With memories at their back, Anoka County retirees rehab bikes for those in need

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 30, 2013 - 2:24 PM

A group of Anoka County volunteers fixes up tires, spokes and frames to help others experience the kind of joy they still savor.

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Volunteers like Ken Irvin from Bikes4Kids typically work on each bike for about three hours — cleaning, checking brakes, fixing gears and replacing tires.

Photo: Richard Sennott , Star Tribune

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They all remember the thrill of their first bicycles — the pure joy and freedom it represented.

“I was so thrilled to get it; I remember going no hands,” said Dale Hartje, smiling as he recalled his father’s warning: “No hands, no teeth.”

Dick Cleveland’s first boyhood bike was a Coast to Coast Rocket.

“I still have a picture of mine. I cherish that,” chimed in Lowell Kutches.

Sixty years after they felt the exhilaration of owning their first bicycles, this group of retired Anoka County men is helping a new generation understand that rush. They’re part of Bikes4Kids — the Robert & Wilma Burbach Bike Foundation.

The all-volunteer Anoka County nonprofit was formed in 2011. The organization collects broken-down bicycles often destined for the dump, fixes them up and then gives them to people who otherwise cannot afford them. They’ve partnered with other local nonprofits, including the YMCA, local Christmas charities and Hope 4 Youth center for homeless youth, to distribute the bicycles.

“A bike means, ‘I get to do something on my own.’ It gives them some freedom,” said Kutches, the charity’s president.

Most of the Bikes4Kids volunteers come from either the Coon Rapids Kiwanis Club or the Faith Lutheran Church FROGS (Faith Retired Old Guys). Church member Robert Burbach planted the seed for the charity years ago. An avid cyclist, Burbach used to collect old bikes, disassemble them and ship them overseas, so the group named the nonprofit to honor him.

“To see the kids get their bikes, it’s unbelievable,” said Byron Dokken, who oversees bike procurement for the charity.

Barns as workshops

The group of about 20 men works out of two red barns behind Al Sannerud’s Ham Lake home.

Sannerud, a retired accountant, is the executive director of the nonprofit. He gets a little teary eyed as he talks about the charity’s mission. The rehabbed bicycles, along with new helmets and safety manuals, go to needy kids and teens. They also go to young adults, some from foster care and some from the juvenile justice system, who are trying to establish themselves. A bicycle can serve as their transportation to work and school.

“Giving them a bike gives them something that is theirs. We are helping them establish they are a good part of society,” Sannerud said.

At Sannerud’s farm, the horse barn is filled with old bikes that need to be tuned up, repaired and detailed. It also contains a workshop.

Eyes light up

On a recent Tuesday morning, a small group of men is cleaning and lubing bicycles. Volunteers work at their own level and speed.

Norm Dahl is tinkering with a red, 16-inch boy’s bike with a horn attached to the handlebars.

“I am amazed at how well they come out,” said Dahl, a retired store manager for Sherwin Williams. “It’s great to see the kids’ eyes light up.”

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  • Bikes4Kids

  • how to help

    You can drop off old bicycles for Bikes4Kids at:

    City of Blaine recycling Saturdays — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the third Saturday of every month, by the old City Hall site, 9150 Central Av.

    Trailhead Cycling & Fitness, 11350 Aquila Dr. N., Champlin.

    Pioneer Cycle, 12741 Central Av. NE., Blaine.

    For more information, call Lowell Kutches at 763-360-1574 or Byron Dokken at 763-412-2878.

    Or go to www.bikes4kidsmn.org

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