A little over a year ago, Bret Marvin and some other members of Charles Harbel Post 892 in Allegany, N.Y., experienced a “what the heck?” moment. The result: a thriving American Legion Riders chapter.
Marvin said he and some other members already were active Legionnaires who also happened to ride motorcycles. “It just seemed like a ‘let's give it a shot’ thing,” Marvin said. “There are a few (motorcycle clubs) around, but none seemed like the right fit.”
The chapter started with 10 members and has grown to 32 – a third being new American Legion members who joined specifically to participate in the Riders. In addition to participating in local parades and ceremonies, the chapter has hosted fundraising concerts to benefit local veterans, cleaned up unattended veterans’ graves on Memorial Day, visited local nursing homes at Christmas to provide veterans living there with presents and adopted a needy family at Christmas. And the chapter works with former Army Maj. Patrick Miller, an Allegany native who helped save other soldiers after being shot during the mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2014.
The chapter has worked hard to get its name out, as Marvin said, which has helped it grow. What Chapter 892 has done on the local level is a microcosm of what ALR is doing nationally. The American Legion Riders continue to be the fastest-growing – and one of the most high-profile – programs in the organization. There are more than 2,100 chapters made up of approximately 110,000 members throughout the Legion.
The Department of California alone has added 10 new ALR chapters and 354 new members this year, according to State ALR President Mick Sobczak. But the growth isn’t limited to California.
In Angleton, Texas, a Riders chapter was started at Charles Dixon Post 241 earlier this year. The chapter was started, in part, to attract younger members, said Shawn Hogan, a Legion Rider and Post 241’s public relations officer.
Hogan, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, said it can be a challenge being a younger member in a post comprised primarily of Vietnam veterans. The Riders help bridge that gap, as well as get younger veterans involved “in what we do, which is God and Country and helping our local small community,” Hogan said.
Chapter 241 began doing cooking events at Goe Harley-Davidson in Angleton as a way to raise money. The chapter started off with $36 but has raised more than $1,100 since the events started.
“Our relations with Goe (Harley-Davidson) is great,” Hogan said. “They help in ways that would cost us money, such as advertising events. They also let us keep recruitment flyers in their service area, as well as the sales team contacting us when they have a veteran come in.”
In Bisbee, Ariz., Chapter 16 chartered in August of 2016. The creation of the chapter has been part of a post revitalization effort; Chapter 16 Director Paul "Doc" Dougherty said the Riders are among the most active members of the post.
“I think one of the key factors in our ability to prosper is our shared approach to making things happen,” Dougherty said. “Everyone has a voice. Everyone has ideas. When faced with challenges, we come up with solutions using a group-based approach. We put family first and are committed to one another through mutual helpfulness.”
And at Post 661 in Washburn, Ill., a Riders chapter was chartered in February of this year. The seven-person chapter already has a monthly bike night from April to October, featuring live food and music. Last month’s bike night raised $675.
For information on starting an American Legion Riders chapter at your post, click here.