by Eric A Thomas
In 2006, one local man embarked on a dream of riding his motorcycle from the beginning to the end of Route 66 to raise money for cancer research. That first year, over $5,000 was raised and Ride for the Relay was born.
From September 4-15 of this year, Rodger Fox assembled what he had dubbed, “The Final Ride,” one last cruise down Route 66. The ride started in Bolingbrook and ended at the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, California. The 2,451-mile journey was completed by 25 drivers and riders, known as the “All the Way Gang.” They raised over $10,000 for the Mia Ware Foundation from this year’s ride.
“During the first ride in 2006, I was the only one that went all the way,” remembers Fox.
“The number of participants has grown over the years, with 239 different riders taking part. During our 10th anniversary ride in 2015, 100 of them went the whole route.”
That first year, Fox was given $66 to start the journey and another $66 upon completion from each of his supporters, which gained him national attention for his efforts. A magazine called Wing World, a part of the Honda Motorcycle Club organization, covered his efforts, resulting in other motorcycle enthusiasts starting to contact him to become a part of future relays.
Ultimately, the participants over the years spanned 27 different states, plus the countries of Germany and Canada. They have had motorcycles, Jeeps, trucks, motorhomes and pickup truck campers. This year, they had an electric car make the journey from Bolingbrook to Springfield. The oldest participant, at 83, was in 2010, when Dean Mehlhaff from Aberdeen, South Dakota, rode the entire journey on two wheels. The driver living the farthest away who completed the entire journey was John Matthews from Venice, California; that was in 2008. Matthews passed away in 2011 and Mehlhaff passed away in 2016.
During the summer of 2016, Fox was involved in a devastating motorcycle accident while in Wisconsin. His leg was broken in four places, and he also suffered a broken ankle, crushed heel and crushed left wrist. This accident put the relay trek on hold. After a series of surgeries and a lot of rehabilitation, Fox made a full recovery. During the three-year downtime, the Ride for the Relay participants stayed in touch with special reunion gatherings.
In 2016, the group met in Decorah, Iowa. Those in attendance represented 15 different U.S. states and Canada. In 2017, their reunion gathering was in Evansville, Indiana; in 2018, they met in Springfield, Missouri. In 2019, they were back on the road but in reverse. This time the riders began the ride in California and ended in Illinois. The contributions that year came in just under $10,000 and 33 participants made up the All the Way Gang.
Due to COVID-19, Fox held a Ride for the Relay picnic in 2020 here in Jacksonville. The picnic brought together about 50 people all practicing social distancing but enjoying each other’s company. Brad Fellhauer catered pulled pork and side dishes and Chuck Frost did his famous Dutch oven deserts. The event also included a fire pit for hot dogs and s’mores, corn hole games and a lot of visiting.
To wrap up the final ride, 11 members of the Ride for the Relay gathered with six members representing the Mia Ware Foundation on October 29 at the Chesapeake Seafood House in Springfield. Representing the relay team were Rodger and Sue Fox, John Ford, Geoff and LaChelle Griffin, Pat and Dan Curry, Dan Calhoun, Nancy Hopkins, and Bob and Kathy Zipprich. Representing the foundation were Brad and Charlyn Ware, along with board members Kim Brogdon (and husband, Rod) and Stacy Thomas (and husband, Chad). That evening Fox presented a check for $10,000 to the foundation. This brings their total contributions to the American Cancer Society since 2006 to over a quarter of a million dollars.
In closing, Fox shared that many people went above and beyond each of the 15 years that the Ride for the Relay took place. Out of all the years, three men were a member of the All the Way Gang eight different times. They were Gary Gallo of Morris, Jim Nichols from Quincy and Dan Calhoun from Kansas City. Two people earned the “Gang” honors seven different times, two other people earned the title six times and nine people drove the complete route five different times. The motto for each year was, “Don’t give until it hurts, give until it feels good.” “The commitment level from each of the participants each year was unreal and all of them did it to fight cancer … In the years to come, the first weekend of September will be reserved to host a picnic or reunion for the relay members,” comments Fox.
There is one person without whom Fox could not have done any of this – and that is his wife, Sue. She was a big part of each year, and he credits her for always having his back and supporting him. She flew out to meet the riders at the end of their journey several of the years.
“Special thanks to all my Ride for the Relay friends over the years for being a part of helping in this fight to find a cure for cancer,” concludes Fox.