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Serving those who've served

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GROUP: The Freedom Riders’ officers hold their flag in front of their bikes. Pictured from left are: road captain Ben Thiefs, road captain Jake Agnew, historian Adesa Agnew, secretary Mary Anne Ridgley, treasurer Martin Ridgley, lieutenant John Waters, Vice President Shane Collins and seargant-at-arms Bill Bockover. Not pictured are President Larry Goodyear, lead road captain Melissa Collins and chaplin Stan Egolf.
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VEST: The group wears black leather vests, pictured here, to try and change the way people view motorcyclists that ride in groups because Goodyear said most motorcycle groups are formed for a good cause, like supporting veterans or charitable causes.
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RIDE: Freedom Riders Chapter 5 road captain Jake Agnew rides his bike near the Huntington County Courthouse during a meeting on Thursday. The group ridesin as many fundraising events as they can to raise money for both veterans and the community.

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

When Martin Ridgley wasn’t able to join the military because of his hearing loss, it didn’t stop him from contributing to the military.

He joined the Freedom Riders Chapter 5, out of Huntington County, as treasurer after he learned about their mission.

“The Freedom Riders was established so that people that wanted to help the military but were never in the military could be a part of our group to help,” chapter president Larry Goodyear said.

The Freedom Riders can be seen riding their motorcycles across the county, escorting veteran families to funerals before they hop off their bikes to hold flags as the families walk to the cemetery. Goodyear said they do it to support and remember those who’ve given their lives for our freedom.

Whenever a veteran or their family calls on them, they are there.

“Whatever the family wants of us, we’ll do it,” Goodyear said.

Members of the group will be at the Memorial Day service held by the Veterans Council of Huntington County at the Awakening Community Church, 235 Safari Trail, which begins at 5:30 p.m., and they group is encouraging the public to remember what Memorial Day is about.

“Go to the graves or go to the parades instead of forgetting what it is all about,” Sergeant-At-Arms of the group Bill Brockover said. “It’s turned into family barbecues instead of what the true meaning of it is.”

The group wants people to use the day to show thanks to the service members’ who’ve lost their lives and risked their lives to protect us.

“They’re the reason we’re standing here able to do what we’re doing,” Brockover said.

Behind the scenes, they collect money as a 501C non-profit organization, using every dollar toward a need in the community.

Just recently, they had their first fundraiser of the year, where they raised nearly $2,000, which will be used to pay utility bills, buy gas cards and adopt veteran families so that they get “the help that they deserve.”

“It’s very rewarding,” Goodyear said. “We have a check presentation if we raise money for someone, and It can get very emotional.”

Each year, the group holds a benefit to support the annual Honor Flight, which pays for veterans to visit the nation’s capital to see all of the memorials. The Freedom Riders Chapter 5 organization raises nearly $4,000 each year for the cause.

This year’s fundraiser is set for June 29, which will feature live music, food and nearly 20 vendors selling various wares like patches, wood carvings and other items to support the cause.

This summer, the group is booked nearly three weekends of every month, and the group says they are always looking for new members to help out.

Goodyear said just because they ride motorcycles and wear black leather vests with patches, doesn’t mean they’re in a biker gang. In fact, Goodyear said they wear their vests to try and change the stigma.

“This group is full of very giving, very warm-hearted people,” Goodyear said. “They would give you the shirt off their back if you need it. That’s just the way these people seem to be. If you need somebody, they’re there. Plus they’re really fun to be around.”

It’s also a misconception that you need to ride a Harley Davidson to be in the group, but Goodyear made sure to mention that they don’t look at what kind of bike you ride when applying for membership, which is free.

The group also has members of all ages, with the youngest being 26 and the oldest being 79.

A lot of the members are not military or from military families, but they all share a common cause in supporting veterans.

Anyone who wants to join can ask a member about joining, or interested participants can call John Waters, lieutenant of the group, at 260-445-8561 or tfrchapter5@gmail.com.

The group also helps anyone in the Huntington County community in need, even if they’re not a veteran.

“It’s one of the prides of what we do,” Brockover said. “It’s an honor.”