An estimated 3,000 attend Sunday's Blessing of the Bikes

BALDWIN – Despite inclement weather throughout much of last week and into the weekend, thousands still attended the 42nd annual Blessing of the Bikes on Sunday in Baldwin.

Throughout the weekend, riders and visitors flocked to the village to join in the festivities, which begin Friday, and culminated Sunday at the Baldwin Municipal Airport. It’s estimated that between 2,500 and 3,000 people were in attendance for Sunday’s blessing, said Mark Bird, president of Para-Dice Motorcycle Club, which organizes the event.

“We had bad weather to start, but today has been a glorious day,” Bird said. “We’ve really been happy.”

The airport gates opened at 9 a.m. on Sunday while the actual blessing took place at approximately 1 p.m. A donation request of $5 for each bike entering the blessing and $3 for each walk in was requested by Para-Dice Motorcycle Club to attend. All of the money collected at the gate, minus expenses, will be donated to St. Ann’s Lake County Senior Services for its meals program.

Additionally, 16 nonprofit organizations were at the airport to help raise money for their organizations.

While the Blessing of the Bikes hopes to be a blessing to Lake County, it also hopes to bless motorcycle riders in attendance.

“(The blessing) is really about the start of the riding season, to have the knowledge that there is someone other than ourselves that is looking over us,” Bird said. “It brings the people together for the start of the riding season to reiterate to be careful, look out for others and to pay it forward.”

Before the program began, Para-Dice Motorcycle Club handed out awards to notable attendees in the crowd. At 95 years old, Claude Osmun was named the oldest driver in attendance. Originally from Grand Rapids, Osmun now lives in Florida, but summers on Brooks Lake in Newaygo County. He started riding motorcycles in 1935, and estimates he has attended 20 Blessing of the Bikes in his lifetime.

When asked why he continues to attend the Blessing of the Bikes, Osmun said, “I love to ride,” while smiling.

Waterman, Ill. resident Dave Duriavich was awarded for traveling the furthest distance to attend the blessing, 315 miles. When Duriavich, 54, left on Friday, it was snowing. The rest of the six-hour ride was rainy and “crappy” until he reached Holland, but that didn’t stop him from attending his fourth Blessing of the Bikes.

“I’ve got friends that come here, and it’s just a good event,” Duriavich said. “You get your karma going; it’s the first step in getting your karma going for the upcoming season.”

Other award recipients included Dorothy Arlt, 76, who was named the oldest passenger; John Church, whose 1939 motorcycle was named oldest bike; April McAlpine, 18, who was named the youngest driver; and Josiah, 3 weeks old, who was named the youngest passenger.

Following the awards, Medal of Honor recipient Duane E. Dewey was presented with a Purple Heart Plaque by We The People Giving Back, an organization dedicated to honoring veterans, Gold Star families and fallen police, fire and EMS personnel. Dewey was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Eisenhower for bravery in Korea. Sunday’s Purple Heart Plaque was presented to Dewey in recognition of his service.

Following the presentation, music was provided before Father Ron Schneider, of St. Ann’s-St. Ignatius Church in Baldwin, offered his blessing to those in attendance.

“It’s not very often you get this type of numbers gathered for a time of prayer together; to receive a blessing, to be a blessing,” Schneider said. “We know that they come from many places, so many of

them year after year. They come to this place to reach out with their care, with their love, with their generosity for the people of this area, for the people of this community, especially for our senior citizens. We give you thanks and praise for that.”

Schneider then thanked those riders who visited residents of Grand Oaks Nursing Center on Saturday, and mentioned how happy it made the residents.

In closing, Schneider asked God to place an angel with each rider to watch over them and keep them safe.

“We ask you to be with them,” Schneider said. “We ask you in a very special way to bless them and keep them safe, to watch over them for whatever need they may have.”

Throughout the weekend, riders and visitors to Lake County enjoyed downtown Baldwin’s marketplace, which featured 30 vendors selling unique items, as well as the various specials and deals local businesses offered throughout the weekend.

Amber Pomerleau, of Grand Haven, has attended the Blessing of the Bikes for four years. She comes to the event because it is a ritual her and her husband do not want to miss.

“It’s awesome, there’s motorcycles everywhere,” Pomerleau said. “It’s one of the coolest events that I think I have been to. I have never been to a real motorcycle event since we moved to Michigan, so this is pretty cool.”

Although this year’s donations have not been tallied yet, organizers estimated the blessing raised nearly $15,000 last year for St. Ann’s Lake County Senior Services.

In years past, it has been estimated that more than 40,000 people travel to the area for the weekend celebration. A Michigan State University study completed several years ago reported that roughly $2 million was spent within a 50-mile radius of Baldwin.