Lockport man rides to raise scholarship funds
BY DENISE M. BARAN-UNLAND Correspondent September 24, 2013 10:14PM
Dominic Cap of Joliet and Al Gernenz of Lockport, both members of American Legion Riders Chapter 1080 in Joliet, attend the annual Legion Legacy Run in August. | Supplied photo
Updated: October 26, 2013 6:07AM
As a Vietnam veteran, there is nothing Al Gernenz, 67, of Lockport wouldn’t do for his country, he said, despite the fact he’s had open heart surgery (1997) and back surgery (2010).
That includes getting on his beloved 1992 FLH Harley Classic — the first new Harley that Gernenz ever owned — and riding for days to help raise scholarship money for children of deceased servicemen.
For the third year in a row, Gernenz recently joined 250 other American Legion Riders from across the country to complete such a trek, and at his own expense. All participants first rode to Indianapolis so they could leave together Aug. 17 for the six-day trip through Illinois, Missouri and Oklahoma and eventually to the American Legion 95th national convention in Houston.
To help raise money for the 2014 event, riders from American Legion Post 1080 in Joliet are selling raffle tickets to win a quarter side of beef from Mitchell’s Food Mart in Joliet. Fewer than 40 of the $20 tickets remained as of mid-September, and the Legion Riders had raised more than $2,300 to that point. The drawing is Sept. 29.
“It crossed our minds that some people might not have a place to put it,” Gernenz said, referring to the beef.
“So we decided to raffle off a freezer, too,” said Gernenz, the assistant director of the Joliet chapter.
According to www.legion.org/riders, American Legion Riders chapters raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for local children’s hospitals, schools, veterans homes and severely wounded service members.
Since 2006, they’ve also participated in the Legion Legacy Run, an annual event that raises money for the Legacy Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to children of U.S. military personnel killed since 9/11.
This year, the Legion Riders raised $764,000 (the goal was $450,000), and more than $3.5 million for all seven runs. More than $334,000 was raised during the actual ride.
Riders accept no pledges. Instead, they raise money throughout the year by hosting fundraising events. Some people may wonder that since they’re raising money all year, why host a ride? Because the actual ride builds awareness of the cause and demonstrates the riders’ commitment to veterans and their families.
“If we didn’t do the ride,” Gernenz said, “I don’t think we’d raise the $334,000.”
Gernenz, who’s been riding motorcycles since he was 17 when a neighbor took him out on his 1949 Indian motorcycle, learned about the Legion Riders after he joined American Legion Post 1080 and attended a Legion Rider pancake breakfast.
“I think veterans and their families often get overlooked,” Gernenz said. “When I learned what this group was doing, I thought it was an excellent thing.”
During the Legion Legacy Run, participants ride in formation at a consistent 65 mph, several hundred miles each day, Gernenz said. A coordinator arranges advance accommodations. A road captain provides briefings every morning of the run at 8 a.m. sharp and ensures smooth traveling.
Oftentimes as the Legion Riders arrive in various towns, local police and fire departments have prepared events to greet them and acknowledge their efforts. American Legion posts along the route prepare lunch and dinner.
“It can be as simple as hot dogs and beans to barbecue chicken, ribs or spaghetti,” Gernenz said.
Drinking alcohol in any amount during the ride is forbidden.
“Last year two guys decided to go against the rules. They went to a bar at one of the posts and ordered a beer,” Gernenz said. “They were thrown off the ride.”
Participating in the Legion Riders is also a good way for veterans to network with other veterans. Serving in combat bonds people in ways others might find difficult to understand, but a veteran can always relate to another veteran, Gernenz said, adding that the military is “a lifestyle all its own.”
“At a special event at Fort Hood I sat next to a guy that was celebrating his 16th year in the military that day. You could see the scars on his arms and legs,” Gernenz said. “But when the color guard came in, he was the first one up on his feet.”
Despite their good works, some American Legion posts still don’t accept the Legion Riders, Gernenz said.
“They look at us as bikers: leather, knives, guns, brutal,” Gernenz said. “But we had representatives from all 50 states and two guys from Britain this year.”
To buy raffle tickets, call 815-729-2254 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.