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9-11 Memorial Ride embracing change

This year, the 9-11 Memorial Ride in Lycoming County plans to continue into its third decade what has become a roaring memorial. And organizers are planning on how they can stay true to their mantra of “Never Forget.”

“We are looking for new blood. For those of us who have been at this for almost a quarter century, we want to preserve this as an ongoing living memorial,” says the Rev. Gary Smith, vice president of the 9-11 Memorial Coalition.

The annual memorial brings bikers from around the United States — and even the world — to honor all of the victims of Sept. 11, 2001 and the first responders who also lost their lives.

“The crowds keep growing. This thing grows on its own. We get a lot of people from out of state. On the 10th year, it was an international event with a busload of people from Europe and South America,” says Tank Baird, president of the coalition.

Participation has reached 10,000 riders with thousands more crowding streets to cheer on the bikers.

“We’re the largest 9-11 memorial in the country if you factor in the riders and crowds on the streets,” states Baird.

If the past is any indication, the moving memorial will just continue to grow.

“We saw fathers bringing their children and now we see those grown children with their motorcycles and their family,” says Baird.

“I would like to see this replicated in other cities,” says Smith, who said the group has had requests from other states to replicate the ride. While the event is a year-round job for the coalition, Smith and Baird are happy to help other communities organize their own memorial rides.

Each year, the coalition raises $10,000 to produce the event, with all of that money coming from local supporters, rather than state or federal funding. One thing the event now lacks is a major sponsor.

“We have no corporate sponsor like a Weis Market,” says Smith. With the 21st anniversary just ahead in September, the coalition is actively working to change that. Other changes may happen in the boardroom.

“I am open to the idea of passing over the reins as president,” says Baird, who co-founded the ride and has been president since its conception.

“We are looking for new board members,” Smith adds.

Both men believe the large-scale event will benefit from new ideas and volunteers. Smith invites interested people to send him an email at pagemlab@comcast.net.

Baird is proud that his daughter has already joined the coalition’s ranks.

“There is no doubt we are passing the torch. My daughter, Nisha Brelsford, has taken over merchandise for us and there are younger members coming on that are willing to work at this,” says Baird.

Merchandise sales are crucial, since they make up the majority of funding for the yearly event. Though change is welcome, one thing that won’t change is the 42-mile route the memorial ride takes each year through Lycoming County.

Baird explains, “I have been approached about changing the route but it has never been an easy job to get this permitted. The secret of this is to run the same route so people know where to gather.”

Another thing that won’t change is the coalition’s unwavering drive to stay true to its mission.

“Our motto is, ‘We will never forget,’ because people in high school weren’t even born when 9-11 took place and they don’t have a feel for what transpired that day.”

911memorialcoalition.org.

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