Motorcycle club supports local Veterans Honor Park

THE FLATLANDERS MILITIAMEN returned to Madison on Sunday to donate $5,000 to the Veterans Honor Park. On hand for the occasion were (left) Richard Stearns, Paul Reurink, Rob Kleen, Brian Siemonsma, Dan Fritz, Danny Frisby-Griffin, Gene Schuler, Ted Sterling, Jason Bennett, Gary Reinicke and Kim Verhey.

The Veterans Honor Park is one step closer to being fully funded. On Sunday, the Flatlanders Militiamen presented a check in the amount of $5,000 to the organizing committee.

"Normally, we raise money and give it to families and groups in need," said Paul Reurink of Madison, whose rider name is Pops.

This year, the 10-member group decided to raise money through the annual poker run for the honor park, which will be located on S. Washington Avenue. The design includes granite panels with names etched into the stone, walkways, arches, benches and a flag retirement area.

The memorial will be constructed on land donated for that purpose by Jerry and Sue Larson. The project is a joint effort between the Ronald Westby VFW Post 2638 and the Madison American Legion Post No. 25.

Initially, the project carried a $1 million price tag, but in-kind donations have reduced the price to around $500,000. Danny Frisby-Griffin, who is chairing the organizing committee, said that more than $100,000 has been raised to date.

Two fund-raisers are currently planned to support the project. A rummage sale will be held this Saturday at the VFW. Items will be sold by the bag from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For $10, shoppers can fill a paper grocery bag; bags will be provided.

Drawings will be held at the VFW every Thursday evening beginning Oct. 1 for the Joker's Run fund-raiser. Tickets will be sold from 5:30-7 p.m. with the drawing at 7:30 p.m. The winner receives 10% of the ticket sales plus a chance to draw for the joker and win the progressive jackpot, which is 40% of the sales.

The Flatlanders Militiamen is not only a veterans motorcycle club but also a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Local members form one of four Militiamen chapters in the state. The organization was started in the Black Hills by a group of veterans to support veterans, emergency responders and their families.

In addition to the original chapter, there are now chapters in the Northern Hills, in the Pierre area and in eastern South Dakota. Two members of the S.D. Army National Guard in Brookings started the Flatlanders group, which includes members from communities along the I-29 corridor.

The majority of those who join the Flatlanders are either veterans or emergency responders, but the group also includes what are called legacy members, those who have family members who have served. For example, Jason Bennett of Tea, known as Dunbar, rides for his father and grandfather, both of whom served.

Within the past year, the Flatlanders have donated more than $16,000, much of it going to families in need. However, the group also awarded four $1,000 scholarships in addition to making the donation to the Veterans Honor Park.

"Nothing fills the heart better than to hand a check to a family in need," said Brian Siemonsma of Colton, known as Farmer.

Gene Schuler of Clear Lake, known as Mudflap, noted that in operating as a charitable organization, one which helps families in need and encourages members to make their own families their top priority, the group is breaking the biker stereotype.

"We are typecast," he acknowledged.

This year, 60 bikes registered for the poker run which was held on Aug. 22 and covered 156 miles. Not all of the riders were local.

"We had people here from as far away as the Black Hills," Reurink said. To attract participants, members use not only posters but also social media.

In addition to holding a poker run each year, the organization holds gun raffles throughout the year, giving away one gun every month and three additional guns over the holidays. They also sell supporter gear and accept donations from anyone who wishes to support their endeavors.

Members consider getting together and raising money to be "a heck of a good time."

"It's a great group of guys. It's a great brotherhood," Siemonsma said.