The American Legion Riders is not a club, said Don Ridl, state director; unlike the Hells Angels and other nefarious motorcycle outfits, they do not intimidate.
Rather the group looks to help in the community.
“Sometimes you can tell the way people look at you, and I’ll go right up to them and tell them who we are,” he said. “It relaxes them right there.”
Earlier this month, Kenai Chapter 20 reactivated following a new infusion of motivated riders.
The chapter originally formed in 2005, but it eventually dissolved when members lost their zeal, said Bob Myles, the current chapter’s director. They were not holding the monthly meetings the American Legion Riders required for chapter status.
The Ninilchik chapter of the American Legion Riders has been donating to the Ninilchik School since activating in 2009, Ridl said. Now Kenai residents and neighboring communities can look forward to similar benefits.
Myles said on the local level their chapter helps other organizations and community members who are in need.
Currently they are working on a box car — the same car driven in the Progress Day’s Parade — to drive through neighborhoods collecting food for local church food banks, he said.
They also make contributions to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, and recently they donated to a Soldotna man who lost his house.
But the American Legion Riders’ primary goal is of a much larger scope.
“We make sure that all of the children of the parents that lost their lives serving this country get an education,” he said.
The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Program has been raising college tuition money for children of soldiers who have died during duty since 9/11.
In the past six years the scholarship raised $3 million, said Jim Pisa, the state secretary treasurer.
On the national level they raise these funds during their annual 15,000- to 20,000-person, interstate motorcycle ride, Ridl said.
As they travel through state Legion Rider’s Posts they collect donations.
This year he said they are riding from New York to Indiana, and he hopes the riders will raise $450,000.
On the state level, the Alaska riders host an annual Memorial Day ride to the Veterans Memorial Center at Sykes Creek.
Many of the riders partake from Alaska Chapters, but others are unaffiliated motorcyclists. And all but five percent are veterans, he said.
This ride gathers 500 to 700 motorcyclists, he said.
“Even some years the Air Force will send one of their Black Hawk helicopters there with their personnel and partake in that ceremony, too,” he said.
During the three-day trip they stay at bed and breakfasts.
Joining a chapter requires an annual fee from $35 to $50, depending on the chapter. For a life time membership it is a fee from $150 to $175.
“Alaska’s got six chapters and (last year) per capita we were number one in the whole United States of donating, and I think it’ll happen again this year,” Ridl said.
The Kenai chapter’s first meeting is Sept. 13.
Editor's note: This story was edited to correct the spelling of the Hells Angels motorcycle club.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.