October 26, 2013

Veterans Day, the holidays, and veterans in need

“War is always very hard on family and friends and even harder for men and women coming home who didn’t die but have lost forever pieces of their bodies, minds and souls.” 
“My daughter and I very much appreciate the items we received from you all. It would be a better world if there were more folks like you…. This is a better Thanksgiving than we were expecting.”
Francis at Rocky Mountain National
Park, September 2007, the month he
was discharged from active duty with
the 10th Mountain Division.

These are quotes from letters we received from veterans who benefitted from contributions in Francis’s memory to the Kansas City VA Medical Center’s Voluntary Services Unit.

On any given night an estimated 62,000 veterans sleep on streets, on park benches, beneath overpasses, and in alleys somewhere in America—if you call that sleep. Twice that many veterans will be homeless sometime in the course of the next twelve months. Here in the Kansas City region the nightly figure is about 1,800 veterans without shelter.

Numbers that big are like smoke—you can’t grab hold of just one. A crowd isn’t a person—an individual, a face. Seems like the larger the number, the less real it becomes.

Francis asked me one day if we had some old clothes we no longer wore. He’d just come home from the Kansas City VA Medical Center, where he’d met some of the men and women who needed help. He wanted to do something. He would start by gathering up whatever he could at home. But his real gift was cooking. That’s what he'd do — treat veterans served by the KCVA’s Voluntary Services Unit to his own recipe for chili.

Since losing Francis over two years ago, we have tried to continue his spirit of good will toward fellow veterans. Thanks to the generosity of hundreds of people all over the country, over $21,000 has been raised in Francis’s memory for the KCVA to serve the needs of these men and women.

This past spring we were also privileged to have Francis’s godfather Dave lead the “Ride to Francis,” raising over $4,000 as he rode his motorcycle from New York to Francis’s resting place at Leavenworth National Cemetery in time for Memorial Day. (Read Dave's trip notes and postscript in the May and July 2013 archive on the right.)

As Veterans Day and the holidays approach, please remember our veterans and keep them in your thoughts.

To read more excerpts from letters we’ve received from veterans and generous donors, click here.

To contribute:
Kansas City VA
Voluntary Services 135
4801 Linwood Blvd.
Kansas City, MO 64128
Make your check to the KCVA and please note on the memo line:
Francis D. Sommer Memorial Fund

One hundred percent of your donation is used to provide goods and services to our neediest veterans. The Veterans Administration covers all of the overhead. 

July 28, 2013

Postscript from Dave...

Final thoughts on the 'Ride to Francis'
By Dave Christi 
Dave and Francis at
Rocky Mountain National Park, 1999
4,198.80. I'll always remember that number as it represents a significant time in my life that was focused on a significant individual - Francis David Sommer. I still think about various aspects of the trip - from the first lightning storm in the Pocono mountains to the serene ride through Iowa's farmlands - and I'll never forget Memorial Day 2013 as I laid Francis's wreath at his graveside. All these memories were augmented by my friendship of the Sommer family, which has endured over 45 years for which I've been honored to be part of. Francis is dearly missed but I also know that he misses your great family as well....

July 24, 2013

‘Ride to Francis’ a success!

The final tally is in!
Dave Christi
The Memorial Day “Ride to Francis” raised $4,198.80 for the Kansas City VA Medical Center’s Voluntary Services Unit. These funds will be used to assist homeless veterans in the Kansas City region. With administrative overhead covered by the Veteran’s Administration, donors are assured that 100 percent of their funds will be used for goods and services to assist veterans in need.

The “Ride to Francis” was the brainchild of Francis’s godfather Dave Christi, who rode his Harley from New York to Leavenworth National Cemetery in support of the KCVA. On a soggy Memorial Day morning, his journey culminated when he laid a wreath at Francis’s grave.

Thanks to Dave, donations to the KCVA in Francis’s memory have reached nearly $21,000.

May 29, 2013

‘Ride to Francis’: Memorial Day

A satellite view of
our Memorial Day
The morning was overcast and cool but still dry, and then as Dave rode the final leg of his Memorial Day "Ride to Francis" to Leavenworth National Cemetery the skies broke open.
The rain only came on stronger as we crowded under umbrellas near the shelter for the service, including the recognition of memorial wreaths. Dave had traveled 1,502 miles to present the "Ride to Francis" wreath, a special moment for him and for all of us who were with him.

Bob, Dave, and Heather
Following the ceremony we gathered at Francis's gravesite to remember him, share poetry and stories, and lay the wreath in his memory. His spirit lives on through all of us who knew and loved him and through so many more who've been touched by the good works of his memorial fund.

May 26, 2013

‘Ride To Francis’: Day 4 & Arrival!

By Dave Christi

Sat., May 25, 2013. KSU - 9:15 AM CDT

The first thing that meets you upon leaving Illinois on Route 64 is the stainless steel Gateway Arch entering St. Louis Mo. I had been to St. Louis years ago on business but it was still very impressive seeing it as I crested a hill on the highway going into Missouri. After maneuvering through St. Louis, I headed into the less-traveled more scenic Route 94 along the Missouri River.

After primarily being on  highways it felt good gliding through curves again. I decided to stop at one point just to savor the quiet with my only interruption being a friendly farmer who happened by and asked if I was okay.  Turns out that was literally the calm before the storm as shortly afterwards I ran into a torrential downpour along Route 19, which is only bordered by farmland (i.e., no place to get cover).

Note the wet pavement after the storm!
I did finally make my way to the old wine-making town of Hermann where I caught lunch and warmed up a bit. The rest of the trip was back on the main highway (I-70), where it both got sunny and warm. I arrived at Bob & Heather’s place around 7:00 p.m., tired from my long day but excited to finally arrive to welcoming arms. You can see from the trip meter that the trip now has covered 1432.9 miles.

Coming up Westgate Street after four days in the saddle
1432.9 miles from Kingston to Overland Park
Sunday is my day of rest and then we all go to Leavenworth National Cemetery on Memorial Day to pay our respects to Francis, who has brought us all together.  I cannot begin to tell you how good this all feels. From the concept that germinated in the fall of 2012 to now has been a great journey full of anticipation and excitement as the pieces came together. The unexpected pleasure, though, was the frequent memories of Francis and the opportunity to once again connect with my great friends in Kansas.

Thanks to all who have been able to donate to the Kansas City VA’s Francis D. Sommer Memorial Fund. I’m sure Francis appreciates the fact that you’ve just made this world a little better for homeless veterans. 

May 25, 2013

‘Ride To Francis’: update

Hermann, Mo., on a not-rainy day
Email from Dave at 1:53 p.m. today:

Hey! I'm holed up in Hermann, Mo. ;-) Ran into wicked rain between Route 50 and here and colder temps. I'm warming up in a bar where they serve 3/4 inch slices of deep fried pork loin on wonderbread ;-). Makes an order of fries seem like the healthy choice ;-). Heard from one of the locals that Route 94 is definitely a must-see...... Be sure to let me know if you find any sun...;-)

Sunny and warm here, Dave. We hope to see you soon!

Last word was that he's back on the road and heading for Colombia, Mo.

‘Ride To Francis’: Day 3

By Dave Christi

Louisville, Ky.
KSU at 9:10 a.m. EDT

After staying with some very special friends (Bob and Nancy Liebman) in Cincinnati, I bundled up to greet the 47 degree morning temperature. (Bob commented about turning the heat on in his car. It was definitely brisk out there and I couldn't stop trying to figure out what the windchill would be at 65 mph :^) Actually, about 15 minutes later I pulled over, donned my rain jacket for an extra layer and  put on a heavier pair of insulated gloves :-O. Later on I arrived in Louisville, Ky., and as you can see from the photos, I stopped by the waterfront and then (and this is for my cousin Robert Sudol) stopped over to see where the Kentucky Derby is run and snapped a pic of Churchill Downs :^). The place is huge!

Churchill Downs
I got a good feel of the city and met a few bicyclists originally from North East (one being from New Paltz, not far from my home in Kingston, N.Y., and another from the South shore on Long Island.) Small world, huh?

I actually didn't head out until almost 2:00 p.m. and still had a good four hours of riding to get to my next destination just east of St. Louis. By then the clouds disappeared and the temps went into the low 70's with almost no wind - perfect riding weather. I followed a well groomed Route 64 west and arrived at O'Fallon, Ill., now one day closer to seeing my good friends Bob and Heather Sommer and their family.

May 24, 2013

‘Ride To Francis’: Day 2

By Dave Christi

Thurs., May 23rd. KSU at 9:00 AM ET. 
Today's trip started out in Clarion, Pa., more or less uneventful. Very cloudy and windy and cooler than yesterday. In fact, even though I headed south today, the temps got cooler. Did I mention the wind ;-? It definitely kept me on my toes. Also, the high amount of truck traffic and the record number of road construction sites kept me pretty busy ;-(.

One thing of note was a conversation I had with a local guy from Ohio. I was just finishing filling my tank when this guy came up to me and asked where I was from. I then proceeded to tell him about Ride To Francis. Well, he must have thought it was a worthwhile endeavour because after stopping in the convenience store, he came out and gave me a donation. I thanked him and thought how amazing that a total stranger would be moved to donate. I'll always remember that moment.

May 22, 2013

‘Ride To Francis’: Day 1

By Dave Christi

KSU (kick stand up) at 9:10 AM ET
(Click the photo for a close-up view of Dave's vest)
So, I begin my adventure! My wife Diane snapped this photo just before I left. She's the seamstress behind the vest's handiwork and has been great in supporting this endeavor of mine from the beginning.

What started out as a very overcast and cool morning in Kingston, N.Y., eventually led to a hot (90 degrees) afternoon in central Pa. I'm now further west (Clarion, Pa.), just off of Route 80 - my first stop. I ran through two storms - the first being a heavy (albeit short) downpour accompanied by bolts of lightning in the Pocono Mountains - and then a passing rain near Dubois. The storms cool and clean the air and the smell of negative ions is wonderful. Traffic was unexpectedly light given that Route 80 is normally laden with tractor-trailer traffic. Road work was minimal so no significant delays :^). All in all a good day riding! More tomorrow.... Dave
Sunset in Clarion, Pa.

On the Road!

Today's the day! Dave hits the road on his "Ride to Francis." Over the next few days, right through Memorial Day, his trip notes and photos will be posted here as he journeys westward to Kansas. Please do check back for periodic updates. Safe riding, Dave!

April 15, 2013

‘Ride to Francis’ for Memorial Day

It's on! Francis's godfather Dave will be riding from New York to Leavenworth National Cemetery in time for the annual Memorial Day service, on Monday, May 27th, 9:00 a.m.

Dave will be in the saddle for 1,300 miles to raise awareness and support for homeless veterans in Kansas City and throughout the country. He's hoping for some company on the way too.

To learn more, visit Dave on Facebook. And scroll down on this post to see Dave and "Samantha."

An update: Here's the new rocker patch Dave's wonderful wife and seamstress-extraordinaire, Diane, has added to his biker vest to make sure he looks good on his ride—which he will.

To get in touch with Dave, shoot an email to dmichaelchristi@gmail.com
Updated April 27, 2013

March 3, 2013

Dave and Samantha ‘Ride to Francis’!

Dave & "Samantha"
That’s Francis’s godfather, Dave Christi, with his pet machine, Samantha. Dave and Samantha will be traveling from New York to Kansas this spring, arriving at Leavenworth National Cemetery on Memorial Day in time for the annual services. This will be Dave’s first visit to Francis’s gravesite and his first return to Kansas since he participated in Francis’s funeral service over two years ago, when he offered a beautiful reading of Robert Penn Warren's poem, "Small Eternity."

Dave’s “Ride to Francis” is a journey in which we can all join by following his progress on-line and by contributing to the Kansas City VA Voluntary Services Unit in support of their efforts to aid veterans in need in this region. To date, we’ve raised nearly $17,000 in this effort! What an awesome tribute by Dave and an incredible legacy for Francis! More info to follow as plans develop. Stay tuned.