It started with a single motorcycle ride and just kept rolling. Now, the area motorcyclists who help make the local Toys 4 Tots Fun Run possible will be celebrating 20 years of Christmas in July.
"Who would have thought it'd be going on this long?" said Lee Seiler, who helped organize the first Toys for Tots Run back in 1992.
While he's no longer the chairman of the organizing committee, he always takes part in the ride.
The 1998 Toys 4 Tots Fun Run.
The 20th annual Toys 4 Tots Run will start from Amiret on July 28. Just like in years past, the event will collect toys for needy children in southwest Minnesota, as well as attracting riders who want to have some fun while giving to a good cause.
Seiler said the idea for the Toys for Tots run came from a conversation he had with another area resident, Phil Myhrberg. Myhrberg mentioned riding in a Toys for Tots motorcycle run in the Willmar area.
"We thought, 'Why go clear to Willmar?' Maybe we should start one here," Seiler said.
And they did.
The first area Toys 4 Tots Run rode out of Amiret in July 1992. Seiler said several area motorcycle groups worked to make the first event possible, including A.B.A.T.E., and the Roaring Lyons Club from Amiret.
After the first year, he said, the run formed its own organizing committee. Over time the event has also had a few different starting points, including Arco and Marshall, before settling in Amiret. Now, once a year motorcycles fill the small town's streets before setting out on a ride through the area.
Participation has always been good for the ride, organizers said. The first year, about 160 riders participated.
"It was one of the biggest rides at the time," Seiler said. Over the years, the numbers grew.
"For the first 12 or 13 years, it kept getting higher and higher," before leveling out somewhat, said Tammy Coudron. Coudron and her husband Brian Coudron served as chairpeople of the organizing committee for several years, starting in 1995.
So far, peak participation in the Toys 4 Tots Run has been about 700 people. There are always plenty of motorcycle events going on during the summer, Tammy Coudron said, so that tends to limit the number of people going on any one ride. "But it's always nice when you have one more person than last year."
"It's not just the ones who come year after year, it's the new riders," agreed Jane Arends. Jane and Jeff Arends have headed the ride's organization committee for about 10 years.
The ride has also gradually added its own traditions, like having a "Santa Claus" volunteer to lead the parade of motorcycles.
Planning the run is a huge effort, organizers said - one that requires dedication, a "little army" of volunteers, or both.
There's a reason there have been only a few different committee chairpeople in 20 years, the Coudrons said.
"It can be hard to find the right fit, the right kind of person to make it go," Tammy Coudron said. "You've gotta keep putting your heart into it."
"To start something like this without any help, that takes heart right there," she said of Seiler and Myhrberg's idea for the run.
Working together with Heart to Heart of Lyon County has been a big help in managing the event, Jeff Arends said. Heart to Heart distributes some of the toys raised by the ride as part of their holiday gift and meal packages for needy families. Volunteers, area businesses and community donors have also been a vital part in keeping the ride going for 20 years.
"We as a run would not be here without their support," Arends said.
The combination of a good ride and a good cause is what draws people to the Toys 4 Tots Run, organizers and longtime riders said.
"If people like something, they tell you. I think everyone heard Toys for Tots was a good ride," Brian Coudron said.
"There's a good ride, good food, music, and a good reason behind it," Seiler said. Even the late July weather has somehow stayed consistent over the years. Organizers joked that the day of the ride was "Usually hotter than hell, but always sunny."
Although it's fun for the riders who participate, the focus of the run is always the kids, organizers said.
"It's giving back to the community," Seiler said.
The Toys 4 Tots Run has become one of the biggest contributers to Heart to Heart's holiday toy drive, organizers said, and the toys and cash donations it collects go out to families in Lyon County and beyond. Besides Heart to Heart, donations last year also went to community programs in Lincoln County, Murray County, and the cities of Luverne, Pipestone and Worthington.
Participating in the Toys 4 Tots Run over the years has built a lot of memories, organizers said.
"Our kids grew up with it," Tammy Coudron said. Through helping with the ride, she said, "I think they learned a lot of giving."
Seiler said his favorite part of the run has been seeing the number of people on the ride. "You look back, and you can't see the end of the line," he said. "It just gives you a different feeling, brings tears to your eyes and everything."
The Toys 4 Tots Run starts from the Roaring Lyons Clubhouse in Amiret on July 28, with registration from 9-11 a.m. The Hitching Post in Marshall will be the drop-off location for toys. This year's event also includes a free street dance the night before the ride, outside the Tex Mex Bar and Grill in Lynd.
Both motorcycles and cars are welcome in the ride, organizers said. People interested in the ride are encouraged to call Jeff or Jane Arends at 507-537-4138 for more information.