Benefit motorcycle run organizer passing the torch after 17 years

Seventeen years ago, Roger “Porky” Willmart, Linda Willmart and their family and friends organized their first motorcycle run to benefit Hospice and Palliative Care of the St. Lawrence Valley as a thank you for the care they provided for his parents.

Now, Mr. Willmart said, it’s time to step down after this year’s run on Saturday, July 30, and let someone else handle the organizing of the runs that take riders around St. Lawrence County. He’ll be handing the reins over to Maggie Marks, Stephanie Smythe and Marcy Smutz, who have formed a local chapter of Women In The Wind called the SLV Vixens Chapter.

“They volunteered. They contacted me. They heard I wanted to give it up,” he said.

They have chosen Hospice as their charitable cause, and Mr. Willmart said he’s working with them to put the run together this year. He said the women have experience in organizing other runs, as well as participating in them.

“Those ladies ride all the time. It’s a small organization that just started. They’re looking for members. They need three members to get a charter. They’ll be passing out applications. They’ve got a couple more ladies that want to join,” Mr. Willmart said.

He said that, over the years, he has been joined by his family and friends in the time-consuming task of organizing the run and collecting raffle prizes and sponsorships from local businesses throughout St. Lawrence County. The run is always held on the last Saturday in July and has drawn a yearly average of 150 or more bikes, with a record of 312 one year. They had 217 participants for the 2015 run.

Mr. Willmart said that in the 16 years he has organized the benefit run, it has raised more than $75,000 to support Hospice services.

He’s also proud that they’ve never had to schedule a rain date. That’s not to say they haven’t gotten wet on occasion, he said, but they’ve never had to ride in a downpour.

And he’s equally proud that in those 16 years, there were “no accidents, no fights, no trouble.”

This year’s run begins with 9 a.m. registration at the Norwood American Legion and a blessing of the bikes at 10:45 a.m. Kick stands will go up at 11 a.m. The ride will take them to the American Legion in Akwesasne before heading back up Route 37 near the St. Lawrence Centre mall and then to Route 131 into Massena. There, they’ll hit Route 37 again and head for Waddington, where they’ll stop at J.C.’s River Run.

“For 10 years, he’s donated 10 dinners every year,” Mr. Willmart said.

The ride then continues to Ogdensburg before turning back and eventually reaching their departure point at the Norwood American Legion, where they’ll enjoy a meal.

The cost is $20 for a bike and passenger, $5 for a poker hand, and $10 for just the roast beef and turkey dinner that awaits the riders at the American Legion. There will also be raffle prizes and a 50/50 raffle.

It’s time to pass the torch, and Mr. Willmart said the new organizers are ready for the task. He has kept a book with meticulous notes over the years to provide guidance to them.

“I gave them my paperwork. They copied everything from the last two years,” he said.

The Facebook page of the SLV Vixens says the group formed in January. For more information, go to that page at http://wdt.me/yNLTao.

By Bob Beckstead, Watertown Daily Times