Scores of bicyclists turn out for memorial ride for Charles City woman Bengtson
By Bob Steenson, email@example.com
Almost 90 bicyclists and a couple of dozen others turned out on a beautiful summer evening Tuesday – some to remember a friend or colleague, others to press home the message that bike riders have a right to be on the roads and motorists need to look out for them.
Many of them wore bright yellow T-shirts with the word “Ellen” on the sleeve and a “SHARE THE ROAD” slogan on the back.
The special memorial Ride of Silence was for Ellen Bengtson, a young Charles City woman who was killed while bicycling Sunday evening when she was struck by a pickup truck on what is known as the Clarksville Road (county road T64) south of town.
Bob Krueger and Mark Melrose are avid bicyclists who started spreading the word for the memorial ride after they heard of Bengtson’s death.
Melrose is a member of the Bike Around Tuesday bicycling club, in which Bengtson also participated, and Krueger has organized the annual Ride of Silence in Charles City for many years.
Melrose posted notice of the ride on the Bike Around Tuesday Facebook page and the North Iowa Touring Club’s Facebook page, and it generated lots of responses.
Scott Soifer, a bicycle enthusiast who also knew Bengtson through their membership in the Charles City Rotary Club, posted, “She was exactly the type of person we always hope will move to Charles City and make our community their home. The world would be a better place with more people like her and it will be a little less bright without her.”
Steven Swartzrock suggested on Facebook that the new bridge that will be built across the Cedar River as part of the Charley Western Recreational Trail should be named in Bengtson’s honor.
Dick Neal, the organizer of the Bike Around Tuesday club, told the large group gathered Tuesday night that he wasn’t going to make any long speeches, and they were there “to honor the memory of Ellen Bengtson.”
“Ellen was a talented young lady who was involved in the community with several organizations. She will be greatly missed,” Neal said.
Krueger said Tuesday evening that the Ride of Silence “is basically to get us to share the road.”
“I think bicyclists need to do as much as we can to be visible and people who are driving need to make sure they’re being patient and allowing us to ride alongside them,” he said to the crowd gathered at the ride’s starting point outside the Pub on the Cedar.
Pastor Mike Downey of the Evangelical Free Church, another bicycle enthusiast, led the prayer at the start of the ride.
“Many of us have been involved in the Silent Ride here in the city before. … Those who have lived in the city a long time know that Ellen is not the first to have been hit,” he said. “I have biked that road over 100 times. I’ve biked around here a lot, and I know that there are risks.”
In June 2016, Bob Philips of Nashua was killed when he was struck by a truck while bicycling south of Charles City while training for his first RAGBRAI ride.
Downey prayed to God, “Our hearts are heavy. We’re not without grief, we’re not without pain. We’re not without sorrow, but we lift up our hands and our hearts to you. We thank you for Ellen and we thank you for her kindness that she showed in this community. She showed it in the orchestra. She showed it in the Rotary. She showed it in the people she met, and she showed it in church and she showed that she loved you. …
“Father, as we go out now to ride the roads with a silent ride, we know, Lord, that we live in your hands and we ask your protection upon everyone who rides this day,” he prayed.
The annual Ride of Silence is an international event, typically held the third Wednesday in May during National Bike Month, in memory of bicyclists who have been killed or injured while riding. Its goal is to raise awareness among motorists of bicyclists’ presence on the road and their right to share it.
The Ride of Silence began in Dallas in 2003 to honor a bicyclist there who had been killed when hit by the mirror of a school bus that passed him. Since then the annual ride has grown to include thousands of riders in hundreds of cities around the world.
Many places including Charles City did not hold the ride in May this year because of COVID-19 concerns.
An outdoor memorial service will be held to celebrate the life of Bengtson at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8, at the Bethany Alliance Church Center, located at 807 S. Main St., Charles City. The service will also be live-streamed via Facebook. The church asks that all those attending bring a lawn chair, practice social distancing and wear a face mask.