Riding on for the fallen | Kitsap Week

Northwest Freedom Riders benefit Hospice of Kitsap County - Johnny Walker / Kitsap Week
Northwest Freedom Riders benefit Hospice of Kitsap County
— image credit: Johnny Walker / Kitsap Week

Motorcycles cruising through North Kitsap and East Jefferson this weekend are doing more than joyriding. These motorcycle enthusiasts will be participating in the eighth Ride for Fallen Riders.

The ride benefits Hospice of Kitsap County. It’s a tradition of remembrance, fellowship and giving riders hold close to their hearts.

“Hospice is still a very personal cause for our club,” said Rod Toepler, president of the Northwest Freedom Riders. “We lost three of our motorcycle family in just a year and a half, and as a family oriented club we realized the hard way there was a need.

“Continuing to support the Hospice of Kitsap County gives us a chance to help fill that need for the future and give back to our community at the same time.”

The club was motivated to start the benefit after the loss of three club members. Associate member Charles “Chuck” Virdell died in a motorcycle accident near the Hood Canal bridge April 6, 2004. Herb “El Presidente” Otis died of cancer May 25, 2005. Four months later, associate member Penny Lawson also succumbed to cancer Sept. 20. The losses were devastating.

Rain or shine, the riders will start at Legend Harley Davidson in Silverdale May 12 at 10 a.m. with a $25 registration fee. It ends with music and socializing at Rich’s Custom Seats & Upholstery in Kingston. The estimated 100 mile route will tour west through Quilcene and Chimacum, returning eastward through Poulsbo, Suquamish and Indianola before skirting the backroads north.

All proceeds will be donated to the Hospice of Kitsap County in Silverdale.

“Hospice meant everything to me,” said club member Corky Otis. “I had to learn how to talk to Herb and care for him, and how not to. He was dying, but in my head he wasn’t. I wasn’t ready. Hospice helped us both, along with all of our friends who were grieving. When my sister passed away eight months later, I was better prepared but I’m glad hospice was there, too. I’m very happy to support this ride year after year.”

As the first and only locally incorporated hospice care provider in the county, Hospice of Kitsap County works to provide comprehensive care that emphasizes comfort rather than curative treatment; quality rather than quantity of life. A broad variety of programs offer services to the entire family.

“Hospice is not a place,” said Wendy Rohrbacher, director of Philanthropy and Community Relations for Hospice. “Hospice is a service where you are cared for wherever you call home. This could mean in an assisted living facility, adult family home, hospital, or residence.”

According to Rohrbacher, most hospice services are covered by Medicare or other insurance providers, but many support programs are funded entirely through gifts, grants, and sponsorships. These programs include community grief programs, complementary therapies like music, pets, aroma, and gentle touch; and continuing education programs.

“The Northwest Freedom Riders have been doing the poker run to benefit [Hospice of Kitsap County] since 2005,” Rohrbacher said. “Their annual support is critical to our ability to provide an extra measure of excellence to our program. Every gift, no matter the size, provides an opportunity for us to better serve our patients and their families.

“They also help us to educate the community. People don’t like to talk about dying, and because of that there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about hospice care. When a group like the Northwest Freedom Riders show support and help us reach out to their members, families and friends, it helps us help others to talk about their end-of-life wishes. It helps us spread our dedication to ensuring dignity, compassion, and comfort to anyone coping with a life-limiting illness.”

Reflecting on how hospice has grown since it was founded in 1979, co-founder Marge Thorne said how important volunteers and donations were for success.

“Hospice was a new word for all of us back then and everybody that I knew was so pleased we were starting something to address the needs and the pain of the dying and their families,” Thorne said. “I’m so glad people are still listening to the need at the right time and not ignoring it. These bikers could be just a bunch of selfish noisemakers, but they’re not. I want to thank them.”

You can learn more about Hospice of Kitsap County and the Ride for Fallen Riders by visiting or calling (360) 698-4611.


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