By Ted Waddell
WURTSBORO December 12, 2003 Just because you dress in black leather and ride a big motorcycle doesnt mean you dont like kids.
In fact, for the past 18 years, John and Joan OToole and a lot of Harley-Davidson riders have been shattering the bad bikers stereotype by hosting an annual toy run for tots.
In other words, forget Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones.
Instead, think of Peter Fonda on his all-American chopper delivering presents to some bright-eyed kids and their grateful parents.
Its a popular event that provides hundreds of brightly wrapped presents to kids who might otherwise face the tear-filled prospect of a Christmas without any gifts.
We wanted to bring a little bit of Christmas to some kids who might not be as fortunate as others, said John OToole, owner of OTooles Harley-Davidson in Wurtsboro. The Harley-Davidson community being what it is, its like giving back to make a change in some kids Christmas.
The 18th Annual Toys For Tots Run was sponsored by John and Joan OToole of OTooles Harley-Davidson and the Wurtsboro Chapter of the Harley Owners Group (HOG). It was a benefit for Sullivan County Head Start through the United Way of Sullivan County.
Its a great opportunity to help the kids, said Joan OToole. Sometimes, its the only presents they receive.
OTooles original Santa was an artist and motorcycle parts guy named Jerry Joly, but he recently moved to Maine.
Jamie Conklin was named this years Santa. Dressed in a traditional red suit, he sported a nose ring beneath all the white whiskers, but his full body suit of tattoos was hidden from view until he rolled up his sleeves to get to work handing out presents at the QWL Building in Woodbourne, a facility owned by local corrections agencies.
Like everyone else, he had to leave his bike back in the garage due to snow-covered roads in the wake of as severe storm.
Joe Andujar is one of the heroes of September 11, 2001 and is assistant director of the Wurtsboro HOG.
On Sunday, the NYC cop switched from his 2000 Harley-Davidson Police Special to a dark blue, heavily window-tinted Chevy Suburban that his fellow bikers dubbed a Secret Service ride to escort the convoy from Wurtsboro to Woodbourne: think of a slimmer version of The Terminator directing traffic.
Its all about being able to give back, having a heart and doing the right thing, he said. Seeing all the kids faces when they arent expecting anything . . . its all about giving.
Last August, Wurtsboro HOG members Ken Newman and Steven Shevchuk were part of a group that took a 2,760-mile round trip ride to the birthplace of the Harley-Davidson legend, as they participated in the companys 100th anniversary.
On the way out to Milwaukee to visit the Harley-Davidson manufacturing plant, they encountered a tornado. On the trip back, they got hit by the tail end of a hurricane.
On Sunday, a snowstorm kept them off their bikes.
Buts thats to be expected when you ride in the wind.
The toy run is a great thing, said Newman. Its nice to do something for children and start the new year off right.
His daughter Katelyn is a frequent passenger in a sidecar attached to her dads 1998 Harley Ultra Classic full dresser.
Some kids dont get anything for Christmas, and I think they should get something, she said before adding a couple of puzzles and a stuffed monkey to the ever-growing pile of presents being wrapped by Santas helpers.
From OTooles in Wurtsboro, the HOGS wound their way along Rt. 209 and Rt. 52 through small villages until they reached their destination.
Then it was time to hand out boxes filled with presents.
Janet Olden of Loch Sheldrake showed up with her two-year-old daughter Myra and three-year-old son Elijah, a couple of kids who were delighted to get some gifts just in time for Christmas.
My kids go to Head Start, and I thought it would be nice for them to see Santa, she said.
Regina Gattling was on hand with her seven-year-old daughter Sierra and 12-year-old Nashawannea Reynolds.
I just thank God they made it happen, she said of the annual holiday motorcycle run.