PONTIAC, Ill. — For 15 of its 19 years, Charlie and Joyce Grotevant have participated in the Illinois Ag in the Classroom Bike Ride. A fundraiser for the program, this cross-country-style ride is set for Sept. 1-3 and will travel the rolling hills of Stephenson, Carroll, Jo Daviess, Ogle and Winnebago counties in northwestern Illinois.
A bike rider serving his fifth year as a co-chair of the event, 72-year-old Charlie Grotevant said his wife, Joyce, drives one of the main support vehicles. His co-chairman is Don Bergfield, an ag instructor at Parkland Junior College in Champaign, Ill.
"Rider safety is of utmost importance," Grotevant said. "We spend a great deal of time planning the best possible routes for great riding and great views of the countryside. That’s one of the reasons we’ve had such a great following for 19 years."
Routes vary each day from 40 to 80 miles, Grotevant explained, and the event visits a different part of the state each year.
Along each route, cyclists stop at schools where fun, interactive student assemblies are conducted. Targeted primarily for fourth-grade students, Grotevant said presentations are often done for entire student bodies at some of the smaller, rural schools. Ag in the Classroom coordinators take the lead on the programs, with the cyclists teaching about bicycle safety.
"The riders are there for a bit of novelty and to help create enthusiasm among the children," Grotevant said.
Additionally, since Bergfield has been involved, Grotevant said career presentations are often made to high school students.
"So many careers have a connection with agriculture. We’ve had bankers, insurance agents, a retired judge and a doctor in a rural community who have gone on the rides talk about careers in the agricultural community," Grotevant said.
"We are extremely excited that the bike ride is coming to our area this year," said Bruce Johnson, manager of the Stephenson County Farm Bureau. "The 2014 ride consists of routes through beautiful country hillsides and the Jane Addams Trail."
A retired farmer, Grotevant said his son-in-law and grandson have taken over operation of the family farm, allowing him the freedom to participate in events like the bike ride.
"A lot of our riders are working people, not retired farmers like me," he said. "An event like this requires them to take vacation days or days off work, and sometimes that takes away from potential participants."
The IAA Foundation is taking registration to participate in this year’s event. Incentives encourage individuals to raise funds for Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom. Raising $1,000 or more earns a free full ride, a grant and a book pack to a school or library of the rider’s choice. Raising $500 earns a 50 percent discount on registration and a free book pack, and riders who raise $250 receive a 25 percent discount on registration.
More details on registration and how to raise funds to support the ride are available online at www.iaafoundation.org or by calling 309-557-2230.
Grotevant said riders are invited for a single day, or just part of a day, if they don’t have time for the full event. Participation has varied from eight riders in the first year to a high of more than 100. He said the number has leveled off in the 35 to 50 range in the past four or five years.
"Funds raised go directly into the program," Grotevant said. "They aren’t used for staff salaries or anything else.
"Funds are used to keep the programs running as they continue to reach more than half a million school children in Illinois each year."