Southwest Chapter of ABATE of Florida Facebook Page

by Ken ‘TEDDYBEAR' Miller

Celebrating 38 years of camaraderie. Sept 10, 1980 to present day September 2018

Police cars were everywhere as the 20 to 30 bikers rolled into the parking lot under the Caloosahatchee Bridge. The biggest and most menacing looking of the bunch, pulled his black Harley-Davidson to a stop, snapped down his kick-stand, and rolled off his bike with the agility of a seasoned road warrior. Grabbing the baseball bat strapped to his motorcycle frame, he walked towards the line that the Fort Myers Police Department had drawn. As he approached, a burley police Captain stepped out in front of his men to meet him. Both bikers and police formed ranks around the two big men. The police Captain grabbed the handle of the baseball bat that the biker had in his hand. The two big men stood toe to toe, nose to nose, glaring at each other while holding the baseball bat in their meaty fists. While this may sound like a scene from one of those horrible old biker “B” movies from the 60's and 70's, it was anything but. It took about sixty seconds before the two big men got the giggles, and everyone started breaking up. But not before the police photographer got the shots he needed. The year was 1989. And it was a photo-op session for the up-coming charity softball game between the Fort Myers Police Department and the members of ABATE of Florida's Southwest Chapter. The two stars of the show were Fort Myers Police Captain Dave “Pudge” Kaufmann and Southwest Chapter's Richard “Mongo” Call. “Mongo was the biggest and meanest looking member we had at the time,” said Southwest Chapter President Russell May. “He fit the role perfectly, and everyone had a great time with it.” In the first-ever match-up, the Fort Myers Police Department defeated the bikers of the Southwest Chapter, “30-something” to 3 in the charity softball game in which the scorecard was thrown out during early-inning play. No one worked harder than the scorekeepers, who tried to tally the number of times police officers crossed the plate Saturday, June 17, in an 11 a.m., game at Terry Park in East Fort Myers. The game was sponsored by ABATE of Florida, Inc. (American Bikers Aiming Towards Education), the Southwest Chapter and Gator Alley Chapter, to improve their community image. Gator Alley brought their mascot, Wally the Gator with them to entertain the crowd.

The event, which cost $2 for adults and nothing for children, raised about $384 for the Fort Myers Police Department's benevolent fund, a reserve that supports various departments and community needs. Both sides quickly assessed the inequity of the match-up after a long first inning ended 8-0. Though the bikers trailed severely in the field, they blasted the competition with outstanding enthusiasm and spirit. “It's kind of like the Key Stone Cops and the Three Stooges,” said Mongo, who was watching the game. The ABATE stands went wild in the second inning when Harley Griffin, of Tice, caught two high fly balls in center field. The feat far outshined a series of dropped, bungled or entirely missed balls his teammates had let get away. Harley, who said he has not played softball in 20 years, continued the spectacular fielding throughout the game, earning him the stand's vote for “MVB,” or “Most Valuable Biker.” “The best part is when (the police) hit, and they don't run to the base; they loaf, watching because they want to see who is going to miss the ball,” Mongo said. The police team is an organized group that plays league ball every Sunday. The team, which has a league record of 10 wins and 8 losses, and is ranked as one of the top softball teams in the state of Florida, was enjoying the relaxed competition, Capt. Dave “Pudge” Kaufmann said. “We're having fun,” Pudge said. Police Chief Jere Spurlin, who called instructions from his seat behind the police dugout, said he was “tickled pink” about the charity game. Spurlin said he just hoped that Marion Stewart, owner of Grandpa's Cycle Center on Palm Beach Blvd., would continue fixing the department's motorcycles despite the game's outcome. But Stewart, or “Grandpa” as he is better known, wasn't taking the game too seriously. On the mound at the start of the game, Grandpa wore a gray top hat and a T-shirt made to look like a Tuxedo jacket. Failing to throw many strikes, the pitcher's strategy was “to try running them to death on the bases.” A high point in the game was in the eighth inning when ABATE landed two men on base. Mongo described it as an “historic moment.”

Action picked up in the last inning when ABATE loaded the bases. The stands went wild, and Mongo asked, “Could this be history repeating itself?” A ball hit to the outfield brought two men in and ABATE again loaded the bases. A third run scored on a sacrifice fly to left field. But a couple of quick infield plays soon ended the game. Ignoring the unknown score, ABATE rallied around the dugout with the cheers of a victorious team. Becky Madsen, the ABATE team's 18-year-old shortstop and the only woman on the field, explained the happy cries. “We weren't looking to win,” she said. “We were looking for fun.” That about sums up the “spirit” of the men and women of the Southwest Chapter. Whether it's playing in a charity pool tournament, answering the phone for the MDA Telethon, volunteering for Lee County's Disaster Control, collecting “Teddy Bears” for the Fort Myers Police Department or “Crazy But Lazy” Bike Night at the Lazy Flamingo in Cape Coral, that enthusiasm and spirit is always present. That's what makes them special, no matter what they do, they always have fun. The Southwest Chapter is the oldest Chapter in Southwest Florida, and is one of the oldest chapters in the state of Florida. When ABATE of Florida was being organized, early records from the November 1979, State Meeting show that there were five original ABATE of Florida Chapters. There was St. Lucie Chapter, West Palm Beach Chapter, Space Coast Chapter, Citrus County Chapter and Gainesville Chapter. At that meeting, Pinellas County Chapter was recognized as the original ABATE of Florida, but then it became Space Coast when Pinellas disbanded. By that time, Lou Kimzey's National ABATE in Sacramento, Calif., had disbanded, as had National ABATE of Washington, DC The only National ABATE organization still meeting in 1979, was The ABATE Coalition of States, which asked Space Coast Chapter to represent Florida. At the January 1980, State Meeting, a Pinellas County Chapter was again recognized in the attendance rolls.

The ABATE Coalition of States was going to hold their meeting in Daytona during the 1980 Bike Week. Several Southwest Florida bikers, including Chopper John and his wife Cathy, went over there to see about forming an ABATE of Florida Chapter. Under the new by-laws, they had to have at least ten members to start a chapter. Chopper John and Cathy brought this information and the paperwork back with them. By September of 1980, the Southwest Chapter was born. While the Southwest Chapter was voted in as a new chapter on September 5, 1980, the chapter was not officially chartered until September 10, 1980. Two other chapters were voted in at the same state meeting, they were Daytona Beach Chapter and West Coast Chapter. Originally, the chapter called itself ABATE of Southwest Florida. Several years later the name was changed to the Southwest Chapter. There were 13 people who founded the Southwest Chapter in September of 1980, they were Ed and Donna Beck, Paul Camelia, John “Chopper John” and Cathy D'Agostino, Tim DeLonoy, Fred Quigley, Marion “Grandpa” and Lynda “Schoolmarm” Stewart, Joyce Stoner, Rick and Donna Williams and Slammer. Ed Beck was elected the first Chapter President, however, after a few months, he had to step down for personal reasons. Brian “Hot Dog” Harney, who joined the chapter the following month, stepped in as Chapter President until 1981. Ed and Donna remained active in the chapter for many years. They, along with Chopper John and Cathy D'Agostino, Grandpa and Schoolmarm Stewart and Hot Dog and Debi Harney, became the driving force behind the Southwest Chapter. The men and women of the Southwest Chapter have always been intricately woven into the fabric which now makes up ABATE of Florida, Inc., the State of Florida and Lee County. Our members have served on the State Board in many capacities, including State President, Treasurer, Secretary, Membership, Newsletter and State Lobbyists. They have served in the Florida Legislature and in Lee County politics. Marion ”Grandpa” Stewart served as Chapter President for two terms, from 1981 to 1983. Lynda “Schoolmarm” Stewart served on the Southwest Chapter Board as Secretary, Treasurer, Membership and Newsletter.

Schoolmarm published the first chapter Newsletter in February of 1981. She had an old Mimeograph machine. She had to type up the Newsletters, cut the stencils and literally crank them out by hand. Thank God for computers! Both Grandpa and Schoolmarm were elected to the State Board in 1981 as State Lobbyists. They were never paid for this as our state lobbyist is now. In 1988, they helped get our Freedom of Choice Bill passed through the Florida Legislature and onto the Governor's desk. However, in the eleventh hour, Gov. Bob Graham vetoed the bill. In 1983, Grandpa was elected as President of ABATE of Florida, Inc. He held that post until 1985. Schoolmarm held several positions on the State Board including, Secretary, Treasurer, Membership and Newsletter. They did all this plus their chapter duties. Both Grandpa and Schoolmarm served on the state and chapter boards until 1988. Both are Life Members of the Southwest Chapter and are still active in the chapter. Lynda was the first Life Member of ABATE of Florida, Inc. While on the State Board, Lynda established the Life Member Program of ABATE of Florida, Inc. For work on this project, she was awarded the first Life Membership in the state. Both Marion and Lynda Stewart need to be recognized and commended for all they're hard work, commitment and dedication to ABATE of Florida and to the Southwest Chapter. Without Grandpa and Schoolmarm, the Southwest Chapter would not be what it is today. Richard “Doc” Peppers, who served as the Chapter's first Sgt.-at-Arms, and is a life member of the Southwest Chapter, served as Chapter President from 1984 to 1985. He founded the Cape Coral Chapter, which was formally known as the CC Riders. It's now known as the Caloosahatchee Chapter, where he served as Chapter President for several years. His wife, Asuncsion, is also a life member of the Southwest Chapter. Doc recently received much deserved community recognition for his bravery, when he saved the life of a neighbor after her home was broken into and she was brutally attacked. The bikers of Southwest Florida were active in our community as early as 1975,when the first-ever Toy Run was organized. It was organized by Bud Dailey, who owned a bike shop on Honda Dr., across from Page Field, in Fort Myers.

The run started out small, about 75 bikes turned out for the event. However, over the years, it has grown into the largest motorcycle event in Southwest Florida, attracting about 1200 bikers from Tallahassee to Key West. The Toy Run started at Bud's shop on Honda Dr., and went out to the Salvation Army's Sunland Training Center. The first Southwest Chapter Toy Run was on December 6, 1980. It was billed as being sponsored by ABATE of Southwest Florida. It was to benefit the Fort Myers Salvation Army and the Marine Corp.'s “Toys for Tots” program. The Run started at Riverdale High School, in East Fort Myers, and ended at the Sunland Training Center. Naturally, there was a party afterwards. The Toy Run started going out to the Gulf Coast Center around 1984 or 1985. The Gulf Coast Center is a state run facility of the Florida Department of Children and Family Services in Buckingham, in East Fort Myers. The facility houses about 390 adults with developmental disabilities. Santa Claus and his elves always break Christmas tradition, around the second week in December, to ride their motorcycles, rather than sleds, to the Gulf Coast Center in East Fort Myers to deliver toys to the facilities developmentally handicapped residents. Saying the reindeer “were in the shop,” Santa Claus – a.k.a. Rob “Big Bird” Cran of North Fort Myers, clad in his red Santa suit – has led the parade, and has been the chapter's official Santa Claus since about 1985. With his white beard, he has always been the natural choice. Big Bird, who is a life member of the Southwest Chapter, and has been riding motorcycles since the 1970's, was especially happy to play the part of Santa Claus. “These are the people that are neglected the most during the holiday season,” he said. “They pull his beard, and come up and hug him,” said his wife Maggie Cran, who up to her death, played Mrs. Claus. Dr. Maggie Cran was also a life member of the Southwest Chapter. “We started this (four or five) years ago for the Gulf Coast Center. There are a lot of things going on for needy families during this holiday, but nothing for the (mentally disabled),” said Mike “Big Mike” Davis, spokesman for the Southwest Chapter in an interview, for the Fort Myers News-Press, back in 1989. “We have a great turnout this year,” Big Mike said as he looked out to see a field of 500 to 600 bikes, and bikers – covering a field and parking area adjacent to Toys R Us on Colonial Blvd. “A lot of the reason we do this every year is to break the stereotype of a leather-clad, bearded biker,” Big Mike said. “Our group is comprised almost entirely of professional people – policemen, lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers and business owners. We want to show the public that just because we dress in leather and ride bikes, we don't all fit the Marlon Brando image.” There is a lot of interaction between the center's residents and the motorcyclists, who ride through 16 miles of traffic in a two-bike procession. Many of the residents come up and hug the bikers. After the bikers park their motorcycles, they file into the center's large gymnasium to put their gifts on a special table. They also sing Christmas carols and finally ride their bikes through the gymnasium. The bikers themselves paid for the 1200 plus gifts delivered to the center – at a price ranging from a few dollars to $80 each. “It's very exciting, it's one of the big days of the year,” said Marie Porter, a center employee. “When those people make all that noise with their bikes, it gets the residents very excited.” Many of the toys brought by the motorcyclists included different kinds of stuffed animals, personal grooming sets, clothing, learning games and sports equipment. “And even if some of the toys are inappropriate, they won't go to waste,” said center recreation director Bruce Traugott. “There are 390 residents here and the average age is 34,” he said. “They're all adults here, no children. If they (the toys) are not appropriate, they're donated to (state) foster children. But we'll make that determination later. The residents themselves pick their own Christmas present and if they don't want a stuffed animal, they won't have to have one.” In years past, residents were allowed to choose presents during the singing of the carols, Traugott said. But this year (1989), the center is holding a Christmas party on Dec. 22 and the toys will be distributed then, he said. But one resident, 30-year-old Kevin, seemed oblivious to the mound of toys and gifts sitting on a stage in front of him. For Kevin, Christmas had already come – he pointed to “Santa” and held up for all to see a Polaroid snapshot of himself, taken moments before, sitting atop Santa's motorcycle.

Kevin ran around the crowded gym telling all who would listen, “I sat on Santa's bike. See my picture.” “It was Kevin's first time on a motorcycle,” said Ray Pike, a staff member of the center who has worked closely with Kevin for the past year. “He's been watching for Santa and he's very happy to see him today. They are at the mental age that they understand Christmas and still believe in Santa Claus.” Florida House Representative Keith Arnold, who represented House District 73, in Lee County, served as the Annual Christmas Run's first Grand Marshall in 1997. Keith and his wife Morine were particularly impressed with the interaction between the residents and all of us. It was an emotional time for everyone, with the new director trying to express the inexpressible and the residents expressing their gratitude in their own special way. Morine told me that she had a lump in her throat during the whole thing. We all got something out of it. We are very proud to have Keith Arnold as a member of the Southwest Chapter. Any time you enter the wild and often wacky world of chili heads it spells F-U-N, and, the Southwest Chapter's Annual Chili Cook-off & Blessing of the Bikes is no exception. On the third week in January, between 200 and 300 bikers from around the state converge on Southwest Florida for the Southwest Chapter's Annual Chili Cook-off. It is one of hundreds of pre-Bike Week events and parties planned around the state of Florida, leading up to Daytona's Annual Bike Week. Our northern Brothers and Sisters may not have wiped all the cobwebs off their hibernating scoots just yet, but, January is the time to prepare for one of motorcycling's great pilgrimages -- Daytona's Annual Bike Week, which draws hundreds of thousands of devout bikers and their brethren to its 23 miles of warm, sandy shores. To many who are making the trek to Florida's East Coast, Bike Week signals the rebirth of a new riding season. Cutting through the dense chill of late winter, rolling over still frosty ground, thousands of bikers will wind their way from remote corners of the nation, and the world, to revel in their first taste of spring. For those who believe in the religion of the road, Daytona is Mecca.

For Florida bikers, and many of our winter visitors, the rapture of Bike Week begins in January. Amid the aroma of nearly naked bodies, freshly oiled with coconut-scented suntan lotion, the glimmer of chrome pipes in the bright sun, and the sound of parties belting out everything from Salsa to Southern Boogie, signaling the start of a new riding year. The Southwest Chapter's Annual Chili Cook-off & Blessing of the Bikes, is one of many events and parties kicking off the pre-Bike Week season around Florida. The Chili Cook-off & Blessing of the Bikes started off around the mid-1980's. It quickly became a Five-Star ABATE event. Sponsored by all five ABATE chapters that represented Southwest Florida bikers, which were Southwest, Gator Alley, Peace River, Englewood and of course, the CC Riders of Cape Coral. It was wild! It was wacky! But most of all, it was fun. Which is one of the reasons it has become so popular with bikers over the years. Hundreds of gallons of Chili have been prepared for various functions, but not limited to, Super Bowls, Christmas caroling parties, and the linear conjugation of the planets. The Blessing of the Bikes was just as good an excuse as any for area chili heads to come together and show off their stuff. With names like “Teddy Bear's Three Alarm Chili” and Grandma's Green Chili Revenge,” you knew you were going to eat some good Chili. The Lob Lolly Restaurant, Chickee Hut & Lounge, on Pine Island Road, in the sleepy little fishing community of Matlacha, nestled on Pine Island Sound, in Southwest Florida, hosted the event in the year 2000. Lob Lolly Restaurant & Lounge owners Al & Sandy, threw out the welcome mat to bikers about four years ago when they took over the restaurant. Offering good food, good prices, the freshest seafood in Southwest Florida and ice cold beer, it has been a popular gathering place for area bikers ever since.  “This is the best turnout we've had in four years,” said Al, as he watched all the bikes fill up both parking lots, spill over to a third, and line up on both sides of the two-lane highway in front of the Lob Lolly Restaurant & Lounge. A lot of area residents came out to look at all the bikes, along with motorists slowing down or even stopping to get a good look.

Unfortunately, the full story of the Chili Cook-off can't be told. Because, frankly, the ingredients are secret, said defending champion Ken Miller, affectionately known as “Teddy Bear” by his friends and fellow bikers. “No chili head worth his salt would tell you what they put in their Chili,” said Teddy Bear, who is a life member of the Southwest Chapter. “It's a closely guarded secret, but they keep trying to find out.” Former champion and Chili Queen Nora Burkholder, who Teddy Bear unseated last year, and her husband Jim are organizers of the annual event. “Jim called me up and asked if I was going to enter my Chili again this year,” recalled Teddy Bear. “But because I had an injured foot, and was having a hard time getting around, Jim and Nora offered to go out and buy the ingredients I needed for my Chili, but I caught on to their little kid tricks.” So, what does it take to make a good Chili? Does it need to blow the top of your head off? Absolutely not! Any chucklehead can make a super-hot Chili just by throwing in a few Habenero peppers or a tin of Cayenne, in which case, you get a nuclear meltdown in your mouth, instead of the exquisite treat for your taste buds you were looking for in the first place. There should be some spiciness and heat. How much? It's up to you, but the perfect bowl of red should leave you with a nice, smooth wave of warmth from the front of your mouth to the back of your throat. Southwest Chapter's President Bob Hall and Lob Lolly's owner Al, were the official Chili Cook-off judges. The first place winner that year, was Teddy Bear, with his Teddy Bear's Three Alarm Chili. The second place winner was Jeanette Morris, with her Jett's Rock ‘n' Roll Chili. The Third place Winner was Jim Burkholder, with his Orange Blossom Texas Red Chili. So, what do you win? Well, there is a cash prize. But, more importantly, you are named the Head Chili Pepper for the year, and then of course, there's the bragging rights.


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