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Discovering RAGBRAI

Wednesday, May 10, 2017   (0 Comments)
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Members From Indiana University Chapter Give Brotherhood a Whole New Meaning

By Bill Ryan (Indiana University, '69)
Accounting Clerk

Let me tell you a story about three guys, members of Phi Kappa Theta, and the determination, fortitude, perseverance and fellowship that they had. The three, Jack Wickes (Indiana University, ‘69), Russ Webb (Indiana University, ‘69), and Darryl Koch (Indiana University, ‘69) kept in touch over the years. Jack lived in Indianapolis and Russ and Darryl each lived in Avon, a suburb of Indianapolis. They remained close during the 50 years which have elapsed.

Jack had been the President of the Indiana Alpha Alpha Chapter from late 1966 through early 1968 when they had elections. Russ was elected president and served from 1968 to 1969. Following that, all three went in the Army. Jack and Darryl went to Vietnam.

While there, Darryl was exposed to agent orange, a defoliant and herbicide which can cause cancer and leukemia. That’s the way it was back then.

RAGBRAIA few years ago, Jack became involved in bicycle riding. Always on the lookout for an event, he discovered the bicycle ride across Iowa called RAGBRAI.

Image: Darryl as he looked in the Alpha Alpha house in 1967.


I had never heard of RAGBRAI until I heard about it at our book club. RAGBRAI stands for the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

I asked Jack about the event and he said, "I rode in RAGBRAI in 2015 and I raised dollars for HVAC, the charity that provides services to homeless veterans.” He was thinking about riding in the RAGBRAI the next year.

RAGBRAI"Russ Webb had open heart surgery in 2015 and approached me in late 2015 about riding in 2016, believing that training for an endurance ride, such as RAGBRAI, would be a good way to recover from that surgery.”

Image: Darryl as he looks today.


Then they received some terrible news. According to Jack, "in late 2015, we learned that Darryl Koch had leukemia, because of exposure to Agent Orange when he served in Vietnam in 70-71. Darryl has been found to be 100 per cent service-connected disabled.”

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Agent Orange Act, which mandated that some diseases associated with defoliants be treated as the result of wartime service and helped codify the VA’s response to veterans with conditions related to their exposure to Agent Orange.

Jack said, "in spring of 2016, while training for the ride, Russ and I decided to raise funds in Darryl’s honor. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society seemed a natural for the receipt of donations. We approached that charity and used their "‘Team in Training’ format as the fundraising mechanism.”

According to Darryl, "both Jack and Russ were made aware of my diagnosis. It was Jack’s idea to ride in the RAGBRAI and to make me the poster boy for raising money for the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society.”

He went on to say "Jack was also able to talk Russ into it, even though Russ was just a few months out of having heart by-pass surgery. I think the last time Russ rode a bicycle was in the Little 500 for Phi Kappa Theta. I was totally impressed by their effort - especially Russ who had a more difficult time riding in the RAGBRAI.”

Team PKT—Alpha Alpha -- rode in the 2016 RAGBRAI in honor of Darryl and his Vietnam service, raising money in his honor for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The riders have each pledged a dollar donation for each mile ridden, and they raised $5,000 in Darryl’s name.

RAGBRAIThere have been 44 occurrences of the RAGBRAI, starting in 1973. Last summer was the 44th event, staged from Glenwood in the western part of the state to Muscatine, a total of 417 miles. The riders always go from west to east because of the wind and sun. The wind is coming from the west and blows east, and nobody wants to be looking at the sun, especially when they’re tired at the end of a long day.

Image: Russ and Jack somewhere in the RAGBRAI

Depending on the route they choose, the ride begins on the Missouri or Big Sioux Rivers where the riders dip their back wheels. It ends at the Mississippi River where the riders dip their front wheels.

RAGBRAIRiders begin at a community on Iowa’s western border and ride to a community on the eastern border, stopping in towns across the state. The ride is one week long, ending on the last Saturday of July each year, after beginning on the previous Sunday. The earliest possible starting date is July 19 and the latest is July 25.

Image: Russ and Jack at the end of the RAGBRAI, holding up the shirt from the 1967 "Little Five” bike race.

RAGBRAI began in 1973 when Des Moines Register feature writers John Karras and Donald Kaul decided to go on a bicycle ride across Iowa. Both men were avid cyclists. Karras challenged Kaul to do the ride and write articles about what he experienced. Kaul agreed to do it, but only if Karras also did the ride. Karras then agreed to ride as well.

RAGBRAIThe route was laid out on maps and the ride would start in Sioux City on August 26 and end on August 31 in Davenport. Overnight stops were scheduled in Storm Lake, Fort Dodge, Ames, Des Moines and Williamsburg.

Image: This is the 2016 Map of Iowa showing the overnight stops.

Among the many interesting people the ride attracted was Clarence Pickard of Indianola. He was 83 and he hadn’t ridden a bicycle much in recent years but he showed up for that first ride with a used ladies Schwinn and rode all the way to Davenport. Pickard’s attire for the ride was a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, woolen long underwear and a silver pith helmet."

RAGBRAIKaul’s and Karras’ articles and columns about Pickard, and points of interest along the way were, perhaps, responsible for the growth of the ride. After the ride, letters and calls poured in from people excited about the ride but upset because it was held the first week of school so students and teachers couldn’t go. Others were upset because the ride started on the final weekend of the Iowa State Fair. And still others wished more notice had been given so vacation arrangements could have been made.

Image: The RAGBRAI began back in 1973 as a challenge between two of the Des Moines Register’s staff, John Karras (right) and Don Kaul (left/below).

RAGBRAIBasically, the theme was the same, "please offer another opportunity to participate in the ride!” So the seven-day, Second Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, "SAGBRAI” was scheduled for August 4-10, 1974.

SAGBRAI became RAGBRAI II and its starting time was moved back to July. With each year, its popularity has grown to the point where it’s becoming the largest bike-touring event in the world.

Jack is thinking about riding in RAGBRAI XLV.

Jack and Russ are attorneys, now retired. Darryl works for a home builder in Avon, IN as the Marketing Director. He still has leukemia.

RAGBRAIDespite all that has happened, one fact remains true – brotherhood. Three guys who were members of the same fraternity didn’t know how their lives would cross and intermingle, and yet, here they are – Brothers – Veterans – and good friends because of the determination, fortitude, perseverance and fellowship that they had.

Image: That's Jack, second on the left, Darryl is next to Jack in the green shirt, and that’s Russ, right next to Darryl wearing the Indiana sweatshirt. They were in Bloomington at Nick’s celebrating an Alpha Alpha reunion with other members of the Fraternity.

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