by Kathleen Pulek, Middletown Chronicle, October, 2014
Click HERE for the full gallery of images from this event.
What do you get when you take 100 bikers, 30 championship chili masters and a sprinkling of zombies? The answer is the perfect recipe for George’s Ride and Zombie Biker Chilifest – held at the Middletown Elks Lodge on Sept. 21 – an event created from the tragedy of a father losing a son.
George Ryan’s son never got to live out his dreams. He died tragically just two days after turning 19.
“My son George went to bed early on the morning of June 23, 2012, and never woke up. I got the news early that morning…the day that changed my life forever…and then I heard him being pronounced dead a little later,” said Ryan, a Middletown resident.
“George was an energetic and athletic young man who had an interest in trail riding and dirt riding very early on. He had a couple of motorcycles that were his favorite pastime. He was working with me at my environmental firm part time before he graduated from Wilcox Tech, and continued to work with me on and off.”Ryan’s life changed again in May of 2013 when he began working tirelessly to help area seniors achieve their dreams of pursuing a higher education.
“I wanted to give a sizeable scholarship in my son’s name to Wilcox Tech and I contacted friends, family, and business associates for donations. By the time the awards night came around six weeks later, their generosity had raised over $17,000.
“I was able to give every bit of it away to assist various local seniors looking to continue their education. With the thank you letters I received from both students and parents, I knew that I had found a purpose. I started the George N. Ryan Memorial Scholarship Fund, a true 501(c)(3) charitable organization.”
Ryan inaugurated “George’s Ride,” a motorcycle run through the Connecticut countryside in October of 2013 to benefit the scholarship fund.
After the successful spring 2014 George’s Ride, Ryan emptied the scholarship bank account to help more deserving students at various area high schools. “We tend to target the B students who really have a desire to further their education but may not get to go to school without help. Although we don’t look the other way for straight-A students, they tend to have many more scholarship opportunities, so we look for volunteer work and community service, as well as grades and financial need on the scholarship applications.”
With the help of various clubs and donors, the latest edition of George’s Ride flourished with the addition of a Zombie Biker Chilifest, designed as a family fun day of activities.
“I’m thankful for the collaboration that has brought together the motorcycle community, Zombies from the Trail of Terror in Wallingford, an International Chili Society (ICS) sanctioned chili cook off with championship cooks, a hot wing death match sponsored by Defcon Sauces, music from national recording artists Jeff Pitchell and Texas Flood who have been with us since we started, a pig roast, raffles and more, including giving away a 1964 classic Ford Thunderbird.“Today wouldn’t be possible without the help of folks like Michael Freedman and the ICS chili cooks, Middletown’s own Johnny Moore of Fat City Customs, our foundation vice president Kathy Thuerling and the Middletown Elks Lodge, which is again hosting us,” said Ryan.
“In May I went to Michael Freedman’s ICS-sanctioned New England Regional Chili Cook Off in Somers, CT, because I just had to meet him. His one-day event draws in between 9,000 to 10,000 people and raises about $80,000, all of which is given away to local charities. Everything the ICS does is for charity.
“Michael jumped right on board. He’s worked as hard on this event as I have. We’ve had a thousand emails back and forth and 500 calls to each other. He’s the one who really handled the chili folks. For us to have as many chili cooks for a late-season event like this is impressive.”
The International Chili Society – the largest food contest, festival organization in the world – is a non-profit that sanctions worldwide chili cook offs with judging and cooking rules and regulations. ICS sanctioned cook off winners qualify to compete for cash prizes and awards at the World Championship Chili Cook Off, held yearly in October.
“George approached me about maybe having a chili cook off in conjunction with George’s Ride,” explained Freedman. “He told me about his son’s tragic death and that he had created a scholarship fund in his son’s name. The ICS has thousands of members worldwide who cook, judge and have a good time in helping raise needed funds for worthwhile charities and non-profits. How could I and other ICS chili cooks say no? We decided on a date and the fun began.“George is a remarkably driven man. He goes from before the sun comes up until the sun is down for several hours,” Freedman continued. “Johnny Moore knows everybody in town. He’s the biggest help you could ever imagine. His daughter Mariah is a very giving young woman who has been a big help. Kathy Thuerling handles the organizational and paperwork side of the foundation, which means the foundation as a corporation doesn’t exist without her. I figure I’m in the best of company.”
Moore designed the ride and led the bikers “through Haddam, across the bridge, over to East Haddam, Salem and Colchester, down Route16, over to Route 66 and Portland, through Main Street Middletown and then back here to the Elks Club. We were gone about 90 minutes.
“George and I met three years ago and became friends. When you run across someone who is good-natured, good-hearted and so genuine, how could you not want to help him,” said Moore.
Full Throttle Chili, Dragon Fire Family, Smokin’ Girls Chili, Stark Raven Mad Chili (Agawam, MA), “Wicked Good Chili” from Swamp Donkey Creations (Loudon, NH), Freddy Beach Chili Co. (Frederickton, NB, Canada) and Reading (MA) Hot Chili Peppers were among the championship chili cooks from all over New England and the mid Atlantic states as well as Canada who competed in traditional red chili (no beans), chili verde (green chili) and salsa sanctioned categories.
“Every one of the chili cooks is trying to win that ticket to October’s World Championship Chili Cook Off in Las Vegas,” said Jason Frechette of Dragon Fire Family, who received a second place for his salsa at the Sept. 20th ICS Cook Off in New Haven.
“My goal is to reach the six-figure dollar amount in the next two years and ultimately, before my time is done here, to be able to say we were able to give away a million dollars to seniors at area high schools,” said Ryan. “We’re a true non-profit. No one receives a salary of any kind. We work strictly on volunteers and donated time and we’ll remain that way as long as I’m alive. Thanks to the outpouring of support I’ve received from so many people, I have every intention of reaching my goal.”