Women Riders

Pearl Hoel - The First Lady of Sturgis

Written by  August 31, 2010

The first motorcycle rally in Sturgis was held in 1937 by the Jackpine Gypsies, a customer-based motorcycle club of the Indian dealership owned by Clarence and Pearl Hoel. The Gypsies invited the Harley riding Rapid City Pioneers MC for a “field day”. The first event was called “The Black Hills Classic” and was primarily a single race of nine participants watched by a small audience. In subsequent years, the main focus of the rally would be racing and stunts.

Pearl Hoel was born in Ohio in 1905, and her family relocated to Rapid City when she was five. After high school, Pearl was encouraged to take the state exam that would allow her to be a teacher in a rural school. She soon found herself teaching eight children in grades 1-6 and, because it was rural, was also responsible for custodial work. She earned extra money cutting the children’s hair as well as styling their mothers’. The young teacher met Clarence at a community dance in Sturgis she had attended with a friend. They were married in 1928 and remained together for 61 years until Clarence’s death. They had one son, Jack, born in 1935.

Clarence and Pearl had owned an ice business in Sturgis, but in 1936, refrigeration was beginning to replace the old ice boxes and they were forced to find another source of income. Clarence loved motorcycles and, with Pearl’s blessing and help, opened up an Indian Motorcycles dealership. It was through this dealership that the Jackpine Gypsies was formed. Clarence, as one of the 13 founding members, acquired the nickname “Pappy” from the younger members of the club.

As was typical of clubs, no women were allowed to be members, including Pearl, but the guys never hesitated to call on their wives and girlfriends, collectively referred to as “Pearl and the girls,” when help was needed with food, mailings, poster distribution, etc.
In addition to helping out the Gypsies, Pearl continued to work, keeping the books for the two businesses and distributing food through the WPA to needy rancher families. When her WPA work came to an end, Pearl was hired as deputy to the Meade County Clerk of Courts, later being appointed to the position after her boss’s retirement. Later she decided to run for the office of Register of Deeds. After several years in that position, Pearl was elected County Auditor.

It was these positions in Meade County that allowed Pearl to meet and know many of the business owners. Her stature in the community became a major asset in convincing business owners and power players that Sturgis was the place to hold motorcycle rallies.
After the inaugural rally in 1937, the local business owners, impressed with the turnout, met with Pappy and the Gypsies to secure AMA sanctioning for a similar rally.

During the early rallies, Clarence and Pearl would pitch a circus tent in their backyard to provide a place for visiting riders to meet, visit and sleep. Pearl always provided coffee and homemade donuts at this site in the evenings, after the riders had returned from the Gypsy Tour.

With the help of one or two Gypsy wives, Pearl would also provide a mid-day picnic for the annual Gypsy Tour at a central location in the Black Hills. When asked how she planned for this event, she stated that she and the other ladies would go downtown on the prior evening and count the bikes. They would then estimate that about two thirds of the riders would participate. The women would then go to the grocery store to purchase the food. This picnic almost always offered baked beans, potato salad, hot dogs, coffee or iced tea and always watermelon for dessert. They generally finished cooking the baked beans and fixing potato salad at midnight. In the morning, the women would pack the food into a pick-up truck and head for the State Game Lodge, Mount Rushmore or Sylvan Lake Lodge. There, they would set up a picnic lunch for the riders.

After lunch, the truck would follow the motorcycles home to Sturgis, picking up any machines that had broken down along the way. Then Pearl had to hurry home to prepare
for the evening coffee and donut session.

By the 1950s the number of riders became too high for Pearl to continue with the lunches, but in 2004, at the age of 98, Pearl still hosted a Thursday breakfast at her Baldwin Street home in honor of the Retreads Club. She also assisted in the preparation of the White Plate Flat Trackers Association annual breakfast at the Gypsies Clubhouse the following Friday morning.

Clarence received many awards and honors, including the AMA’s Dud Perkins award, the highest honor from the AMA. After Clarence’s death in 1989, Pearl carried on in his absence, continuing to serve as the all around hostess, greeter and the grande dame of the rally. She was the one constant in the evolutionary process of a changing rally. She was there every year, loving the people, and working her heart out.

Friends from all over the United States would begin arriving at Pearl’s doorstep on the Thursday and Friday prior to the official Monday opening. There were two spare bedrooms in her house and about eight to ten people would roll their sleeping bags out on the beds or on the floor. Another group would camp in the garage and two couples with motor homes would park behind the house. The overflow slept in tents on the front lawn and another dozen or so would stay next door at the house of Pearl’s friend and neighbor.

Until her death in 2005, Pearl served as the official greeter at dozens of rally functions, and at age 98 rode the half mile lap on the back of a buddy seat on a 1947 Indian Chief prior to the feature race at the half-mile track. In 1991, Pearl was inducted into the AMA’s Hall of Fame, and in 2004, she was inducted in the South Dakota Hall of Fame.

By Louise Reeves

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