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Memorial bike run unites riders and Raven fans

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One of Roger Chenoweth Jr.’s goals in life was to make his family, friends and even total strangers happy. In death, thanks to those who were touched by him in some way by sports, motorcycles and family, he continues to do that every year on the weekend of his birthday, July 13.

Chenoweth Jr. was born in Arbutus and lived in Catonsville during his adult years. He died suddenly at the age of 51 on Dec. 21, 2009.

He left behind his daughters, Shannon Giannini and Melissa Edmonds, his sons, Roger Chenoweth III and Todd Chenoweth, six grandchildren — and a whole lot of memories.

Those stories were flowing -- along with the beers -- at G.L. Shack’s Grill in Catonsville on July 12 for the 5th annual Roger Chenoweth Jr. Memorial Ride.

The event was spearheaded by his sister, Annmarie Burmeister, and his daughter Shannon.

“My brother loved his family, he loved his friends, he loved his Baltimore sports teams and he loved his motorcycle, so we just threw that all together and this is what we ended up with,” said Burmeister, who lives in Pensacola Beach, Fla. “He would be so happy that this is what we do on his birthday.”

The event includes a bike ride to several of his favorite watering holes and this year’s ride featured approximately 35 bikes.

There are door prizes and raffles to raise money for brain cancer research and the Purple Pride radio show is broadcast live by host Bill West from 9 to 11 a.m.

Captain Dee-Fence was also there to spread Baltimore Ravens’ fever.

“This event is not so much about raising money,” said Burmeister, who was the bar manager the first year G. L. Shack’s opened in 1993. “It’s about celebrating his birthday the way he would celebrate his birthday.”

Burmeister and Giannini who also worked at Shack’s as a hostess, barback and waitress, until she went in the Navy with Burmeister at age 18, are also part of Team G Force, which started in honor of Shannon’s husband Mike Giannini, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor on the day of her dad’s wake.

Mike Giannini died at age 36 just 14 months later.

“We do this event, and for the National Brain Tumors Society, we do the Race For Hope 5K every year in D.C.,” Burmeister said.

Team G Force has 100 members and said it has raised close to $90,000 in three years.

“We did it while he (Mike) was still alive,” Burmeister said. “The first year he walked as a survivor.”

The Roger Chenoweth Jr. Memorial has raised about $2,000 each year, family said.

Those who come to socialize, watch sports or ride wouldn’t miss it, especially Gary Waesche, who met Chenoweth while playing nine-man flag football in Woodlawn.

“If I ever had a twin, it was him,” said Waesche, who is married with five kids.

Waesche grew up in Woodlawn, but has moved to Ocean City.

“Today is mine and my wife’s anniversary and his birthday, and every year I know I am coming up here for this,” he said. “You can celebrate your anniversary before or after. I can’t miss this. I come up here to be with Pop (dad Roger Sr.) and Marge (Roger Jr.’s mother) and his sisters, his sons, his daughters and friends, plus I get to come back to Catonsville and hook up with everybody too.”

Waesche recalled when his friend got his first bike.

“He loved that bike,” Waesche said. “He slept on it.”

Through riding, the pair became closer, but Chenoweth took his friendships even further because of the bike.

“Every bar we went into, from Ocean City to Kent Island, to Gettysburg, anywhere, it was always, ‘Hey Rog’” Waesche recalled.

This year’s memorial bike ride cruised to the places Chenoweth frequented, including Daniels, Big Falls and Nabb’s Creek.

“They hit all the bars that he used to go and where he was well known,” Waesche said.

When Chenoweth, a Catonsville High graduate, wasn’t riding, he was usually with his family.

“The thing about Roger is the side that people never got to see, because they always saw him in bars, was how much of a family guy he was and these kids were his life,” Waesche said. “He loved his kids and to be around family.”

He also loved Waesche’s family.

When Waesche’s son, Matt, was graduating from Officer Candidate School, he and some friends went out in uniform to celebrate the night before graduation.

Chenoweth kept an eye on them. When a customer started giving the Navy boys a hard time for their attire, he stepped in and squelched the situation.

“Roger went over, knocked him out, stuffed him in a trash can, and threw him in the street,” Waesche said. “But he was there to take care of those boys.”

Chenoweth had a tough side, but Waesche saw more than that.

“You see that side of him, and then I’m watching him chase my 2-year old granddaughter around the airplane hangar with her little Navy outfit on and he is just hugging her and loving her and she is loving him and that’s just the way he was, but people never got to see that side of him,” Waesche said.

He made strangers feel like family.

“If you really got to know him, you loved him,” Waesche said. “The one thing about Roger was he had a million friends and no one ever wanted to say he was his enemy because that didn’t bode well for him, but he did nothing but take care of people around him his whole entire life.”

Chenoweth’s love for Baltimore sports, a former president of a Colts Corral, never wavered when the Colts left town in March of 1984.

“My brother was a diehard Ravens fan and we grew up at Memorial Stadium as diehard Colts fans and when we didn’t have a team, we didn’t stray,” Burmeister said. “We didn’t go to watch the Redskins, we went to watch the (Baltimore Stallions) Canadian Football League.”

And when the Ravens arrived, Chenoweth was the quarterback of the tailgate parties. “He was the best tailgate organizer ever,” Burmeister said.

His daughter, Shannon, who lives in Leesburg, Va., with daughters Haile, 15, and Olivia, still goes to Ravens games but said she can’t meet her dad’s tailgating standards.

“That’s the one thing I haven’t been able to carry over,” said Giannini, who keeps her dad’s seat at Ravens games in his honor. “I try, but I’m not that good at it.”

“He made it look easy because he did all the food and he would still socialize,” added Burmeister. “The food would just appear.”

Chenoweth had no problem feeding the homeless in the parking lot at games or trading a burger to his son for a bag of M&Ms.

Parking attendants Mark Carter, of Columbia, and Willie Mason, of Severn, who both worked in lot B off Hamburg Street at the Maryland Stadium Complex, became friends with the king tailgate chef and bike riding buddy.

”What I observed about Roger was he had the biggest heart ever and he would do anything for anybody,” Carter said. “Game day, it was all Roger’s show. Nobody else could do anything.”

Chenoweth died the morning after the Ravens defeated the Chicago Bears, 31-7, on Dec. 20, 2009, and Carter recalled some of his final words.

“One of the last things we remember Roger doing and saying is, ‘Hey, we will be back for the playoff game in January, and he said we are going to ride a lot this year. At the end of season, we had started riding together and he said we are going to do a lot of riding next year and next year never came.”

But the birthday weekend celebration of his life comes in mid-July every summer and Carter and Mason won’t miss it.

“I have my granddaughters now and they are at my house every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but I’m not going to miss this because that is just what he meant to me,” Carter said. “That’s another thing about Roger, family was No. 1, no matter what.”

“I would say family, slash, friends,” Mason said. “The most unique thing I will say about Roger is he is color blind. He liked everybody and every thing.”

Steve Peters saw what he did two days before he died for the workers at G.L Shack’s after a heavy snow.

“The Saturday before he died people couldn’t get in here because they had a foot of snow, so he went over to Coolahans because he knew nobody over here was eating anything and apparently they had a barrel of pretzels over there and he bought pretzels for everybody and brought them back,” Peters said.

Robert Markov met Chenoweth while playing for the Arbutus Big Red semi-pro football team, but it was riding with him with his hair blowing in the wind that he fondly remembered.

The Arbutus resident recalled how happy Chenoweth was when they did away with the law requiring riders to wear a helmet.

“He had that pretty hair and he didn’t want to mess it up, but it was short-lived,” said Markov, who changed his attire for his friend. “I usually wear shorts, but today, for Roger, I put the pants on.”

This year, the helmet Chenoweth wore was dedicated and presented to his cousin, Jimmy Auburger, before the riders took off and Burmeister gave an emotional speech.

“This is my brother’s helmet and Roger’s children have decided that this helmet should go to somebody very special and rode with him all the time and helped plan this ride every year, so cousin Jimmy, this is now your helmet,” she said.

Auburger will surely cherish the helmet ever time he rides, and Chenoweth’s family and friends will celebrate together the moments they had with him every time his birthday rolls around.

“This is his birthday and we have it every year at this time and we have a nice crowd that comes here and we are happy with them,” said his mom, Marge Chenoweth.   

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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