A smile stretched across Mike Waldspurger’s face Tuesday as he talked about the best part of his trip to Texas from Switzerland — his brand new pair of genuine Texas cowboy boots and pair of Wrangler jeans.
Waldspurger and close to 600 other Blue Knights are gathering in Tyler this for a bi-annual international conference.
Tyler’s Chapter 34 President Richard Cashell said the organization has been in existence since 1974, and Tyler was hosting the state’s first international conference, which will include a parade, handgun shooting competition and other events.
The police organization is recognized worldwide with more than 20,000 members worldwide, with 45 chapters in Texas alone. Tyler’s Chapter 34 has 50 members.
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.
Mike Grizz of Alexandria, La., said his Blue Knight chapter adopted the police department of a neighboring town and was able to help the new chief obtain uniforms for his officers in a department that could not afford to buy those items.
Standing in the lobby of the Holiday Inn on South Broadway, Waldspurger said he was saddened that his specially equipped motorcycle did not make the trip.
“It was going to cost about $5,000 in addition to my ticket, so I didn’t bring it. But I am still enjoying my trip,” he said. “I have always heard about Texas, and I always wanted to see for myself, so that is why I had to come.”
“We have Knights on rides to Jefferson, Palestine and Nacogdoches, and we have others making their way around the city,” he said.
Cashell said the Tyler chapter partnered with several local merchants and places of interests and developed a “passport” for the visiting knights.
“The idea is they take the passport and go to places like Goodman Museum, the rose garden and … Kiepersol and Cavendars … and get the passport stamped. If they get all of the places to stamp their passport, then they are entered into a drawing for $1,000,” he said.
Cashell said Tyler made a bid to host the event two years ago.
“We practiced and practiced like preparing for a game, and now we’re at the Super Bowl, but there is a lot less worry than we thought due to everything running so smoothly,” he said.
Gathered outside the hotel in front of dozens of motorcycles from across the nation, members swapped stories, looked at each other’s bike and enjoyed the sunny weather.
Sue Wills and her husband, Dann, from British Columbia met with their friend Ellen Smit of Ontario.
Ms. Smit, a past president of Blue Knights International, said she has been attending conventions since 1976 and has only missed two over the years.
“I love getting the chance to come down and get together with these guys. There is always a core group that makes it to all of the conventions, but we always meet new people,” she said.
Mrs. Wills she and her husband met in the parking lot at the convention outside Chicago in 1988.
The couple joked about the meeting and how it led to their marriage.
“Basically the international convention is our wedding anniversary. We couldn’t miss that,” he said.
The Wills and Mrs. Smit said they were impressed with Tyler and the “super friendly” people.
Cashell said the events will continue today with the shooting competition.