Your guide to the 42nd annual Blessing of the Bikes

BALDWIN – In 1972, a small group of motorcycle riders from a Grand Rapids-based club came to Baldwin and received a blessing over their riding season in what would come to be known as the original Blessing of the Bikes.

Forty-two years later, the group has attracted a few more riders — several thousand in fact — but the purpose remains the same: Bikers receive a blessing for a safe riding season while they support the community from which the blessing came.

The 42nd annual Blessing of the Bikes has made its way to Baldwin once again. While riders and visitors have begun to flock to the village, the festivities begin Friday and the actual blessing and main purpose of the event take place Sunday.

In years past, it has been estimated that more than 40,000 people traveled to the area for the weekend celebration, and up to 8,000 have attended the blessing itself. A Michigan State University study completed several years ago reported that roughly $2 million was spent within a 50-mile radius of Baldwin.

While the celebration boosts the economies of Baldwin, Lake County and the surrounding areas, its Sunday’s blessing that provides the biggest boost to the area.

“The whole original purpose of the blessing of the bikes, 42 years ago when it started, was to support the senior services at St. Ann’s and Lake County senior services,” said Father Ron Schneider, of St. Ann’s-St. Ignatius Church, who delivers the blessing. “That has continued to be the main focus.”

Sunday’s blessing will be held at the Baldwin Municipal Airport, located south of Baldwin on M-37. Gates open at 9 a.m., and the blessing will take place at 1 p.m. The Para-Dice Motorcycle Club, which organizes the event, asks for a $5 donation for each bike entering the blessing and a $3 donation for each walk in. All of the money collected, minus expenses, is donated to St. Ann’s Lake County Senior Services for its meals program.

“(The blessing donations are) really critical at a time when our number of seniors that we are serving goes up and costs go up,” Schneider said. “The operational funds which come through state and federal funding through (Lake County) Council on Aging, those continue to be cut significantly and still we provide the same or more services.”

It was estimated the blessing raised nearly $15,000 last year for St. Ann’s Lake County Senior Services, said June Sanborn, Blessing of the Bikes chairperson.

In addition to the funds collected from gate donations, Lake County nonprofits also benefit from Sunday’s blessing as they are the only groups allowed as vendors at the airport. Sixteen nonprofits will be at this year’s blessing. The airport also is the only place official Blessing of the Bikes merchandise is sold.

“If (bikers) aren’t on the airport, they haven’t been to the blessing,” Sanborn said.

While the blessing doesn’t take place until 1 p.m., organizers suggest attendees arrive early. At 1 p.m., a short program with music and the recognition of noteworthy bikers in attendance will be held, and then Schneider will bless those in attendance.

This year’s blessing, however, will feature a special presentation.

“This year is really special because we have a Medal of Honor veteran from WWII who is going to be presented his Medal of Honor at the blessing on the stage,” Sanborn said.

When delivering the blessing, Schneider likes to remind the crowd how important they are to Lake County.

“We look at the blessing in two directions: That we offer the blessing to the riders for their safety and gratitude to them, but they are also a blessing to us and our seniors.”

The Blessing of the Bikes weekend-long celebration begins Friday with the opening of the marketplace. Located in downtown Baldwin, the marketplace, organized by the Lake County Chamber of Commerce, will feature 30 vendors selling items including motorcycle accessories, leather goods, jewelry and much more. The marketplace will be open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, and 9 a.m. until the vendors close on Sunday.

The market place isn’t the only place to shop during the blessing. All business will have a variety of specials and deals throughout the weekend, said LCCC President Lee Ann Russell, and she thanks chamber members, non-members and businesses throughout the county who assist and welcome bikers.

“Throughout Lake County, every business, every motel, every cabin, campground, everything is working hard to welcome the bikers to Lake County,” Russell said.

Russell added that this weekend’s visitors should feel at home during their stay.

“We as a community and a whole, we really, really enjoy having (bikers) visit our county,” Russell said. “They’re a wonderful opening to our summer vacation people.”

For more information on Lake County businesses, visit www.lakecountymichigan.com or the chamber office located downtown on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Eighth Street.

Also throughout the weekend, a new documentary about the blessing will be played at the marketplace, Debbie’s Sportsman Lounge, and the Lake County Historical Society Museum, located downtown inside the Baldwin Business Center.

In addition to its other displays, the museum will have several Blessing of the Bikes items on display, including the original Para-Dice Motorcycle Club flag, two club shirts, several Blessing of the Bikes patches from various years, a signed advertising poster, t-shirts and other memorabilia and photographs. A 40th Anniversary Blessing of the Bikes booklet and copies of the documentary also will be available for sale. The museum will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

At 1 p.m. on Saturday, members of Para-Dice Motorcycle Club will meet at the Baldwin Municipal Airport and ride north through town to visit with residents of Grand Oaks Nursing Center. Anyone is welcome to join the group to spend time with the residents and display their motorcycles, Sanborn said.

“(Grand Oaks Nursing Center residents) just enjoy it,” Sanborn said. “We can’t ever quit that because they just look forward to that too much.”

From 6 p.m. to midnight on Saturday, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office will close three blocks of Michigan Avenue in downtown Baldwin to traffic for the benefit and safety of visitors downtown, said Lake County Sheriff Bob Hilts.

“Just remember: (The sheriff’s office) is here to help (visitors),” Hilts said. “We want them to know we’re a small town, we don’t have any traffic control devices, so take a little extra time at intersections. The last thing we want to see is bikes going down, people getting injured, property being damaged. We just want them to come here and enjoy themselves and not have to worry about that.”

While enjoying the weekend’s festivities, Sanborn hopes visitors will make it to Sunday’s blessing even if it is only to make a donation to St. Ann’s Lake County Senior Services.

“We appreciate (visitors) coming, we appreciate everything they do and the money that they spend regardless of where it goes, but we certainly would appreciate the airport visit,” Sanborn said. “We think that it would do them good to be on the airport and to see what they are doing for the people.”