The people of Kansas City are special, very special! Any doubts in regards to that should rapidly dissolve once you’ve spent a Sunday in September with those who plan, operate and participate in the single largest one-day fund raiser for March of Dimes in the entire country! The compassion and generosity of the people in our fair city is no better demonstrated than during the annual Bikers for Babies Kansas City Ride, whose objective is to raise money and save infants from the silent killer of premature birth. Kansas City has earned the title of leading fund raiser for the past three years in large part due to committed teamwork from the March of Dimes staff, armies of volunteers and thousands of motorcyclists who all work together to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars!
Hopes were high going into Sunday, September 19. Over 3,800 riders had pre-registered and the goal of 7,000 participants was within reach. Unfortunately the day started out wet. Not just damp, but soggy, drenching, pouring down rain, wet! That morning, as lightning ricocheted across the grey and boisterous clouds, volunteers under umbrellas and in rain coats stood at the many intersections around the Kansas Speedway and directed large groups of riders into the grounds, ready, willing and excited to help out. In spite of Mother Nature’s efforts to sabotage this year’s event, nearly 1,000 riders, who had not pre-registered, still participated! The weather was not going to deter this event or the spirits of these people.
Opening ceremonies had just begun when I arrived and a very special presentation was just underway. Don Post, the subject of our September 2005 Cover Page was awarded a plaque for his contributions and efforts in fund raising for the March of Dimes. Don has had a significant role in supporting the planning efforts and in recruiting volunteers for many different charities over the past 20-plus years. Following Mayor Jack Reardon’s presentation and wonderful comments about Don’s contributions and inspiration, the sun appeared and the crowd cheered! How ironic it was that one person, who has worked so hard to bring sunshine into the lives of those less fortunate, would be on the stage receiving an award when the clouds finally parted and the sun began shining brightly! Thanks again, Don!
The annual top donor award was next on the agenda and a familiar name was announced. Ed Hale, the recipient of this honor the previous two years was again this year’s winner. In the face of fund raising competition from recent natural disasters, Ed and company still managed to raise $46,264, significantly more than the $25,000 raised last year. After this year’s effort, perhaps they should just rename this “The Ed Hale Top Donor Award.” Ed and company have not just been the single largest fundraiser for March of Dimes locally, but nationally as well. On stage with Ed were his hard working volunteer group, toting four duffle bags of cold, hard (and wet) cash and coins! Ed and company began their raising funds for this year as soon as last year’s event completed. Standing on street corners and in front of department stores, they collected pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and bills, whatever anyone could give, because every little bit adds up. “Every time I got tired and worn out, it seemed like God sent somebody to me,” replied the huge-hearted and incredibly unselfish Ed. Mike Mills and the crew from One Block East also worked with Ed on special fund raising events at the local biker-friendly bar. Hats off to this extremely hard-working and committed group of people!
Following the presentations, a moment of silence was requested for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and for the cause for which the event is held. This was followed by prayer and then the National Anthem, sung by Kristi Thacker, who was born premature and has a special connection to the March of Dimes mission. By this time, the roads were still wet, but the rain was no longer falling, so the large groups of riders began saddling up and heading out.
This year’s ride route, approximately 100 miles, first dropped south, then west, winding north and finally back east. Its path was mostly two-lane roads through many small northeastern Kansas towns including Eudora, Perry, Oskaloosa, McClouth and Tonganoxie. Local and county law enforcement officers assisted all along the way with traffic control. Throughout the route, people lined up, waving and cheering for the thousands of bikes that passed through their hometowns. Gas stations were lined with bikers, some taking a brief rest and getting a quick drink, while others fueled up. Local churches, schools and fire departments offered food and refreshments. As a ride participant, it is a special feeling to be part of a group this size and to receive friendly waves and thanks from spectators along the way. The beautifully designed route of hills and curves passed along pastures and crops, by rural homes and near lakes and tree-lined streets. Those riders who have not yet joined in have missed out on some of Kansas’ most scenic roads.
Upon the return to the track, we were treated to a meaty Outback Steak burger, with hot fries, pickles and bottled water. Live musical entertainment this year was provided by Bob Harvey, who plays a variety of classic rock and original rock songs, and Choosy Mothers, another long-time staple from Kansas City. The headlining entertainer was the Jeff Scheetz Band described by fellow sponsor 98.9 the Rock as “a cross between Jimmy Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Kings X.” Having been witness to many of Jeff’s shows, I can tell you quite simply, ‘THEY ROCK!’ Jeff is one of the most unique and creative players in the country. His high-energy performances and ripping guitar rhythms and leads is a sight to behold and a sound to savor. Playing predominately their own music, they certainly entertained the crowd.
One of the most anticipated moments of the day was the drawing for the brand new Wide Glide, donated by Worth Harley-Davidson North. Rick Worth joined Penny Sharp and Steve Yates on the stage and drew the winning name of Don Grubb, a local over the road truck driver. Although Don was not present, I’m told that he was very excited when he received the news. Towards the end of the day, Gail Worth and her staff presented the People's Choice Bike Awards. Winners received plaques for first place and runner up.
An event this big only occurs with good planning, organization, communication, and, most of all, with volunteers by the hundreds who willingly offer their assistance. This year, close to 300 people helped at seven pre-registration events and on ride day to make it safe and fun for the riders. So what does it take to put together that much volunteering spirit you may ask?
State Director of Kansas, Kathy Bellew, Kansas City Director, Kim Larrick and Ride Director Cori Gilbert work closely with a group called the Volunteer Bikers Committee. Co-chairs Penny Sharp and Steve Yates lead this group and are an exceptional pair who pour their heart and soul into the planning for this event. Their committee members spend 11 dedicated months and hundreds of hours carrying out the planning and communication and work hard to recruit people needed to support this huge logistical effort. It doesn’t hurt that most of the core leadership team from the volunteer committee has now been in place for at least seven years. Steve and Penny’s partnership, along with the efforts and experience of Don Post and many others is a big reason for the overall success and acclaim that this event has achieved.
I first met Penny last April at the Cabin Fever bash, held by the Employee Riders Association from the Harley-Davidson Assembly plant. Because the ERA plays a big role in this ride, she was present to thank them for their efforts and assist in their season opening fund raising kickoff event. As a Development Director at a K-12 charter school for urban students in Kansas City, and after spending 25 years involved with charity work, Penny is a very busy woman. Her commitment to March of Dimes is best understood in her words: “Giving back to this community is something that has always been important to me. I joined the board of directors of the March of Dimes in 1991 and since 1996 I have dedicated my volunteer efforts to the March of Dimes Bikers for Babies Ride. I know that March of Dimes is doing more research than any other organization to find the reasons why babies are born premature, and what causes birth defects or death before the age of one. It's a very personal issue for me. I believe the generous riders in the Kansas City region and across the country are making a difference by raising money for the March of Dimes to support the mission of finding the reasons why babies are born premature or die for known, or unknown, reasons.”
I spoke with Steve in the days after the event and asked him how he was doing. He replied, “I’m fine—I’ve learned to pace myself.” That he has! A retired truck driver who’s just an over-aged kid, Steve works hard to stay young at heart. Getting Steve to compliment himself is about as easy as pulling rusty nails from old barn boards, but his compassion is evident. During the opening ceremony, with his striped referee shirt, ball cap and long grey ponytail, he stepped down from the stage and asked a boy to hold the American flag, something I’m told he does every year. That youngster was my son, and like all my kids, was born premature. Thanks to the efforts of groups like the March of Dimes, I grateful to claim that they are all healthy, happy and growing strong!
Many local and national businesses also partner with March of Dimes and the volunteer committee as well. These critical businesses include: RBC Innovations-Kansas Speedway, 98.9 the Rock, KCTV 5, Outback Steak House, Worth Harley-Davidson North, US Bank, Sprint, Gateway and others. Other organizations and non-profit groups also chip in, such as the local HAM Radio Operators, Foresters and the Employees Riders Association from the Harley-Davidson Assembly plant!
There is one more individual who is worthy of some level of recognition: 98.9 the Rock’s Johnny Dare. As the Honorary Chairman for this year’s ride and the undisputed king of Kansas City morning radio, Johnny’s long established audience of blue collar workers, white collar professionals and everyone in between has played a big role in the success of the event. From young to old, his listeners cross-generational gaps that media marketing just cannot explain. Johnny’s philanthropic efforts for many people in need have gained him respect from the community at large and have contributed to an unparalleled level of dedicated listeners. As an advocate for Bikers for Babies the past several years, his influence has been critical to the growth in volumes of riders who participate. Johnny Dare: “love you, love your show!”
One final and interesting aspect I’ve noticed about the people who make this happen is their humility, their lack of desire for recognition. They do all the work and spend all their time because it’s in their hearts! It’s what they want to do because they care deeply for the cause. The recent success of this event has some eyebrow raising numbers. Over the last three years, $101,000 has gone to the Kansas Chapter in the form of community and program grants and over $750,000 has been awarded to the Stowers Institute and Children’s Mercy Hospital.
For this year, the numbers are still being finalized, but thanks to the caring attitude and efforts of Kansas City, some 4,800 riders raised over $430,000! No question, the people of Kansas City are special, very special, and have good reason to be proud!
Special Thanks to the rest of the Bikers Volunteer Committee:
One last message from the March of Dimes and the Volunteer Committee: The volunteer management team and the March of Dimes staff are proud to be associated with the most generous riders in the country. We appreciate that so many riders work hard to secure sponsors and raise more than the $35 registration fee. We also appreciate every individual $35 rider who pays his or her hard-earned money to support of the March of Dimes. We are always looking for ideas to improve the ride and event-day festivities and welcome
riders to email the March of Dimes through our local website at www.marchofdimeskc.org
- Jeff Dayton
- Jennifer Fisher
- Tim and Jennifer Parks
- Jeff Heishman
- Carie Johnson
- Heather Krause
- Jeff Knights
- Tim & Jennifer Parks
- Clark Riddle
- Phil & Freda Schroeder
- John Seales
- Jim Sfetko
- Penny Sharp
- Larry Staples
Story and photos by Nic