Most of us have an image of bikers that we've gleaned from a smattering of movies, a handful of news reports, and maybe some very limited personal experience. And most of the time that image is wrong – especially when it comes to the bikers riding in the Talimena Rally "Cruisin' for St. Jude."
remember, for example, a few years ago, a funeral service was being
held at a nearby small town for one of our fallen Iraq War heroes. A
bunch of protesters had vowed – and even attempted – to disrupt
the service as a way to protest the war. This, of course, was not
only disrespectful and unpatriotic, but would have added immeasurably
to the family's grief. But a large group of bikers from the area came
to the rescue. After the people had gathered, these bikers blocked
the access roads and encircled the cemetery so that the service could
proceed with dignity.
the kind of bikers we're talking about here – hundreds of men and
women who aim to have a good time while raising funds to support St.
Jude Hospital and help kids battling cancer. In fact, last year they
raised just shy of $50,000 . . . and had a great time doing it.
is the Talimena Rally?
of all, according to Neil Jones, founder and event coordinator of the
rally, "It's all about the kids." And that means all the
fun, registration fees, donations – everything – is intended to
help those children with cancer receiving treatment at St. Jude.
rally itself, set for May 23-25 this year, is quite an
adventure. Riders start off at Texarkana, Arkansas, and wind up at
Mena by traveling a portion of the Talimena Scenic Drive. When the
rally nears Mena, local police block the roads for safe passage and
an impressive procession down the mountain. And it's not just bikers
either. An Oklahoma slingshot group, the Oklahoma Blue Knights, often
make the trip, as well as people without bikes, in cars and other
a rundown from the Talimena
Rally Facebook page . . .
The event is a chance to ride the motorcycling terrain of Arkansas while raising money for cancer research. All proceeds from the
rally go to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. This year's
headquarters for the event will be the Arkansas Convention Center in
cost to participate is $80 before May 1 and $100 after that
date. This includes two group rides, point runs, four meals, a rally
T-shirt (for the early registrants), and live music by bands
including Mike Mayberry and the Slow Hands on Friday night with the
Bone Dancers on Saturday night. As for riding, a "Riding the
Hills" group ride has been scheduled for May 24 that will
include riding through the back roads of Arkansas to Glenwood. The
following day (May 25) will be a group ride to Queen Wilhelmina
including part of the famous Talimena Scenic Byway.
addition, each June rally participants are welcome to ride to
Memphis, Tennessee, to deliver the donations right to St. Jude. They
can also tour the facility facility and see exactly where there money
is going. Transparency, according to Jones, is a top concern.
Typically, a group of 25 to 30 riders makes the trip to Memphis to deliver the donations, which is scheduled for June 21 this year. And age is no barrier – Jones' granddaughter has been going since she was six years old.
Jude Children's Research Hospital
Jude Children's Research Hospital (as that redoubtable resource
Wikepedia says) was founded in 1962 and "is a pediatric research
facility focused on children's catastrophic diseases, particularly
leukemia and other cancers. The hospital costs about $2.8 million a
day to run, and there is no cost to the patient to be treated. It is
located in Memphis, Tennessee, and is a nonprofit medical
really, that description just barely scratches the surface of what
St. Jude actually is and does . . .
Jude, one of the twelve Apostles, is the patron saint of hopeless or
desperate causes – and a child with cancer certainly fits that
bill. This saint can provides hope for those who find themselves in
desperate or dire circumstance. And that's exactly what St. Jude
Hospital does as well – bolstering hope for afflicted children by
providing free treatment and searching for cures.
You may have seen the old TV spots for St. Jude featuring Danny Thomas (and occasionally his daughter Marlo). But you're probably not aware aware of the story behind St. Jude's founding. It goes like this . . .
70 years ago, Danny Thomas was a struggling young entertainer, just
barely scratching out a living and with a baby on the way. While in
Detroit during this period, he attended Church and put his last seven
dollars in the collection. And then, realizing what he had done,
Thomas prayed to find a way to pay the upcoming hospital bills. And
his prayer was answered. The very next day, he secured a small part
that would pay ten times what he had put in the collection.
couple of years later, Thomas was seeing a modicum of success in his
career, but just couldn't take it to the next level. So he asked St.
Jude to intercede for him, saying, "Help me find my way in life,
and I will build you a shrine." And this was the seed that
eventually blossomed into St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
years passed, and Thomas' career as an entertainer flourished,
thrusting him into the international spotlight. At length he called
to mind his pledge to St. Jude and again asked for direction. So in
the early 1950s plans to fulfill his vow began to take concrete shape
in the form of an idea to build a children's hospital.
1955, Thomas, along with a group of Memphis businessmen pledged to
support the cause, refined the idea and began making plans to build
"a unique research hospital devoted to curing catastrophic
diseases in children." And the fundraising efforts commenced,
which included Thomas' own fundraising shows.
money to build the hospital wasn't all that was needed – they still
needed the funds to run and maintain it. So Thomas called on his
fellow citizens of Lebanese descent, and the result was the forming
of the ALSAC. It is "the nation's second largest health-care
charity and is supported by the efforts of more than 1 million
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital was built – developing from a
vow to an idea to reality. The hospital seeks "improvements in
the care of pediatric leukemias and numerous forms of solid tumors"
and "has brought about improved health care for children all
over the world." In fact, at this unique hospital, the survival
rates for childhood cancers have risen from 20% at its founding in
1962 to 80% today.
Today, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital "is leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases." Here's their mission statement . . .
mission of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is to advance cures,
and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through
research and treatment. Consistent with the vision of our founder
Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or
a family's ability to pay.
unique hospital, then, has two simple goals: 1) staying "at the
cutting edge of the latest medicine and research" and 2)
"freeing families from the biggest burden in getting life-saving
health care: the cost. . . . Families never receive a bill from St.
Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food – because all a family
should worry about is helping their children." The hospital
operates almost entirely on funds received from gracious donors.
that's where the Talimena Rally "Cruisin' for St. Jude comes in.
Talimena Scenic Drive
Oklahoma has lot more than Dust Bowls and cowboys, and Arkansas is about much more than moonshine and hillbillies. For both
states claim part of
the renowned Talimena Scenic drive.
drive takes its name from a combination of the names of the towns
that form the terminus at each end of the drive – Talihina,
Oklahoma, and Mena, Arkansas. Opened in 1969 and designated a
National Scenic Byway in 2005, it is 54-mile stretch of scenic
highway that runs from Talihina to Mena or from Mena to Talihina,
depending on where your live and start out. The Talihina Drive wends
its way through the Ouachita National Forest taking a route across
the tops of the Winding Stair Mountains, which includes Rich
Mountain, the second tallest peak in Arkansas. Along the way, you'll
find hiking trails, 22 scenic overlooks, and hill grades of at least
13%. Overall, a great route for a ride.
Arkansas portion of the Talimena Drive is 18 miles long on SH 88,
stretching from the Oklahoma state line to Mena. Traveling northwest
from the Oklahoma border, you'll go through the Ouachita National
Forest, climb 2,681-foot-high Rich Mountain, and pass through Queen
Wilhelmina State Park. This is a route with breathtaking views,
including tree-clad mountain peaks, deep valleys, streams, and lakes.
Jones – The Man Who Brings It All Together
what happens when you bring a bunch of bikers together to cruise the
Arkansas leg of the Talimena Drive and raise money to help kids with
cancer at St. Jude Hospital? Neil Jones can answer that . . .
doing the same thing we do every weekend," Neil said, " so
why not help kids one weekend?" And that he has surely done.
Since 2012, the Talimina Rally has raised and donated to St. Jude a
total of $160,373.73. Here's how it all got started . . .
wife was a cancer victim and eventually succumbed to the disease. At
that point, he was burnt out and resigning as director of the Whiskey
River HOG Chapter in Texarkana. But then he met a young lady in Hot
Springs . . . who eventually became his wife.
was through her encouragement that Neil found the strength and
courage to carry on and not give up. As Carol asked him, "Do you
think those kids ever give up?" At her urging, then, Neil
carried on with the Talimina Rally.
first, though, the proceeds from the rally went to various local
charities. But after Neil's wife passed away – and fully conscious
of the terrible struggle people have with cancer – he found St.
Jude. And Neil found his calling.
the Talimina Rally consumes him. He said, "God has put this on
my heart and mind. Every day I am dealing with something related to
the rally." In fact, they don't even charge the rally vendors,
and they have several gracious donors like Tyson, which donates
1,000+ chicken quarters. It's a labor of love, and it's all about the
Rags for the Kids
here's an extra something Neil does for the kids at St. Jude . . .
year, Neil personally delivers hundreds of doo
rags (the quintessential biker head wear) to the kids at St.
Jude. He is for them the "Biker Santa." He brings to the
hospital these doo rags to distribute to the kids there – doo rags
in all colors, but pink for the girls.
Neil was first looking for doo rag donors, he contacted Wholesale
For Everyone. He talked to Jeff on the phone who said he'd talk
to Dan Weaver, the owner of Wholesale For Everyone. Dan said he would
gladly donate the doo rags for this cause – and has been doing so
for the past three years.
Neil Jones, then, it really is all about the kids.
Up and Mount Up
you're still undecided, take a look at what Jacqueline Harris,
Director-ECC Services, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, had to
say in last year's thank-you letter to Neil . . .
through commitment like yours that we are able to provide the best
possible care to more than 260 children every day without further
burdening their families with the medical expenses involved in
treating a child with a catastrophic illness. You're an important
part of the St. Jude team, and it's through your dedication that
we're able to continue our most important work. Together we do make a
difference in the lives of our children suffering with the most
horrible and devastating childhood diseases. We are fortunate to have
you on the St. Jude team.
can also contact Neil and Carol Jones at 903-276-6884.