Bob Parker remembers the days when motorcycle riders may have sent shivers through a suburban neighborhood when they roared their Harley Davidsons and other rambunctious machines down the quiet streets of Midwest America.
“The movies portrayed motorcycle riders as rebels without a cause,” Parker recalled. “The perception was that everyone belonged to a club like Hell’s Angels.”
Indeed, that may have been the viewpoint of many mothers, fathers, and grandparents in the heartland. You didn’t want the children to stray too close to the Marlon Brandos and their leather jackets, cigarettes, and tattoos.
But that was the Hollywood image of the 1950s and 1960s. And that was before a new era dawned for motorcycle riders in America, including those who belong to the American Legion Riders Post 79 in Zionsville. That group, which includes the graying Parker and his wife, Robbyn, has been on a mission to make a difference in the Boone County port and for its military veterans.
“We are certainly not a gang or just a motorcycle club,” said Parker, a Navy veteran who serves as commander of American Legion Post 79. “We want to do as much as possible to help our community and our veterans.”
That has been the case since the 55 members of Riders Post 79 formed in 2008. Following the lead of the national American Legion Riders organization that was started in 1993 and has over 100,000 members, the local group has put together a glittering resume of community contributions. Their accomplishments include:
Raising $55,000 in the five-year history of Cruising for a Cure, a fund raiser for the Indiana chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and for children in Zionsville and other nearby communities who have been touched by the blood disease;
Annually providing daily escort for the bus that carries survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in World War II to the Indianapolis Air Show in Mt. Comfort;
Offering the Flag Line – 36 American flags and guardians – at local funeral services for veterans, including one recently held for Floyd Schultz, who was part of the Normandy invasion in World War II, and two for surviving military personnel of the Pearl Harbor bombing;
Using their motorcycles to accompany soldiers who have died in conflict and are returning to their final resting homes in central Indiana. Four years ago, Riders Post 79 provided escort for Zach Nordmeyer of Indianapolis, who died in an Iraqi firefight.
And weather is no obstacle during these ceremonies. Riders Post 79 has braved driving rainstorms, sweltering heat, and near-zero temperatures.
“We want to do anything we can to help our community, the veterans, and their families,” said Chrissy Koenig, whose family has been dotted with military members dating back to her great grandfather. “We love to get together as friends and ride, but 75 percent of the time we ride for a cause. We want to do anything we can do to help families and veterans.”
Koenig is not alone when it comes to female representation at Post 79 or the Riders. The American Legion Auxiliary, the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization, has 185 members at Post 79, including Dianna Colvin, director of Riders Post 79. Her uncles served in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam War. Colvin’s husband, Bart, another rider, is an Army veteran and their son, Ty, was in the Navy in the Persian Gulf. “I tried to join the Army,” Dianna said. “But when the two recruits came to our house, my dad said no.”
Since moving from Wyoming to Zionsville, the Colvins have signed on to help Parker and others connected to the organization. “We are always working on educating the public on who we are,” Colvin said. “It is important for people to know that we are serving those who served us. We are not looking for recognition. We just want to help those who need help.” Recently, this included a Vietnam veteran who was unable to pay his heating bill.
But the headliner for Riders Post 79 is the annual Cruising for the Cure Ride. The October event enlists dozens of riders and travels 100 miles in central Indiana, pitting at other American Legion posts in Frankfort, Sheridan, Brownsburg, Lebanon, and additional locations to garner donations. Key corporate support has come from Panhandle Eastern Pipeline and Village Pizza King in Zionsville.
“The event brings us together as a group,” said Vicki Gieselman, whose husband, Wayne, serves as assistant director of Riders Post 79, “but it also gets us out of our circle. We meet other riders who want to help.”
Still, Riders Post 79 aspires to attract additional support from the Zionsville business community. Members admit it is a two-way street; and they have ramped up their community involvement, sponsoring youth athletic organizations, participating in parades, and assisting young, local veterans who have been in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’ve probably done more here than when I was in the service,” said Bart Colvin, the state coordinator for Missing in America Project that matches up unidentified remains with deceased or lost soldiers. “We understand that we have to change perceptions. We want to get involved with the community and help our veterans. Not everything is in a history book.”
And this returns us to Chrissy Koenig, who fondly remembers growing up in Franklin and listening to the stories of war heroes who put their lives on the line for their country and family. “It’s important to keep their memories alive,” she said.
And Koenig is doing her part to sustain the country’s affection for military veterans. She has signed up her 2-year-old daughter, Olivia, as a member of the American Legion Auxiliary. Her son, ticketed for birth in 2013, will join the Zionsville post.
And someday each may become riders for a cause with Riders Post 79.