By Jen Bakken
The American Legion Riders are a diverse and unique group of motorcycle enthusiasts, united by patriotism, who share common goals.
All are members or spouses of the American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary, or Sons of the American Legion.
They ride in service to America’s military, veterans, and for the children and youth of the country.
Beginning in the fall 1993, in Garden City, Mich., two men involved in American Legion Post 396 shared an idea to start an association of motorcycle enthusiasts within The American Legion.
As long time riders, Chuck (Tramp) Dare and (Polka) Bill Kaledas wanted to provide an environment where post, Auxiliary, and Sons of the American Legion members who share a love for motorcycles, can come together.
After their idea was approved, they were given instructions on how to manage such a program at the post level. Approval was given for the use of the American Legion emblem and to get the program recognized and supported by the membership.
The members of Post 396, at a regular Legion meeting, considered a resolution for a new post program, to be known as the American Legion Riders. This resolution passed, and the new program was born.
Dare and Kaledas were joined by 19 other members of the Garden City Post 396, and found themselves receiving many requests for information about the new organization.
They established a central source of information about the Riders, to make certain that the new chapters around the country formed not as motorcycle clubs or gangs, but as Legionnaires, Auxiliary, and SAL members joining to ride as members of The American Legion family.
Soon, a web site was developed with bylaws and instructions for forming new chapters.
The web site, www.americanlegionriders.net, is still the main source of information and assistance for new chapters worldwide.
Today, the American Legion Riders have grown to nearly 800 Legion Rider programs in virtually every state and in several overseas areas.
Over the years, the American Legion Rider chapters manage programs at the post level, where all of the best ideas are created.
Some of the programs and projects include; participation in the annual POW/MIA Rally, and annual regional rides such as “Operation Wounded Warrior.”
Sponsoring local charity events in support of the American Legion or the community, raising funds for VA hospitals, women and children’s centers, children and youth centers and schools, and sponsoring and participating in motorcycle runs to benefit charities are just some of the things the Riders participate in.
Taking part in local memorial ceremonies and community parades, the annual participation in the American Legacy Run, riding to honor fallen military men and women and protecting the sanctity of their funerals, escorting military units departing airfields to combat tours overseas, and welcoming them home upon their return are other services the organization provides.
Motorcyclists are a very dedicated group of people, and when they are combined with the American Legion family, amazing things can happen.
The local American Legion Riders from the Tenth District and local Post 377 are just that a very dedicated group of people, with 20 committed members in the group.
They are a friendly bunch who enjoy joking around, but take their fundraising very seriously.
“We’re an organization that likes to raise money for non-profits,” said Pam Bowden, American Legion Riders secretary. “We make money to give it away.”
With its second annual benefit at the Delano American Legion Saturday, March 22 from 3 p.m. to midnight, the group hopes to raise funds for Gillette Children’s Hospital, Minnesota veterans, and Legionville a camp for veterans.
“We picked Gillette because we feel strongly about not only helping veterans, but children, as well,” said Michele Lyrek, American Legion Rider treasurer and historian.
“The Delano American Legion is very supportive of us,” said Rusty Van Hemert, American Legion Riders president. “Manager Barb Staskivige has been instrumental in helping with this benefit.”
With live music from bands Blue VooDoo and the Everett Smithson Band, tattoo contests, food (not a dinner), silent auction, games, and prizes, this will be a fun-filled evening.
Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. To purchase advance tickets, contact the Delano American Legion at (763) 972-2969 or No Name Studios in Delano at (952) 255-8060.
Last year, this event was at the Wayzata American Legion, and nearly $8,000 was raised.
Another event this group coordinates is the Flood Run. The 43rd Annual Spring Run will be Saturday, April 19. This run is conducted to benefit Minnesota flood victims.
If you would like more information or are interested in becoming an American Legion Rider, visit www.americanlegionriders.net, or call the numbers listed above.