VetFest 2020 brings bikers together from near and far
Updated: Sep 24, 2020
U.S. Veterans Motorcycle Club Ohio State Chapter also recognizes Painesville, Ohio motorcycle injury lawyer Ralph C. Buss with special gift.
Saturday Aug. 29 proved you just can’t keep a good motorcycle club down.
Organizers from the Ohio State Chapter of the U.S. Veterans Motorcycle Club grappled with whether to hold this year’s VetFest event due to the pandemic. But in the end a bunch of hard work and dedication paid off. They went on with the show and an estimated 1,200 or so people in attendance had a blast. Plus, money was raised for a number of organizations doing good work for veterans and America, to boot.
“I thought it went really well,” said Elmo, USVMC Ohio State Chapter president and VetFest organizer. “We teetered on not having it because of COVID-19, but the chapter felt we needed some centering on patriotism and recognizing all those who have sacrificed for our freedom.”
The 8th Annual Fallen Hero Memorial Ride associated with the event was run in honor of Army Spc. Jesse A. Snow of Fairborn, Ohio. Snow, who served with the 1st Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division, was killed in action on Nov. 14, 2010 during an operation in the Watapur Valley, Afghanistan, according to his Hall of Valor page at militarytimes.com.
A portion of the money raised through VetFest 2020 will be donated to the Jesse Snow Fallen Hero Scholarship Fund, which Elmo said is awarded to those training to become fire-rescue professionals.
“Jesse’s dream was to be a firefighter,” Elmo said. “So the mantra of that program has been ‘keeping Jesse’s dream alive.”
Other beneficiaries include Fisher House, which builds and maintains comfort homes internationally near military and VA medical centers where military personnel, veterans and their loved ones can stay free of charge, and Save a Warrior, an organization that runs a peer-led program called “War Detox” that helps those suffering from post-traumatic stress and aims to reduce the suicide epidemic among veterans.
Elmo said the chapter obtained approval from the Greene County Public Health Department as part of pulling it all together, adding that “we weren’t being rebellious,” with regard to pandemic precautions.
And those precautions weren’t lost on the crowd.
Mel Eger, with the Pennsylvania State Chapter of the USVMC, was one of the vendors at VetFest 2020 (@melaniesueeger on Instagram). She brought numerous examples of her original, patriotic artwork to display and sell. She said she was impressed by how well the event - which made its debut at the Ohio Renaissance Festival Grounds in Waynesville, Ohio this year - was organized.
“I think it shaped up beautifully,” she said. “It’s a great venue, and they took so many steps as far as social distancing.”
She said the fact that so many people showed up for VetFest 2020 left an impression.
“To have this big of a turnout in support of Jesse, with everything else that’s going on in the world right now, it just pulls at your heart strings,” Eger said. “I mean this is a great turnout.”
Former New York State USVMC chapter president Dennis the Menace said he was impressed with the amount of support VetFest 2020 enjoyed, especially when it came down to the run’s law enforcement escorts.
“The police escorting the ride - they did an excellent job - and they came from all over the place,” he said. “I thought that was really something.”
The ride itself originated eight years ago, Elmo said. The VetFest event that’s shaped up around it has been going on for six. He said VetFest was conceived through a confrontation at Dayton’s Wright State University that could’ve turned out a helluva lot worse than it did.
“There were about 25 students standing on the American Flag, chanting various things,” Elmo said. “There was one Vietnam veteran there singing the American Anthem, crying.”
He said he and some fellow USVMC members arrived on the scene and things got more than a little tense.
“It got kind of heated, to put it lightly,” Elmo said. “One thing led to another and their leader wound up talking to our group’s leader - me.”
He said that, in those heated moments, something clicked within the demonstrators’ ranks and they began to understand the great significance the flag holds for so many people - especially veterans.
“We told them what the flag meant to us and what wound up happening was that they apologized,” Elmo said. “Then they gave us the flag and asked us to fold it. We did. Then we gave it back to them and they turned around and presented it to the Vietnam veteran.”
That’s how VetFest was born, he said.
“We thought if we could change people’s attitudes like this, imagine what we could do to change more people’s minds by showing even more people what the flag means to us,” Elmo said. “It represents freedom and that’s what we want to get behind.”
There were hundreds and hundreds of motorcycles that came rumbling through the Ohio Renaissance Festival Grounds that day and an equestrian honor guard (thanks to 4 Freedom Equestrian Team) that led off the solemn memorial ceremony that afternoon. Then there was the crowd favorite: a star-spangled skydiving display that played out to "Ooohs" "Aaahhs" and the like. Then there were the handshakes, hugs and tears.
VetFest 2020 truly represented the kind of community that this club has become. Its members share a bond unlike any other, both through their service to our country and their passion for being in the wind. They look out for each other and depend on one another in ways those who haven’t served in the military likely can’t comprehend.
That’s why an event like VetFest is so important to them.
“Here’s why it’s a big thing for us: When you’re in the military, then you separate or retire, there’s no reunion or anything like that,” Elmo said. “You’re just kind of cut free from it all and there’s that disconnect that’s kind of hard to cope with."
He added that, for some, that disconnect leads to fatal consequences.
"We even find some individuals are unable to connect with life outside the military and unfortunately commit suicide,” Elmo said.
That’s where an organization like Save a Warrior (SAW) earns its stripes. According to SAW ambassador Jake Bame, the USVMC and VetFest have been important resources for the program.
Aside from the $7,650 check the club handed Bame at VetFest 2020, the visibility an event like it provides is invaluable.
“Our main goal is to end the suicide epidemic among first responders and veterans,” Bame said, adding how helpful the USVMC has been. “They’ve always been good stewards for the work that we do.”
He said that, as a “professional beggar,” the exposure is vital to support the nonprofit that has, as of Sept. 1, treated 1,700 people.
“VetFest is important,” Bame said. “Part of what we do is raise money and, outside of working to end the suicide epidemic, a big mission of ours is to raise awareness.”
According to Bame, 130,000 veterans have taken their lives since Sept. 11, 2001.
“You typically hear the number 22 when talking about how many veterans commit suicide each day. But we believe that number to be higher,” he said, adding that many overdoses, cases of liver disease and “car wrecks that weren’t accidents” likely are post-traumatic stress-related.
He said that, for those veterans who have found groups like the USVMC, they have become important parts of their lives and have helped many of them cope with life after military service.
“When they leave the military, they leave that brotherhood,” he said. “That’s why you see the USVMC. They’re a brotherhood.”
And it’s evident, just by talking to its members, how dedicated they are to each other and those who have gone before them.
“This is a great event for our entire veteran nation,” said J.R. - president of the USVMC National Chapter. “It honors not only Jesse Snow and his ultimate sacrifice, but it honors all the veterans and what they’ve done for God and Country.”
Genesis, who was at VetFest 2020 representing the Litas, an international organization of women riders, said she’s been to four VetFest events and loves everything about them.
“The reason we’re here is to support our veterans in the past, present and future who gave us the freedom to do what we do,” said the member of the Dayton Chapter of the Litas.
She added that “VetFest is almost an emotional, or spiritual, experience. It’s got that kind of spirit and energy - the energy of America and all that they have sacrificed for us.”
Genesis said that she could see clearly how moved these veterans were by the acts of tribute that take place at VetFest.
“The word emotional just comes to mind,” she said. “It was absolutely emotional - when you saw the parachutist, the 21-gun salute, when they played Taps… It’s all to remember those who came before us. It’s an honor to actually be here.”
Speaking of paying tribute, the USVMC Ohio State Chapter honored longtime motorcycle injury lawyer Ralph C. Buss for all the years he’s spent dedicating the bulk of his professional life to bikers.
Between bands, Elmo, flanked by a half-dozen or so club members, called Buss on stage to praise his efforts for the riding community in front of the crowd and present him with a special gift.
Visibly surprised by the attention, Buss ripped open the brown wrapping paper concealing one of Eger’s original pieces of art - a painting of the American Flag with the words “Home of the Free Because of the Brave” overlaying it.
“He does so much for bikers. We wanted to recognize him for so many years of service to bikers,” Elmo said. “It says ‘home of the free because of the brave.’ Well, he’s done that in a legal sense for so many bikers. It takes a special kind of lawyer to integrate into the biker community like that.”
Elmo added that, like military veterans who answered that call to serve, Buss, too, has always served the people around him.
“We just wanted to recognize him because he’s always giving,” he said. “So many people just take, take, take. But Ralph is just always so giving.”
Buss said he was genuinely surprised by the recognition and appreciates the pat on the back by a group he holds in such high regard.
“Well, what do you say to something like this?” said Buss, whose humility is one of his defining characteristics. “Certainly I’m honored. I was surprised. It’s not easy to get a group like this to like you, let alone call you up on stage in the middle of their party.”
Buss has been an Ohio motorcycle injury lawyer for nearly 50 years, representing bikers in everything from illegal search and seizure and personal injury cases to helping the families of riders killed by careless motorists.
In that time he’s made an indelible mark on the biker world. He’s helped ensure some of the best possible outcomes for his clients through the kind of hard work and dedication that have earned him a place of honor in one of the most discerning cultures on the road.
As with any good time, VetFest 2020 had to come to an end. The one-day event ran from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. with plenty of food, drink, live music and memories - all for a great cause and organized by some great people.
Be sure to visit the USVMC Ohio Chapter’s website often for more events and fundraisers. And check out and like The Law Firm of Ralph C. Buss’s Facebook page, if you haven’t already. We’re always posting something new, whether it’s an event, a news item or a resource for bikers everywhere.