PORTAGEVILLE - This past December, the motorcycles riders gathered in Portageville. They had rumbled into town with their packs and pockets full of presents, gifts for children and donations for the Fire Department's holiday toy drive.
It was just the type of activity the Bootheel Riders want to be known for, said Mike Jones, president of the newly formed organization. This motorcycle gang is a bunch of do-gooders.
"Everything we do is for some kind of charity event," said Jones. "If we can help them, we do."
While there are already several motorcycle groups organized in the area, Jones said he and many of those he rides with were looking for something a bit different. After months of talking, they took action and put out a notice of the formation of the Bootheel Riders.
After an organizational meeting in January, the group had 25 members.
"Most all of them have ridden for a while but we have a few fresh ones," said Jones referring to those new to motorcycle riding. "We even have a few members who don't own bikes. It takes a little bit for everyone to make the club work."
Members come from throughout the area, according to the group's president. So far those riding are not only from Portageville but also the surrounding towns and even outside the county from Poplar Bluff and East Prairie.
And, Jones points out, they welcome all motorcycle enthusiasts. "If it has two wheels and they can ride it we don't care," he said with a laugh.
What they do expect from their membership is community service. At their organizational meeting the group agreed to host a car and bike show April 23 at the Portageville City Park and again on Sept. 24 as part of the community's Portageville Soybean Festival. Also they have discussed having a "Poker Run" as a fund-raiser and organized a team (non-motorized) for the New Madrid County Cancer Society's Relay for Life.
For Leon Harper, one of the founding members of the group, helping others, especially children, through the group's activities is what makes the new organization attractive. The real plus, he said, is being able to combine doing good with giving him the chance to ride.
"Everybody needs help and this is a way we can get together and do something good for our community and surrounding communities and have fun doing it," he said. "I've looked at other clubs, but I don't do the bar scene. Here everyone is friendly. We aren't your typical tattooed people."
Joy Partin, the club's secretary/treasurer, certainly isn't a typical motorcyclist. She doesn't even drive a motorcycle, rather she is along for the ride behind her husband.
It was Partin who researched the requirements about organizing the group as a non-profit organization and is compiling their by-laws. She said the word is beginning to spread about the Bootheel Riders.
"This is just a bunch of people who want to do some good," explained Partin. "All the members are good people who want to help others, to get out and do for our community and the surrounding communities. We are people who don't mind giving a little of our time and working hard."
And, continued Jones, it might just change a few people's attitudes about those bikers they see on the roads of Southeast Missouri. "Bikers aren't bad people. We are here to have fun, yes, but also to help the community. We may not make a big difference, but you know, if we can help even a little bit well then it is worth it."
The Bootheel Riders will meet next at 1 p.m. Feb. 12 at Jones' Auto Sales, 418 E. Main St. in Portageville.