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HIGHLAND — Over the last 18 years, the roar of motorcycle engines and the cheering of crowds that mark the annual Victory for Veterans ride have grown exponentially thanks to the North Township Trustee’s office and the local veterans’ causes the ride helps financially.

“I was there the first year when (Greg) Cvitkovich was North Township Trustee,” said Paul “Pappy” Day, of Hammond’s Robertsdale neighborhood, who’s ridden one of his two-seater motorcycles in every Victory for Veterans event since 1999. “There were just 50 riders that first year.”

In late September, 2,338 motorcycles carrying 3,240 riders revved up and roared out of the gates at Wicker Memorial Park on a 27-mile journey that raised $72,000 from fees of $25 for a single-rider bike, and $40 for a two-seater. Day rode his Electraglide two-seater with his girlfriend, Helen Huffman, in the 18th annual event.

“The ride is a partnership between the North Township Trustee’s office and the American Veterans Motorcycle Riders Association, based in Hessville,” said Frank Mrvan Jr., the North Township Trustee since 2005. “Over the years, it’s grown into the highest-attended motorcycle fundraiser event in Lake County.”

An AVMRA member, Day said about 200 of the association’s members from Indiana and Illinois participated this year.

“We had riders from all around the Region, from Wisconsin and Michigan, and a lot from Illinois and Indianapolis and Bloomington,” Mrvan said of the event that included vendors serving up food and beverages. Each participant also received a souvenir pin.

The bikers took off going west on Ridge Road to Calumet Avenue in Munster, where they turned south and rode to U.S. 30 in Dyer. There they turned east, continuing to Taft Street/Ind. 55 in Merrillville, and went north on Taft to Ridge Road. Turning west on Ridge Road, the riders roared back into Wicker Memorial Park at the end of their journey.

“People lined up everywhere along the 27-mile route” cheering on the riders, Mrvan said. “Their feelings were palpable — the sense of honor, showing their gratitude and pride in our men and women in uniform, gratitude for people sacrificing for our country.”

Day shared those experiences.

“This has grown because of the good we do for our veterans and our area,” said Day, a world history teacher at Gary West Side and a disabled American veteran who served in the U.S. Army infantry from 1986 through 1991. “It gives veterans a sense of belonging.”

Over the years, the North Township Trustee’s office donated $10,000 for a Habitat for Humanity Veteran’s Build in Merrillville with the Northwest Indiana Veterans’ Council, Mrvan said.

The township also donated a home on Tennessee Avenue in Hessville to Habitat for Humanity to house a homeless veteran.

“Recently funds were donated to Empowering Patriots, a local organization that gives service dogs to veterans with PTSD,” Mrvan said.

This coming April, the park’s memorial flame and flags of five U.S. military branches at the corner of Indianapolis Boulevard and Ridge Road will be enhanced by a reflecting fountain with benches.

“We take very seriously that Wicker Park is always known as a memorial park,” Mrvan said.

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