May rally makes a big noise for fallen police, vets and firefighters

By Mike Taylor • Last Updated 10:59 am on Friday, March 01, 2013

This spring, as many as 500 bikers will take part in a ride to raise money for fallen police officers, firefighters and military veterans. — Courtesy photo

On May 18, things are going to get a little noisy on Greenville’s main street, as well as streets in Cedar Springs and Grand Rapids and many communities along the way.

Five hundred motorcycles running at once will do that.

But ride organizer Doug Pickel says a little noise is a small price to pay for a chance to honor our nation’s veterans, firefighters and fallen police officers.

The John Voshell Jr. Memorial Ride will get under way at the Grand Rapids Veterans Facility and then roll north, with stops in Cedar Springs and Greenville. Through sponsorships and entrance fees, organizers hope to raise money for Rolling Thunder Chapter Four, the group that provides motorcycle escorts to the processionals of soldiers killed in action.

Pickel also plans to present several Purple Heart veterans with handmade plaques and perform a few other “acts of random kindness” along the way.

Pickel is putting the event together — this will be its first year — as a means of raising awareness for the important work done by police and firefighters, as well as the sacrifices endured by those who have served in the armed services. Pickel, who was never in the military, still recognizes the inherent significance of those who were.

“I’ve never served a day in my life,” Pickel said. “It’s been the biggest regret of my life. I feel I have to do something to give back.”

In addition to the upcoming ride, Pickel creates handmade plaques to present to veterans with outstanding service records. The plaques are awarded only to vets who have received a Purple Heart and to Gold Star families. Pickel calls the plaques the “Patriot Awards.”

Though the upcoming ride started with modest aspirations, the event has already gathered a great deal of steam. Riders from motorcycle clubs such as Rolling Thunder, Wart Hogs, Amble Riders, the Sons of Malta and many others have pledged to participate.

“It’s gotten kind of crazy,” Pickel said. “The list (of riders) just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

But all the vehicles involved won’t be moving on two wheels. A limo, transporting Miss Michigan Sharolyn Metternich — whose husband is an East Grand Rapids police officer — will join the processional.

Several police motorcycle from Grand Rapids and Michigan State police also will take part.

Pickel stressed that the organization is 100 percent volunteer and that every penny made goes toward supporting police, firefighters, veterans and conservation officers. Cost to participate is $10 per person. Half of the proceeds for this run go to Rolling Thunder Chapter Four and half to the Veterans Facility in Grand Rapids.

“We keep nothing,” Pickel said.

Event media liaison Pam Bradfield said she is expecting big things from this year’s event. A similar event, held last summer, drew about 200 bikers, but many dropped out by the run’s end, due to excessively hot weather.

“Toward the end they were dropping like flies because of the heat,” she said. “We’re hoping that this year it’s nice but not unbearable.”

The run will finish up back at the Vets Facility, where singer-songwriter Kelly Trudell will present a live concert for the riders and residents of the facility.

Those interested in providing sponsorships or wishing to ride in the event may call (616) 255-2895.

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