A Northern Odyssey: The Patriots Pack’s Epic Ride for Jillian and Veterans
By Andy Slawetsky – With the powerful reverberations of Harley Davidsons in the background and the unity of like-minded souls, this year’s Ride for Jillian and Veterans celebrated another saga of heart, endurance, and spirit. Having started their legacy in 2015 with the inaugural industry charity ride, the Patriots Pack took on a fresh challenge in 2023 by selecting a new northern route. This decision brought them to the doorsteps of numerous office equipment dealers for the very first time.
Spearheading this odyssey were a cadre of dedicated riders: Gavin “Gordito” Williams, JB “Papa” Brostrom, David “GQ” Clearman of Konica Minolta, Tom “Captain” Graack, Mark “Bert” Albert, Scott “Sangria” Spencer, and Josh “Rip” Braendle. Riding sweep as always, was the ride’s indominable leader, Mike “Paco” Stramaglio. Each of their Harleys stood as a beacon of the group’s commitment and spirit. Next in line were Chip and Paul Miceli showcasing their style in a sleek red Slingshot 3-wheel vehicle.
Leading the way, the scout vehicle, with Jim D’Emidio at its helm, was accompanied by the diligent Bob Goldberg and Alex Cribby of PowerMPS. Their objective was clear: guaranteeing a flawless ride for the pack.
Following closely, the Mars Rover RV, a critical and generous provision from Mars International, was piloted by Andy “Slaw” Slawetsky. Within, Raj Thadhani and Mike Sadoski of Mars offered steadfast support throughout the journey.
The operations of this mobile behemoth, organized beautifully by Hiro Ueda, were a masterclass in precision.
Others joining the Rover support crew later the week included Jennie Fisher and Kim Louden of GreatAmerica, Jake Slawetsky and Patricia Ames.
The Ride began in Ann Arbor, where Kevin Van Kannel’s UTEC team rolled out a grand reception. Some Pack members spent the day prepping for the journey while others took advantage of Kevin’s hospitality and golfed before the group eventually met for a wonderful dinner at a well-known local deli.
The next morning was go-time, and an enthusiastic group breakfast awaited the Pack at UTEC. The morning was marked by the presence of industry executives like Bob Madaio and John Sheehan from Sharp Electronics. Other UTEC partners showed up and donated to the Pack’s cause as well.
During the visit, Christine “Duke” Liphardt of UTEC became the Pack’s latest honorary member, and the team owes her a great deal of thanks for making the kickoff so amazing. The police escort when the riders left was incredibly helpful and was yet another example of UTEC going above and beyond for the Patriots Pack. What a start!
From UTEC in Ann Arbor, the ride swept into Applied Innovation in Grand Rapids where John Lowery not only welcomed the riders, but met the Pack a few miles from the office and rode in with them on a Buell (a sports bike with a Harley Davidson engine).
Their reception there, charged with boundless enthusiasm, was unparalleled and their donation of $10,000 was one of the largest the Pack has ever received from a dealer on these rides.
Each destination that followed only added to the narrative of unity and philanthropy. For example; the dinner rendezvous courtesy of FP Mailing Solutions with Michael Hannon and Wendy Anastasia when the riders arrived; the hearty welcome at Impact Networking in Lake Forrest, IL, helmed by Frank DeGeorge where Clover’s Jim Cerkleski was also on hand to greet the Pack. Clover has donated several Harley Davidson motorcycles over the years to the Patriots Pack that were raffled off as part of fundraising for The Jillian Fund.
Impact was the other dealer on this year’s ride that gave the Pack an astounding $10,000 donation during their breakfast visit.
The Pack had more support as sponsors Eric Auman and Jennifer Amatucci of Hytec Dealer Services joined the group for dinner and then for the visit to Impact, as did Rick Taylor who popped in for a stop wearing his Patriots Pack vest.
Kim Young from Ride sponsor SalesChain joined the group at this point as well. Kim even rode on the back of Papa’s bike to one of the dealer visits.
Next, the Pack visited Gordon Flesch in Brookfield where Patrick Flesch and his team kept the riders watered and fed as they continued their visits, picking up checks for the Jillian Fund at each stop. It was a great start to the day and the riders were well-fueled for their next stretch.
As the journey continued, a stop at Pulse Technology in Schaumburg included a military escort and color guard presentation organized by Sharp’s Chris Johnson at the abode of Chip and Paul Miceli. The Micelis treated the Pack to a great lunch and beautiful moment as Papa sang the National Anthem as only he could.
The day ended at Marco where the Pack staged before arriving so that a firetruck could escort them to the facility in St. Cloud MN. Doug Albregts, Trevor Akervik and the entire Marco family was waiting outside on a scorching hot day, made hotter buy the massive torch that was blasting off flames.
Talk about an entrance! John Sheehan of Sharp rejoined the group at this stop along with Sharp CEO Mike Marusic. John Flaherty of Konica Minolta was also at the event. Besides John, Konica Minolta had other people popping in and out at many of the stops as well.
Next, riders were off to Loffler in St. Louis Park where Jim and James Loffler proudly showcased their epic new building on a 13-acre location. The office space was spectacular as was the breakfast and their donation. The facility tour may have set the Pack back a bit timewise, but it was worth it!
After Loffler, the team rode to Advanced Imaging Solutions in Minnetonka where the Keating family warmly greeted the riders with snacks, hydration and a nice donation. There were some little future salespeople running around at AIS and they loved the Jillian elephants that the Pack hands out during their visits.
The last stop of the day was at Coordinated Business Systems in Burnsville, where Jim Oricchio and his family, along with Kirk Studebaker and team CBS greeted riders with a hearty midwestern welcome and some of the best BBQ the north has ever seen, as well as local ice cream and, of course, a generous donation. It was a nice visit and riders were happy to get out of the heat.
Closing in on the end of the ride, one of the final stops was at Denali’s on the River, a bar in Independence Iowa owned by Brad Knepper of All Copy Products. It was a truly great evening as the Pack rested and enjoyed recipes off the menu created by none other than Brad’s mom. The evening ended with some speeches and the presentation of another incredibly generous check towards The Jillian Fund. Brad flew in just to greet the riders.
The last day of the Ride included a visit to the Field of Dreams where the Pack played like kids in the corn and on the field. Some of the Pack can still hit, especially the prospect, Slaw3.
One more stop on the way to Cedar Rapids brought the group to Stone City IA to a Veterans’ memorial where the Pack had lunch and joined with a group of Combat Veteran riders who were going to escort the riders to their final staging area.
The group of 10 bikes just added another 6, including Jennie Fisher who was on her husband Scott’s bike as part of the crew. Scott joined with the Ride a few days prior.
The Ride concluded with an epic escort of the 16 motorcycles by 5 police SUVs who led the Pack to GreatAmerica, a primary sponsor of this year’s ride. The street was full of waving GreatAmericans as the Pack rolled into the final stop. The Cedar Rapids mayor issued a proclamation recognizing the efforts of The Patriots Pack.
GreatAmerica’s CEO Tony Golobic, George Gorman of The Jillian Fund and others spoke and at some point, there was the handing over the third check for $10,000 collected on this ride.
Donna Christenson, wife of Mike “Lone Star” Christenson, a Pack member who passed in 2021 joined the group for this stop as did John Kuchta of ACP who brought Donna to GA. After a nice tour of the facility and some more “local ice cream,” riders hit the hotel to clean up for their last supper, sponsored by GreatAmerica.
The Ride concluded with a wonderful dinner that included more speeches and laughs before the group would head back to clean out the Rover and have a few last drinks together before everyone all headed their separate ways the next morning.
Throughout this journey, every individual and company that intersected with the Patriots Pack added to its lore. Every name and every stop became an integral part of this monumental ride. From Paco’s leadership to the Judge’s speeches to Hiro pulling everything together and everyone in-between, there is no shortage of people to thank for their help with what was accomplished.
This industry honored Veterans and donated over $70,000 that will literally keep the lights on for families who have terminal children fighting for their lives. It was a very special week and the Patriots Pack thanks everyone who helped and made this possible. This is a great industry filled with amazingly generous people.