Thirty years ago, then-commander “Polka” Bill Kaledas and vice commander Chuck “Tramp” Dare were talking increasing membership at American Legion Post 396 in Garden City, Mich. And the idea – and eventual reality – of the American Legion Riders was born.
And on Sunday, Dare got to witness up front what he and Kaledas had envisioned on a smaller scale. More than 250 motorcycles participating in the 2023 American Legion Legacy Run made their day’s final stop at Post 396 for a celebration of the Riders’ 30th anniversary. And Dare, who now resides in Texas, was on hand to witness their arrival.
It left him emotional. And what the Riders have become has left him astonished.
“I never, ever, ever thought it would get this big,” said Dare, now a member of Post and Chapter 42 in Gainesville, Texas. “We’ve got Riders in every state and five countries. I thought it would always just be us 19 guys riding and enjoying riding. And now it’s just astronomical. I can’t even explain it. It’s just blown up. It’s more than I could ever imagine.”
When he moved to Texas in 1999, Dare took the Legion Riders program with him. He said now the department has more than 400 chapters and believes there’s a simple reason for why it’s grown there and everywhere else.
“It’s because we don’t push motorcycle club rules. We’re a family group,” he said. “And I think it’s going to continue to grow … because everywhere people look, they see the patch. I watched the live feed from the (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally), and I counted more Legion Riders vests than I did any other club that were was. And I’ll tell you what: It made me feel good.”
Dare thanked the Riders on the Legacy Run for making “my dream come true. I love you all and appreciate you all.”
Kaledas passed in August of 2022, but his second wife, Diane, was on hand Sunday to witness the 30th anniversary celebration and the size that the Legacy Run has grown to since it started in 2006.
“He would have a hard time believing this,” Diane said of the size of the ride and the growth of the program. “But this is something he started, and he would love every minute of it. He and Tramp never thought it would have gotten as big as it has. This is his legacy.”
A member of both Post 396’s Auxiliary unit and Riders chapter, Diane said the Riders meant “family” to her husband. “Raising money for the community. Doing things for the community.”
Dare and the other surviving members of the original 19 Legion Riders who charted Chapter 396 were honored during the celebration. Chapter 396 Director Jeffrey McAdams, a member of Sons of The American Legion Squadron 396, said being the home of the first Riders chapter is special.
“It’s absolutely amazing. The pride that we feel here – I get choked up – it’s outstanding,” McAdams said. “Just a humble little post here with two guys coming up with the idea to start a little motorcycle association here within The American Legion, and after 30 years to understand what it’s become and how big it’s become … it’s outstanding. I know the proud is felt from for our founding members, seeing this happening and being this big. And to be a part of the founding chapter is special to me.”
More than $35,000 was donated to the Legacy Fund during the stop at Post 396. Among that was $10,000 from 396’s American Legion Family and more than $7,500 from American Legion Post 199 in Fairhope, Ala. Though Day 1, the ride has raised more than $453,000.
Dare has a pretty good idea what his co-founder would have been thinking while watching the night unfold. “He’s looking down and saying, ‘Keep it up,’” he said.
A Newbie’s Perspective. Mike Tances, a member of Squadron and Chapter 4 in Mt. Clemens, Mich., said he first learned about the national Legacy Run when his post hosted a state Legacy Run a few years ago. He planned on participating in his first national ride in 2020, but COVID-19 put the kibosh on those hopes. So when he saw an opportunity to take part this year, he did so – joining his friend Debbie Abraham, the president of Auxiliary Unit 32 in Livonia, Mich.
“I thought it’d be a neat thing to do – see the country, hang with fellow Legion Riders and help a good cause,” said Tances, his squadron’s first vice commander and chapters road captain. “And I love it. I’m already looking to see how I can go back and do this next year.”
Abraham, a First District president and Legion Rider, took part in the 2014 Legacy Run, which was plagued by non-stop heavy downpours the first two and a half days of the ride. She ended up leaving the ride early but wanted to take part this year for another chance to ride to Charlotte.
“I love The American Legion,” she said. “I love the Legion Riders. I love what we do. I love that we raise money.”
Tances said he felt a little bit of nerves at first. “It’s a huge group to ride in,” he said. “And as a road captain, I’m used to leading the ride, not necessarily riding in the back. But after a few miles I settled in, and excitement kicked in. It was just good to ride with good people and good riders.”
The Ride Returns to Ohio. A lunch stop at American Legion Post 300 in Napoleon was the first of what will be three Legacy Run stops in Ohio. And for Department of Ohio Commander Jason Rue, who was on hand at Post 300 and also will be at the Monday stop at Post 63 in Ottawa, it was nice to see the ride’s return.
“It’s been a while since they’ve come through Ohio,” Rue said. “We have many great posts in our state, and it’s awesome that they can be able to stop and see a few of those posts. These communities up in this area really embrace our veterans and the stuff they’re doing.”
Denny Snyder, sergeant-at-arms of Sons of The American Legion Squadron 300 and a founding member of the post’s Riders chapter, also was glad to see the ride make his post one of its stops. “It’s a great event for us,” he said. “It’s probably brought all of us together, as far as working as a group. It’s an awesome event for us to host here. Very honored to do it.”
Donations made at Post 300 totaled more than $17,000 and included $14,700 from Ohio’s First District.