Missouri American Legion Riders were escorted into Sedalia by the Sedalia Police Department Friday afternoon on the sixth annual ride for members who have raised more than $430,000 in scholarship money.

Around 65 riders and 50 bikes were part of an annual benefit ride of 710 miles that would raise scholarship money for the children of military members. Riders stopped at American Legion Post 642 for dinner and planned to spend the night in Sedalia. Saturday morning, they were escorted once again to the city limits by SPD.

“The American Legion Legacy Scholarship was established to provide scholarships for children of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines or warfighters in general who lost their lives after 9/11 while serving their country,” Missouri American Legion Riders State Director Don Gerspach explained. “It has since changed to also include the children of veterans who rate at 50% or higher for VA disability.”

He added the ride is in June each year. This year the number of riders were decreased by half due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The riders came to Sedalia from Warrensburg, where they normally spend time at the Missouri Veterans Home. Due to the pandemic riders were unable to go inside the home.

“This year we couldn’t go in and visit with them,” State Ride Captain Bob Norris said. “But we did what we call ‘rolling thunder.’

“We paraded around the building five times, horns blowing, revving the engines,” he continued. “We actually had two Highway Patrols with us too.”

Gerspach and Norris said they don’t normally set a monetary goal for the annual rides, although nationwide, Legion Riders have raised $1.1 million for scholarships since its inception. The program gives $20,000 to each child selected and that amount is renewable for four years of college.

Norris said the ride is a full three days; they began this year in Sunrise Beach with riders traveling to 14 different towns.

“Actually (the ride) is in the shape of a big star,” Norris said. “This year’s ride is called the Gold Star Tribute Ride.”

The Gold Star signifies losing a family member during military service.

Norris said the reason he’s involved with the ride is because of family.

“It’s because of my cousins, two sisters and a brother,” he noted. “Their father was killed in Vietnam in ’68. The youngest girl was 9 months old, and the boy was 8 and the daughter was 9.

“They grew up without a father,” he continued. “… They moved back to West Virginia coal mining and they had nothing. The military forgot about them.”

He added if there had been a program at the time such as the Legacy Fund they could have received scholarship money and it could have “changed their lives.”

“They had to fight for what they got,” he said. “Two of them still live in coal country.”

Gerspach said he was also involved for the same reason.

“Our family is a Gold Star family,” he added. “Gold Star actually comes in two categories — you lose a family member while serving in combat or you lose a family member while serving non-combat.

“We are the non-combat, next-of-kin,” he continued. “Our daughter was killed while serving at Ft. Hood Texas. We adopted her son, so he was eligible.”

American Legion Post No. 642 Cmdr. Jane Stewart said she was “very proud” of the riders.

“They do so much for our scholarship fund,” she added. “They raise a lot of money, it’s really great to have them here.”

She said there isn’t an American Legion Rider Chapter in Sedalia, but she is in the process of getting one started.  

Legacy Fund donations are accepted year-round and are tax deductible. There are donation cans throughout the Legion for the program. For more information, visit “Legacy Fund” under www.legion.org.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Faith Bemiss is a reporter for the Sedalia Democrat, covering general assignment, arts, food and entertainment stories. She can be reached at 660-530-0289.

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