Blessing of the Bikes celebrates 40th anniversary

BALDWIN – There are many things that can be understood as the unofficial start of the summer season.

In Lake County, a sure sign that summer is on its way is the annual “Blessing of the Bikes” festival held at the Baldwin Municipal Airport - a tradition in the area.

The festival is organized by the Para-Dice Motorcycle Club of Grand Rapids and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, which is a quite an accomplishment considering the festival’s modest beginnings.

This year's festival will take place on May 20, with gates opening at 9 a.m. and the blessing beginning at about 1 p.m.

All proceeds benefit the St. Ann’s Senior Center of Lake County.

The festival began in 1972 with four bikes and eight riders and has grown to where thousands of bikes are expected annually.

“It’s amazing when you think about it,” said June Sanborn, who is in her 27th year as chairwoman for the festival. “I think they collected $19 ... and dropped it off for the seniors.

“It’s just gotten bigger and bigger.”

The festival is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. “rain, shine or snow,” according to Bruce Schanez of the Para-Dice Motorcycle club, with riders rolling onto the airport grounds being charged $5. Walkers are charged a $3 entrance fee. The blessing will be offered by Father Ron Schneider, pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Baldwin and St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Luther.

In addition to the yearly blessing, non-profit organization vendors will offer souvenirs and concessions on the airport grounds.

While all the non-profit organizations will keep all their own proceeds, Sanborn noted that all these vendors come from within Lake County and thus all proceeds will stay in Lake County.

“The (Para-Dice Motor Cycle Club) is a Grand Rapids club and picked Lake County because it was the poorest county in the state and still is very underprivileged,” Sanborn said. “It’s the seniors who need the most help because it’s always ‘cut, cut, cut’ for their budgets.”

Schneider said that in his time leading the blessing, the focus has tended to stray away from helping the county’s senior citizens, which he feels is what the event should be about.

“It’s often forgotten,” he said. “We should try to keep the focus on its real purpose.”

Schneider said it’s an honor for him to conduct the blessing.

“I have been here three years and it has been my privilege to give the blessing,” he said. “I’m the new guy on the block here and yet I get to do the main event.”

Schneider said the general point of his blessing is to emphasize that the bikers are treasured by the community.

“I want to get across that the bikers are a blessing to us and they really are,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know this, but a large group of them go up to (Grand Oaks Nursing Center in Webber Township) and (the senior residents) are just thrilled to see the bikes.”

In his blessing, Schneider prays for the protection of the bikers.

“Riding motorcycles is a wonderful way to get around but it is also a dangerous one,” he said. “Motorists on the road are often not looking for motorcycles, they’re looking for something bigger and (motorcycle riders) don’t have a lot of protection.”

Noting that organizing such an event is a major task, Sanborn said that the effort is totally worth it.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “There’s always some little glitch that we work out. To me, Blessing Sunday is an amazing, total feel-good day.”

The club is hoping for better weather than last year’s blessing. Showers in the Grand Rapids area in 2011 affected turnout to the “Blessing.”

“We didn’t have a good day last year,” Sanborn said. “I came home was in tears.

“This makes up quite a large percentage of funding for the seniors out here and it suffered.”