The city of Kent gave the “Ride for 9-11” firefighting cyclists – including a native son – perhaps the biggest welcome offered by any town they’ve rolled through during the first couple thousand miles of their cross-country journey.
The group of 10 firefighters – give or take, depending on the day – is cycling from California to New York City to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America.
“We’ve definitely had the local fire department, police and government welcomes into other towns – but nothing to this extent,” Loeser said. “This is my hometown – and it’s incredible! (The huge welcome) says a lot about Kent – especially since we were running so late.”
Loeser, a firefighter in California, joined the “Ride for 9-11” cyclists July 24 for the first 500 miles of their journey from California to Arizona, took a break, then rejoined them Saturday in Chicago for the final 1,100 miles to New York City.
When asked to name his favorite part of the trip to date, Loeser said, “This,” sweeping his arm to indicate the throng of people gathered at the Home Savings Bank Plaza.
He said it was exhilarating to ride under an arch created by ladder trucks from the Kent and Ravenna fire departments while following an escort of police and fire vehicles. Loeser waved and high-fived his way along South Water Street, where a large crowd that had been assembling for more than two hours cheered, clapped and waved American flags.
The Home Savings Plaza was the day’s ending point for the men – and it was packed. The cyclists walked their bikes into the plaza behind a Kent American Legion Post 496 honor guard fronted by bagpiper Mike Hostler, a member of the Cleveland Police Pipes & Drums.
Hostler, a Kent resident who was working as a Portage County Sheriff’s deputy on that fateful Sept. 11, said it was an honor to play the bagpipes Tuesday for the “Ride for 9-11” members.
“I’m a U.S. Navy veteran. My son, Joe (a 1999 Roosevelt graduate), is a firefighter in North Charleston, SC, and he’s been to the Middle East with the Air National Guard four times,” Hostler said.
“Our band (Cleveland Police Pipes & Drums) is playing the 9-11 ceremony in New York City ... by invitation. Getting to participate in all these (9-11-related) events is an incredible honor. It makes me cry,” the attorney added.
Loeser and his fellow cyclists were clearly moved as they stood alongside the American Legion honor guard on the plaza stage, hands on hearts, as Theodore Roosevelt High School senior Rachel Rosche confidently sang “The National Anthem.”
After a welcome from Mayor Jerry Fiala, the cyclists were treated to a picnic dinner arranged by the Kent Jaycees through Little City Caterers of Kent. Jaycee Scott Flynn said the organization was prepared to pay the catering company for its services – but the owners said “no.”
Bert Bellinson of Kent, who co-owns the business with David and Karen Leggett of Kent, said taking money for catering Tuesday’s event was simply out of the question.
“These guys are firefighters and they’re doing a great thing,” Bellinson said. “They’re riding all the way across the country. How can we not feed them?”
A donation basket set up on the food table became a repository for $1,200 in cash pulled from the pockets of area residents, it was announced to the crowd. The ride is raising money for the The Leary Firefighters Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Project.
After spending the night at Kent Fire Station One, the cyclists – Loeser included – were planning on departing at 6:30 this morning for the next leg of their odyssey. If everything went as planned, Kent resident Troy Gilbert will have left town with the “Ride for 9-11” group.
Gilbert, a security guard at College Towers Apartments, said Tuesday that he gets off work at 4:30 this morning. That will give him time for breakfast before heading to the fire station to ride along with the cycling group.
“It’s hard to say how far I’ll be able to go with them. Maybe I can ride for a couple hours. I recently rode 20 miles and I was pretty sore after that,” Gilbert laughed. “I just want to be able to say I rode with them ... I love my country.”
Scroll down for continuing coverage, including photos and videos, from yesterday's event.
- PHOTOS: Ride for 9-11 Firefighters Welcomed in Kent
- Crowd Waits Hours for 'Ride for 9-11' Firefighting Cyclists
- UPDATE: Raw Video of 'Ride for 9-11' Stop in Kent
- Ride for 9-11 Comes Through Kent, Stow and Cuyahoga Falls Today
- VIDEO: Roosevelt Grad in Ride for 9-11
- Northeast Ohio Welcomes Ride for 9-11 Firefighters