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Idaho State University

Galen Louis' big adventure: A Bengal on the Camino

December, 4, 2014

A fractured foot didn’t stop Galen Louis from completing one of the top items on his bucket list this fall—hiking 154 miles of the famed El Camino de Santiago trail through northern Spain.

“We’d already bought the tickets. We were ready to go,” chuckled Louis, a retired Idaho State University public health professor and alumnus.

So in September, Louis and his wife, Peggy, left their Boise home for France and Roncesvalles, Spain where Louis began his two-week trek Sept. 29.

“I did the whole 154 miles on crutches which was an amazing experience,” said Louis, who fell from a ladder while working on the roof of his Boise home just weeks before the trip and injured his foot.
Louis. 65, braved heat, cold, wind and rain so heavy at times he could barely see in front of him. Oct. 12, he completed the journey, arriving at the stately Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to celebrate noon mass with several hundred Camino pilgrims and towns people. Louis and his wife had seats in the VIP section in front of the archbishop—it’s not every day a pilgrim completes the journey on crutches. Louis had never heard of the Camino trail until he saw the 2010 Martin Sheen movie, “The Way,” the story of a father who decides to make the Camino pilgrimage after the death of his son.

“I always wanted to make a pilgrimage or a long-distance trek. This seemed like the perfect opportunity,” said Louis.

But in fall 2012, Louis experienced life-threatening health issues that led to his early retirement from ISU.  Once he regained his strength and stamina, he was confident he could make the trip.

Louis walked about 12 miles a day on the Camino, never bored, lonely or longing for his iPod. 

“I thought about a lot of things, about life in general. One of the things I really discovered was it was just kind of nice to be alone,” he said.

When Louis retired in January 2013, he established the Galen Louis Endowment, a scholarship fund for Master of Public Health students.

“It’s my way of giving back,” said Louis at the time. He contributed the first $5,600 and continues to donate each year, providing student s with funds for research, thesis projects and other necessities.

Louis, who taught at the ISU-Meridian Health Science Center and served as ISU’s MPH director for seven years, joined ISU in 1998.

He helped ISU secure more than $500,000 dollars in MPH research grants, including an anti-tobacco campaign for Hispanic teens living in Canyon County and research to improve services for HIV/AIDS patients in the Gem State’s seven public health districts.

Louis is a recipient of a 2012 ISU Master Teacher Award for teaching excellence and the Idaho Public Health Association’s annual President’s Award for outstanding service in public health.

He holds a Ph.D. in community health from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and an interdisciplinary master’s degree in public administration and health policy from ISU.
“It’s been nice to be a Bengal,” said Louis.