DEADWOOD, S.D., AUG 7–Every year during the Sturgis Rally, the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum holds an induction ceremony breakfast to celebrate the nominees chosen to be included in the Hall of Fame and Freedom Fighters section of the museum. The 2013 cast of characters was truly the cream of the crop in the world of motorcycling. Each of the six inductees has contributed to the biker community in an individual and unique way, and it was an honor to be able to witness the new members’ time in the limelight as they were recognized for their accomplishments and efforts. The group joined the ranks of the world’s most notable and elite members of the prestigious organization. The ceremony was entertaining if nothing else.
Breakfast, held at the elegant Deadwood Lodge, got underway with a variety of formalities and emcee John Paul DeJoria led the way. DeJoria, co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair products and Patrón tequila, is a philanthropist and avid supporter of the museum. His opening statements were followed by a welcome greeting by Mayor Mark Carstensen before the museum’s executive director, Christine Paige Diers, presented a status report explaining all the changes being planned for the museum.
As each name was called, an introductory slideshow was projected on the screens recounting each inductee’s accomplishments to the roomful of attendees who’d gathered to cheer on the newest members.
Ray Fitzgerald, known as “Still Ray,” was first to accept his award as the sole 2013 inductee into the Freedom Fighter’s Hall of Fame. He joins a long and impressive list of motorcycle rights activists who have fought to preserve our way of life such as Sonny Barger, Bill Bish, “Deacon” David Phillip and Dave Zein.
Personal injury attorney Russ Brown, probably best known as founder of the free breakdown and legal assistance program BAM, was recognized for his efforts on behalf of downed bikers before Rick Fairless took the stage in his signature tie-dyed tee and made everyone giggle. Opening with a quote from Groucho Marx about how he wouldn’t want to be a member of an organization that would want him as a member, master bike builder Fairless followed the statement with, “Except I do want to be a member of this organization. This is one club I’m very proud to be a part of.”
Bill Gilking, a South Dakota native, received the coveted J.C. “Pappy” Hoel Achievement Award for his involvement in motorcycling from as far back as 1964 when he was a Honda dealer and rider in the local hill climbs and races. He knew Pappy Hoel personally and worked to help him set up the White Plate Flat Trackers. Bill eventually opened Black Hills Harley-Davidson and his work through the years to support and improve the Sturgis rally is why he was given this prestigious award.
If there was a lull in the festivities, it certainly evaporated when Marjoe Gortner took the stage. Recognized as the youngest known ordained preacher, Marjoe stormed the stage in old-time revival mode. After thanking the board and declaring this as the greatest day of his life, Gortner set about introducing his friends in the audience. Calling them out to donate to the museum’s coffers, he loudly announced that emcee DeJoria was, “well, RICH,” and shared that DeJoria had already pledged $60,000 before Marjoe peppered his speech with “amen” and “hallelujah” and turned the podium into a pulpit, eliciting another $8,000 from friends as the audience roared with laughter and support at the lively display. Gortner’s involvement in motorcycle life includes stints as an actor, stunt rider, promoter, sportsman and fundraiser, and he is known for his participation in charitable motorcycle rides worldwide.
The last inductee was Sturgis resident and businessman Lonnie Isam Sr., owner of Competition Distributing, a local business that sells antique motorcycle parts in 29 countries. Lonnie bought his first motorcycle in 1941 and embarked upon a lifetime of drag racing, building, restoring, collecting and preserving motorcycles and their history. In a touching acceptance speech, the emotional Isam declared, “I’m really glad to be in this game. I’ve been very lucky to go through life doing what I love.” He and his wife Marianne are both very active in the community. Lonnie serves on the board of the Sturgis Economic Development Corporation.
The Sturgis Museum is in the process of expanding the facility and hopes to raise $7 million for the project over the course of the next two years. The current building is woefully overcrowded and many items of historical value are unable to be displayed due to the lack of space. To offer a donation, read about the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame or learn more about this year’s inductees, visit the website at www.sturgismuseum.com.