Motorcycle run honors wounded warriors
By Susan DeMar Lafferty email@example.com August 26, 2012 7:34PM
Cheryl "Pinky" Szekeres waits under her umbrella for the 4th Annual Wounded Warriors motorcycle run to get underway at Pipefitters Local 597 Training Center in Mokena, IL on Sunday August 25, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 28, 2012 6:16AM
Sunday’s rain may have dampened the numbers of motorcycle riders but not their enthusiasm as they gathered for the 4th Annual Wounded Warrior Motorcycle Run at the Local 597 Pipefitters Training Center on 187th Street in Mokena.
Organizer Mike Cozzi, of the Illinois Veterans Foundation, was hoping for 2,000 riders — to surpass last year’s total of 1,800 — but about 500 registered for the 30-mile run to Wilmington. Many more were expected to join the party at the end of the ride at the Operating Engineers Local 150 union hall.
“This is such a great event. The people here are true patriots. It’s raining, and they’re still here,” Tina Hauptman, of West Chicago, a volunteer with the Illinois Veterans Foundation said. “This is my passion. I volunteer to give back to the Americans who fought so hard for us.”
Before the kickstands went up on the bikes, the IVF honored 11 wounded warriors from Illinois, including Army veteran Brian Wilhelm, of New Lenox, who lost a leg in Iraq, and Sgt. Brian Poplin, of Mokena, represented by his wife because he is still serving with the National Guard, despite an 80 percent disability.
The IVF presented each one with a $1,000 check and has partnered with Home Depot of Chicago Ridge to modify their homes as needed.
“These are the most important people to have here today,” Cozzi said. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
“I’ve waited 44 years for this,” said recipient Clarence Riley, of St. Anne, who still carries shrapnel in his leg from Vietnam.
Accentuating the patriotic presentation were Jim Cornelison, who sang the national anthem — as he does for the Chicago Blackhawk games, and the Chicago police bagpipers, who played a medley of “America the Beautiful” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Motorcyclists came from throughout the region to support the veteran’s foundation and the wounded warriors, including the Rescue Riders, Christian Motorcycle Association, the Blue Maniacs and the Leathernecks.
“We help whoever we can,” said Willis Dickens, of Bikers for Christ in Valparaiso. “We ride all over the country.”
He was joined by several club members, and all planned to ride, despite the light rain.
Members of City Heat, new chapter of suburban law enforcement cyclists, presented Cozzi with a $2,000 donation.
“We’re glad to do it,” its president James Dixon said. “We wanted to do something for someone.”
But they didn’t want to ride in the rain, and drove in their vehicles from Yorkville Sunday morning, where it was raining harder, Dixon said. He planned to join the crowd in Wilmington later.
A few members of Women in the Wind from northwest Indiana, rode their bikes to Mokena, but decided not to participate once they saw the weather. They were going to ride to a local restaurant for breakfast instead.
Bryce Slabaugh, 74, of Whiting, who retired from the Army, participated in previous years, but this year, “We have to ride in the rain just to get home,” she said.
“We keep looking for ways to support veterans,” said her fellow rider Diane Wills, a Navy retiree from DeMotte.
In previous years, the event was held in New Lenox Commons, but the motorcyclists quickly outgrew that space, necessitating the move to Mokena this year.
“We hope to do this again next year,” Cozzi said, “without the rain.”