Dear Readers for July 23, 2009

Blount Today was born on Aug. 26, 2004, and Sherri has never looked back. Community journalism done right, the way it is at Blount Today, has always had her heart, and she loves her team, loves the community and really, really loves OUR newspaper.

You meet all kinds of people when you are in the newspaper business. In the way-too-many years I have been feeding this addiction to ink, I have found myself across the desk from egocentric stars, nervous politicians, pleading parents, pompous millionaires and confused brides.

Reporters, writers and editors all have their list of folks who fall into two categories. There are those people who always make you smile, the ones you will bend the rules for and call in a favor to do whatever it is they are asking you to do. And there are those who, when you see them coming toward you across the newsroom, make you want to hide under your desk to avoid them.

Five years ago, before coming to Blount County, no one could have made me believe that one of my Top Five “smiles” would be a motorcycle club.

Then I met the Dixie Iron Riders.

I’m a big chicken when it comes to motorcycles. The bikes scare me. I like a lot of steel around me if I’m going to take off down the highway. And the leather-clad riders usually fall into the category of “hard to deal with.” They all have nicknames, and they don’t want to tell you their real names. They answer to some call of the road that non-riders don’t hear and don’t appreciate. And then there is that whole “Hell’s Angels” Hollywood picture that looks like it is coming to life as they mount-up and rev the engines.

The Dixie Iron Riders, however, don’t fit any stereotypes in my limited experience with motorcycle clubs. They are husbands and fathers and hard-working good guys who love their community and spend their weekends making this community -- and especially any charity that benefits the needy or children -- a better place.

Blount Today did a story on the Dixie Iron Riders a year ago, but I was already familiar with them before the story ever hit my desk. You couldn’t help but know who they were. If there was a benefit on the books that involved motorcycles, the members of the Dixie Iron Riders were always there, leading and planning the ride, stressing safety and pushing the community to join them, either on a bike for the ride, or at a party after it, all in the name of bringing in needed cash for everything from Boys and Girls Club to food pantries to cancer research to animal care.

Mike Kirby and the Iron Riders take their motorcycle club very seriously. They dig into the requests they get for help, asking questions about the organization if they aren’t familiar with them, searching out the best ways to help them and calling in friends, family and neighbors to join their efforts.

When we did our story back in September, the Dixie Iron Riders had already topped $100,000 raised in rides for charities in a two-year span. That number has surely grown, as the number of charity rides in Blount County now rivals golf tournaments and silent auctions.

The Dixie Iron Riders exist to benefit the community. In the good weather months, which are by far the majority of them in our beautiful East Tennessee, the Riders are out every weekend, meeting up with other motorcycle enthusiasts to collect their entry fees, line them up and provide an exciting and beautiful ride through the East Tennessee landscape.

Like most big-hearted groups, the Dixie Iron Riders are always so busy taking care of others that they don’t always take care of themselves. The rides they do for charity are always 100 percent donations to the charity. They take nothing for themselves except the warm-fuzzies from doing good things.

So I was pleased when a mass email from the $10 Club came across my desk. There’s a benefit coming up today, Thursday, July 23. This one is a benefit for the Dixie Iron Riders.

Motorcycle clubs have expenses, too. And they have members who foot the bills for most all those expenses. Sometimes, however, a little help is appreciated. Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson Buehl knows this, and they jumped on the bandwagon to offer a little assistance to those who give so much to others.

Since the Riders are so firmly ensconced in my “smile” category, you would think they would have asked for a little publicity for this fundraiser. They didn’t. In fact, when I saw them last weekend -- at a benefit ride -- they never even mentioned it. They didn’t ask for a free ad or a note in Community Events or anything. They were taking care of business -- raising money for someone else.

I’m going to Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson Thursday night, skipping a little early out of book club (and I rarely let anything supplant book club). I’m buying a tickets and will listen to the music and put a couple of more bucks in the donation jar, if they even put one out.

It will be a gift that keeps on giving, because one look at the calendar tells me that there are more charity rides coming up almost every weekend as fall approaches. The name Dixie Iron Riders is right there next to most all of them.

Blackberry Smoke Band is playing, beginning at 8 p.m. Find a way to come out and support this incredible group of men who give so much to so many. Tickets are $5 for bikers and $10 for those of us who are chickens.

I can promise you will be showered with gratitude and hugs and thank-yous. You can read their nicknames on their leather jackets, but they will proudly tell you they are Mike and Benny and Johnny and Nick and Bill and Robert and all the rest.

The Dixie Iron Riders will quickly become a permanent member of your “smile” group.

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