DULUTH — Earlier this week, Bob Rogers and friends delivered 403 bikes that 403 lucky kids will find waiting for them on Christmas morning.
This is the ninth year that Duluth's Rogers has held his annual bike drive. And 403 is the most bikes that Bob's Bike Drive has ever delivered. They've gone to the Salvation Army in Duluth, to the Superior Fire Department, the Ashland Fire Department and the Hibbing Fire Department, among other places, for distribution to families.
Over the nine years of the bike drive, about 1,800 kids have received Bob's bikes.
Rogers, who is 70 and a longtime employee at Marine General Supply in Duluth, raises the money to purchase the bikes with lots of support from the store. Bob's total bike cost this year, which he pays up front, is $19,000. I stopped in to visit with Bob at Marine General on Wednesday morning. I asked if the bike drive had raised enough to cover his costs.
"We're about $2,000 short," he said.
What will happen if more donations aren't forthcoming?
"If I have to put it in myself, I'll put it in," Rogers said.
He didn't say it grudgingly. He said it with a shrug and a smile. That's Bob.
"It is what it is," Rogers said. "It's fun to do it. I remember when I was growing up and didn't have diddly."
He and his brother Fred, 66, who also works at Marine General, grew up in Superior. I have told the story before about how the Superior Fire Department would come around at the holidays delivering refurbished toys to the Rogers household.
"I remember Fred got a Tonka truck one year," Bob joked on Wednesday morning. "I wanted that truck."
That may have been the last time Rogers was upset. He's the kindest, most positive guy you could ever come across.
Like most kids in the Rogers family's situation, they didn't know they were disadvantaged. Bob and Fred were two of the family's five children. Their dad, who worked as a commercial painter, fell 65 feet in an industrial accident when he was in his 30s. He lived.
"He broke about every bone in his body," Bob said.
He could never work again. Bob and Fred's mom, a registered nurse, quit her job to care of her husband and kids. Bob was shipped off to relatives in Aitkin for a year. But the kids always had "new" toys at Christmas.
"We never went without," Fred said.
Bob started his bike drive as a way to repay the generosity he and his family received. A few businesses or civic organizations have devoted $1,000 to $4,000 to Bob's Bike Drive this year, Rogers said. Many smaller firms have donated $100 to $500. Lots of Marine General customers have stuffed 10s and 20s in the big jar at the store's front counter. Continental Ski and Bike has donated helmets for each bike.
Bob isn't begging for help. He didn't solicit this story. That's not his style. And, certainly, good causes abound for holiday giving.
But if you'd like to help put Bob's Bike Drive over the top, you can send your tax-deductible donation to Bob's Bike Drive, Marine General Supply, 1501 London Road, Duluth, MN 55812. Or go to the store's website at marinegeneral.com, click on "Bob's Bike Drive" and donate through PayPal. Or stop by the store and put something in the jar.
Somewhere, a child will smile on Christmas morning.