Approximately 100 American Legion Riders from all over Wisconsin, with a few from outside the state, participated July 14-16 in a nearly 900-mile motorcycle ride that went through 30 counties.
The event, named “Rhino’s Ride” for Ken Rynes, a Marine veteran who is the current commander of the state American Legion, was held to raise money for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund.
The fund provides college money for children of military personnel killed since September 11, 2001, known as Gold Star kids.
The Gold Star, in most cases, signifies a survivor of someone killed in action in a conflict with an enemy of the United States or who died while serving with the U.S. armed forces in a combat zone.
The Legion’s goal for the scholarship fund is $50,000.
Rynes said the ride began 7 a.m. July 14 at the state American Legion headquarters in Portage.
The group made a fuel stop in Rhinelander and then stopped for lunch at Camp American Legion near Lake Tomahawk.
Rynes said what the Legion gets out of doing a project like this is helping kids.
“I always say ‘Do it for someone you don’t know,’” he said. “You may never meet, but you’ve got to know they’re out there. You know, there’s probably 11,000 kids nationwide who have lost a parent in the war on terrorism.”
Rynes said it just makes a person feel good to do something like the Legacy ride.
“It’s the camaraderie,” he said. “We get together and ride. Everybody loves to ride, we have fun and we’re riding for a good cause.”
He said people within the state American Legion had known about this ride since he became commander last July.
“It was my project,” he said. “So, we encourage them to do a fundraiser at their post – pancake breakfast, chicken barbecue, whatever – and then they know when and where we’re going to be at each stop in their area and they bring the donations in and present them and we move on to the next stop.”
At Camp American Legion, Rynes accepted on behalf of the Legion and for the scholarship fund a check for $200 from the District 11 American Legion Riders.
Rynes said one of the ride’s participants, a former member of the Wisconsin American Legion, came back from Arizona just to be in the ride.
“It’s been humbling,” he said.
He related the story of a 13-year-old boy from Soldier’s Grove who, upon hearing about the ride and what it’s purpose was on social media, sold a steer he had raised for the county fair and had a steak feed.
“He donated the money to the Legacy scholarship,” he said. “He handed over a $1,000 check.”
Rynes said some cheerleaders in the Grafton area with no affiliation to the Legion at all held a kickball tournament with the proceeds to go to the scholarship fund.
In Sparta, he said a couple of Gold Star kids who had lost their father in the war and are receiving scholarship funds were at the group’s stop there.
“Stuff like that is pretty overwhelming,” Rynes said. “There’s government money there but it’s not enough. So, we just help supplement.”
Some of the kids, he said, are about a year old.
“This is going to go on for 24 more years,” Rynes said.
The Wisconsin ride for the Legacy scholarship was his project and he said it was too early to tell if he’ll do it again next year.
“Nationally, the American Legion does it every year,” Rynes said. “Next month will be our ninth annual ride.”
The national ride runs from the Legion’s national headquarters in Indianapolis to wherever the national convention is.
“I’ve been on every one of them,” Rynes said. “In eight years, we’ve raised between three and four million dollars. Last year was around $700,000. It’s a big deal.”
One of the riders participating in “Rhino’s Ride” was Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Gary Wetzel of Milwaukee.
Wetzel was a crew chief and gunner aboard UH-1 “Huey” helicopters in Vietnam and shot down five times.
He lost his left arm in the war.
“I was on the first Legacy ride from Indianapolis all the way out to Reno and back,” he said. “What better way to do it than be with a bunch of people who want to help kids out?”
American Legion State Adjutant David Kurtz said Wednesday the ride did exceed that $50,000 goal.
Brian Jopek may be reached at email@example.com.