East Texans will be sharing the road next week with hundreds of cops on motorcycles as the Blue Knights roll into Tyler to attend their international conference, one of the largest held locally.
Tyler Blue Knights Chapter 34 is playing host for the weeklong gathering, which is expected to attract about 1,000 participants, plus guests.
“The Blue Knights have been around since 1974, and this is their first (international) conference held in the state of Texas,” Chapter President Richard Cashell said. “We are really rolling out the Texas theme.”
The nonprofit, fraternal organization is composed of active and retired law enforcement personnel and their families, who enjoy riding motorcycles and assisting in charitable endeavors in their areas.
It is expected to be a bittersweet occasion, as local Blue Knights and other area law enforcement continue to mourn the June 27 death of one of their own, Les Ferguson, who succumbed to injuries suffered in a highway accident.
Ferguson, a Blue Knight and instructor at the East Texas Police Academy, also served as vice president for Chapter 34. His contributions are to be acknowledged during the conference, organizers said.
Tyler welcomed 272 Blue Knights to a regional conference in 2009, but next week's event is expected to dwarf the earlier one in size, scope and economic impact, officials said.
“I anticipate this being the biggest convention Tyler's ever had,” Tyler Convention and Visitors Bureau vice president Shari Rickman said. “It may not be the largest in the number of attendees, but together with their wives and families, we expect an economic impact of about $2.5 million. And that's a very conservative estimate.”
Blue Knights from around the United States and beyond are expected to show up, with some coming from as far as Austria, Australia, Belgium, Germany and Ireland, organizers said.
“We bid on the international conference in 2010 in Billings, Mont.,” Ms. Rickman said, explaining competition was stiff, but Tyler prevailed, beating out even Chicago for the privilege of holding the event.
It's a big feat for Tyler, considering the city doesn't have a large event center, officials said.
Figuring out where to put all the people has been somewhat complicated, said Kim Morris, Convention and Visitors Bureau marketing specialist.
“It's been a very interesting process,” she said. “We're going to have four times the number of attendees than the regional. If we had a conference center, arranging lots of pieces of this convention would have been much simpler.”
Planning had to encompass everything from eating and sleeping accommodations to transportation, Ms. Morris said.
To compensate for the lack of space, organizers plan to keep the cyclists rolling.
A series of rides are planned to showcase the city, the county and the entire region.
“What we're doing is showing off East Texas,” Cashell said. “We've mapped out our favorite rides in East Texas.”
Some members will ride their bikes to the conference while others might rent one locally.
Registration is next Sunday afternoon at the Holiday Inn on South Broadway Avenue, followed by a series of private membership meetings July 23.
On July 24 and 25, members are expected to participate in guided and self-guided rides to points in Jefferson, Nacogdoches as well as points throughout Cherokee and Rusk counties.
A members-only shooting competition is planned for Wednesday in Kilgore, organized by the police academy. Tours are also planned for the title sponsor Motor Trike's facility in Troup.
Cashell said his late friend Ferguson was looking forward to the conference and played an integral role in its planning.
Ferguson's contributions will not be forgotten.
“The International Presidents reads the list of names of those who transferred to Heaven,” Cashell said. “That's what we call it when they pass away.”
East Texas has lost only two Blue Knights over the years: Ferguson and Precinct 2 Constable Frank H. Creath, who died in 2008 following a lengthy illness, officials said.
“Les was very much a part of our team,” Cashell said. “We've received a lot of condolences, from other chapters and other states. In the Blue Knights, there are no strangers, only people you haven't met yet. … We're truly a family.”
SEE THE KNIGHTS
The parade kicks off at 8:30 a.m. with participants leaving Tyler's Holiday Inn, 5701 S. Broadway Ave., heading south on Broadway before turning left onto Grande Boulevard. From Grande, riders will head north on Copeland Road and west on Rieck Road, returning to the hotel via Broadway.
The bike show and judging is planned from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Sleep Inn Suites, 5555 Donnybrook Ave., behind and adjacent to Lowes.
Activities wrap up Friday with a private “Blessing of the Bikes” and prayer for safe journeys home.
Throughout the week, chapters can participate in a self-guided scavenger hunt around Tyler, “Where the Rubber Meets the Rose.”
Participants need only record their chapter number on the inside cover of their “passport” and locate participating locals to earn a stamp. Those who successfully find all the locations are eligible to win a $1,000 grand prize or a special gift.
Look for Blue Knights at these participating businesses and entities: Sleep Inn & Suites, Lone Star Harley-Davidson, Goodman-LeGrand House and Museum, Scooter Pete's, Tyler Ranch Grill & Bar, Tyler Rose Garden, Historic Aviation Memorial Museum, Cavender's and Kiepersol Winery.
Supporters include Motor Trike Incorporated, city of Tyler, Holiday Inn, Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics, Woodmen of the World, H&W Honda Palestine, Goodwill Industries, TDI Air Conditioning, Police and Firemen's Insurance Association.