'Think of the smiles on their faces'
Santa wore red when Bob Rogers was a child, but he drove a fire truck, not a sleigh.
"We didn't have much," the Superior native said. "Everything was used and hand-me-down."
At Christmas time, the nearby fire hall became Santa's workshop. Firefighters refurbished old toys they had collected and gave them to local children. Rogers and his four siblings, who lived at North 18th Street and Baxter Avenue, were among them.
"They gave us toys and bikes," said Rogers, 70. "Every year it was so nice to get anything."
He can recall his first bike, a black and white Hiawatha that he "just rode the wheels off."
That bike from the fire hall expanded his horizons, letting Rogers zip around Hammond Park, bringing him to baseball fields and the harbor to go fishing.
Through Bob's Bike Drive, the Superior native aims to pay it forward.
"I've been there, done that. I know how it feels," said Rogers, who works at Marine General in Duluth.
The bike drive that bears his name began in 2009. Rogers's employer, Russ Francisco, mentioned a radio station was collecting bikes. Marine General employees and customers chipped in to purchase 16 bicycles for local children in need.
Their giving picked up traction when it was featured in a Duluth News Tribune story by Sam Cook. Since 2009, Bob's Bike Drive has given 1,362 bikes to children in the Northland.
This season, Bob and his friends will distribute 400 bikes with helmets to children in Duluth, Ashland, Hibbing and Superior.
Over the years, he's developed a web of support. Huffy Bikes sells directly to Rogers; businesses and service groups cut checks; folks stuff bills in jugs; London Road Car Wash employees assemble bikes between oil changes. Jeff Foster Trucking offered a discount on shipping and a place to set the pallets of unassembled bikes. Bill Howard at Continental Ski and Bike started donating helmets last year.
"Bill said if they're going to have a bike, they're going to have a helmet," Rogers said.
It's been quite a ride.
"Never in my wildest imagination did I think it would get this big," Rogers said. "It's pretty awesome."
Tuesday, motor pump operator John Lundberg assembled two of the 100 bikes slated for Superior at Superior Fire Department headquarters.
"We have this rich tradition of making sure the kids have toys," said Lundberg, coordinator for the Toys for Tots program, a partnership between Superior firefighters and the Salvation Army.
Every year, they provide toys to between 400 and 1,400 children in Douglas County.
Bob's Bike Drive is part of that. Lundberg is asking others to join in.
New, unwrapped toys are being accepted at headquarters, 3326 Tower Ave., the Salvation Army, 916 Hughitt Ave., and various drop boxes throughout Superior. Financial donations can be made out to Toys for Tots SFD and dropped off at the station.
This is the second year Bob's Bike Drive has provided bikes to children in Superior. Rogers said you may forget your first toy, but you never forget your first bike. And he's passing that Christmas joy on to the next generation.
"Think of the smiles on their faces," Rogers said.
For more information, visit the Bob's Bike Drive Facebook page. Financial donations can be dropped off at Marine General, 1501 London Road.
Signups for Toys for Tots are being taken through Dec. 8 at the Salvation Army from 10 a.m. to noon and 1-3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and 4-6 p.m. Thursdays. Participants should bring a photo ID, a current piece of mail with their name and address, and birth certificates for each child in the household.
Toys will be distributed Dec. 16-17 by appointment. Volunteers are needed to help distribute toys those days. Call the fire department at (715) 394-0227 to volunteer.