko’s family and early life on an 80-acre farm in Nirvana. It told of how Horujko graduated eighth grade from Yates School and went to Baldwin High School, where he was valedictorian of his class. He then attended and graduated from Michigan College of the Minds in the Upper Peninsula, placing third in his class.

Horujko earned a degree in civil engineering, with his fascination with airplane engines. He worked on fuel injection systems in New Jersey for Wright Aeronautics Co., working for famous aviator Orville Wright. He made $1,258  a year.

When World War II broke out, Horujko was stationed in the Philippines with the Army Air Corps. When he came back in 1945, he stayed with his twin sister Monya, who was a model in New York City.

“Some people say I’m the most sociable hermit they’ve seen,” Micinski said in his portrayal of Horujko, adding how Horujko traveled a lot, but liked the solitude of the country.

After the war, Horujko joined the Merchant Marines, shipping troops, people and cargo from the Philippines to San Francisco, where he became alarmed by pollution and smog. In 1954, he wanted to do a protest walk, but felt it wasn’t the right time.

Horujko came back to Michigan and worked in the wood business, putting up 1,000 face-cords by himself with a horse, and later a 1949 tractor.

In March 1970, Horujko began his claim to local fame with an estimated 15,000-mile walk to raise awareness about car pollution. He started his journey by taking a plane to Anchorage, Alaska, with provisions of sardines, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, a tent and knapsack. He was determined to walk to the tip of South America.

He said he would figure out plans as he went, and slept in hotels and ate in diners when he could.

“He would like to talk to people in diners and learn what was going on,” Micinski said. “He said wild animals didn’t bother him so much as curious kids and yippy dogs. He said a lot of people didn’t know what was going on in the big cities with pollution. When he was in Los Angeles and got his picture in a newspaper, the problem was self- evident. The background was faded because there was so much smog.”

The worst part of the trip was the gap between Panama and Colombia, 250 miles of virgin jungle, which locals said was the most dangerous trail in the world with “dense, thick, hot, steamy jungle, mountains, hills, bugs, jaguars and militia guerrillas.” Locals considered him foolish, but somehow he made it, Micinski added.

Along the way, in a desert in South America, a native asked Horujko if he had any money, and with fear of being robbed, Andy put his guard up and replied no. To his surprise, the man wanted to give Horujko money.

Horujko went through 15 pairs of boots, one pair per thousand miles, which he designed to rock to make him walk faster and more comfortably. He walked about 33 miles per day in over 600 days.

In December 1972, Horujko made it to South America, and the mayor of the town gave him fanfare and kids wanted his autograph. He didn’t want to walk back, so he finally was able to arrange for a plane ride back to stay in New York City with his sister.

In February of the next year, he was welcomed back to Michigan by news reporters when he got off the plane in Grand Rapids. He took the bus back to Nirvana and worked in the pulpwood. He died in 2008.

In closing, Micinski showed the audience a picture of a young man in a police uniform named Alan Horujko, a university police officer who showed heroism during the attack on Nov. 28, 2016, at Ohio State University. Alan shot and killed the attacker. With tears in his eyes, Micinski said how Horujko would have been so proud of his great-nephew, Alan.

On display during the reenactment was Horujko’s bed frame, sardine cans, pictures, newspaper articles, notes and more.