Vets heed call of open road to help others 107 motorcyclists set goal of $15,000 for charity with rally and festival


Tom Oliver roared into Fort Holabird on his red 1994 Harley-Davidson yesterday, proved that he'd completed the first Vietnam veterans "poker run" -- and proceeded to draw a worthless hand.

"My luck wasn't very good on this one, was it?" said the 64-year-old retired air traffic controller from Port Deposit. His wife, Julie -- who had ridden on the back of Oliver's motorcycle -- then pulled her set of cards from the deck and didn't fare any better.

Said Oliver: "At least it's for a good cause."

The poker run called for motorcyclists to travel a 70-mile winding course through Baltimore County, from Dundalk to Loch Raven, through part of Gunpowder Falls State Park and back. Those who returned drew five cards and the best poker hands earned such prizes as a gift certificate from Harley-Davidson of Baltimore.

Proceeds from entry fees and raffle tickets will benefit local needy veterans.

"It's a great way to give people a chance to take an interesting ride and raise money," said Vince Lombardo, second vice president of Baltimore Chapter 451 of the Vietnam Veterans of America and designer of the course. "They don't have to race to finish first. They just have to prove that they did it."

Poker runs are fairly common throughout the United States. Though this was the first sponsored by the veterans group, a motorcycle club, the Baltimore Ramblers, has two planned for fall.

During yesterday's run, even those who didn't come back with all of the proof -- a list of the ZIP codes from every post office they passed along the route -- were allowed to draw cards.

Don Beynon of Fallston and Charlie Bentz of Abingdon missed the Hydes Road post office, but each drew five cards anyway after they finished first. Both drew pairs of eights and kings -- good hands, but not good enough to win.

As the 107 motorcyclists returned from the 2 1/2 -hour run, they found a festival much like those that are held anywhere in the Baltimore area on a Sunday afternoon. The only difference was that this one featured a lot more people clad in black leather Harley-Davidson vests.

"Bikers are just like anyone else -- a group of people enjoying their weekend fun," said Carol Lombardo, a teacher who enjoys riding on the motorcycle of her husband, Vince.

Outside the local Vietnam veterans chapter's headquarters in Fort Holabird Industrial Park sat dozens of classic cars and dragsters, and hundreds of gleaming motorcycles. An eclectic mix of several thousand motorcycle enthusiasts, car buffs, veterans and families envied the vehicles and enjoyed music and children's games.

By the end of the day, the 700-member veterans chapter hoped to have raised $15,000 to donate to the Maryland Homeless Veterans Inc.'s Operation ReSupply and the chapter's Vet-In-Need Fund.

Together, the two groups support as many as 1,000 needy veterans and their families a year, providing everything from clothing and food to Christmas care packages and job placements, said John Y. Averella of Dundalk, president of the local Vietnam veterans chapter and a purchasing specialist with the Postal Service.

Pub Date: 8/05/96

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