Motorcycle ride raises $2,000 for veteran memorial
KELLIHER -- With ground broken at the Old School Center in Kelliher, and several granite slabs already sitting on the property waiting to be put in place, a 100-mile motorcycle fundraising event kicked off Saturday morning to raise additional funds to sponsor the all-veterans memorial that will sit on the northeast corner of the Old School Center grounds, facing Highway 72.
The "Ride for the Memorial" was intended to raise awareness about the memorial in addition to raising the needed funds to construct the monument which will cost approximately $50,000, not including installation and transportation costs of the different pieces.
The fee for the ride totaled $25 per bike or $35 if the bike bunked an additional rider. That fee included breakfast, mid-afternoon lunch and possible door prizes.
Over 25 motorcyclists showed up Saturday morning between 8 and 11 a.m. to participate in the ride which would cover 100 miles through three of Minnesota's northwoods towns starting in Kelliher, across to Big Fork, up to Big Falls and then back to the Kelliher community center where the riders would receive lunch. Each town along the way provided a stopping point where riders could get off their bikes and rest before continuing on.
"Ride for the Memorial" is just one of the many fundraisers that has been organized by six-member Northern Beltrami Veterans Memorial Committee formed between members of the local American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Kelliher Schools, to raise the goal of $50,000 through events, grants and private donations.
According to Robert Hoyum, committee financial officer and local veteran, the committee is about halfway to its goal.
"We're hoping to have it done in a year from now, even if its done in stages," Hoyum said. "There'll be a dedication and we'll invite everybody in the whole country if they want."
The committee formed in 2012 and held a Veterans' Day contest for Kelliher High School students to design the memorial for a cash reward of $50. The contest was won dually by three girls who contributed two designs and were later incorporated into one final design that will feature a hexagonal-shaped centerpiece featuring the five branches of the service -- Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard -- a kneeling soldier in bronze and a paved walkway around it that will have imprints of combat boots to "follow the path of a soldier."
Hoyum added that the memorial will also feature a battle cross -- a rifle with its bayonet pointed into the ground with a set of boots and a helmet resting on the buttplate -- but the cross will not be included in the original design projected to be completed in a year.
The committee has not yet signed a contract to mold the kneeling soldier or create the service branch plaques that will be around the centerpiece, but Hoyum says that the committee has his eye on an outfit in Utah that creates bronze designs and much of the cement and granite work will be done locally.
Irvin Creger, retired Air Force veteran who served in South Korea as part of the military police, attended "Ride for the Memorial" after hearing about the event on the radio where he was staying with his brother near Lake Plantagenet.
"I come up and spend time with him every summer because we've been separated for about 40 years," Creger said. "Now that we are retired, we can get together."
That separation is because Creger lives in California and only spends about two months in Minnesota per year. This year, he trailered his motorcycle from Los Angeles and, after hearing about the "Ride for the Memorial" fundraiser, decided to trek up to Kelliher to get involved.
"It was advertised on a local radio station that said something about being part of Kelliher and it was at about 8:30 every morning," Creger said. "I said, 'Hey, why not? I'm only an hour's drive away.'"
For Creger, the fundraiser wasn't only an opportunity to ride his motorcycle, but to also help his fellow veterans become more visible.
"It's always interested me that, being a veteran myself, that they get the recognition that they deserve," he said, pointing to the baseball cap atop his head. "Since I've been wearing this cap that says I was in the Air Force, I've actually had, in biker areas, the bikers that will come up to me and say, 'thank you for your service.'"
Hoyum and the other committee members expected more than the 28 riders that attended, but due to a heavy fog that morning, many of the motorcycles in route to the event were forced to turn around.
"We had that bad fog and there were three groups that turned around. It was too dangerous," Hoyum said. "People don't see motorcycles on a sunny day and they definitely don't see them in the fog."
That fog cleared up for blue sky by late afternoon when the group hit the road. And, despite less than expected numbers, the committee was pleased to report that it raised more than $2,000 for the all-veterans memorial at the Old School Center.
"People were very generous," Hoyum said. "The day went very, very well. There was very little traffic and everyone was supportive of one another. We took a group picture at Big Falls. It was just the perfect day."