MILLINOCKET, Maine — The late James “Bing” Popkowski believed in serving others, and with that in mind, motorcyclists from the Donald V. Henry American Legion Post 80 will hold a benefit ride on June 16 to help a Medway man who has cancer, organizers said Thursday.
The riders’ search for someone to help with the proceeds from their third annual “Ride For Bing” fundraiser drew nine Katahdin region residents suffering from cancer, the illness that plagued Popkowski for many years.
“There are so many people who have cancer that we wanted to help that we had to put names in a hat and draw,” said ride co-organizer Jessica Pelkey, 27, of Millinocket. “It is so hard to just choose one.”
The riders hope to raise at least several hundred dollars to help a Medway man suffering from lung cancer, said Pelkey and Rick Cyr Jr., Pelkey’s fiance and director of the riders group. Pelkey and Cyr identified the man, but the Bangor Daily News is withholding the name out of concern for his privacy because he could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
The 52-member group rides its motorcycles through northern Maine most good-weather weekends and does special benefit rides a half-dozen times a year. Previous rides benefited servicemen stationed overseas and a Lee-based retreat for soldiers returning from combat duty.
“Ride for Bing” helps cancer victims partly because the organizers believe that Popkowski’s suffering from a rare form of brain cancer was among the factors that drove the U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant to his death.
A VA patient honorably discharged because of his illness, Popkowski pointed a handgun at a Togus police officer and two game wardens and was killed by a gunshot to the neck near the Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center on July 8, 2010. Popkowski had become distraught at what he felt was insufficient medical care and had previously threatened to kill the center’s medical director, police have said.
The Maine attorney general’s office report on the incident cleared the officers involved. Several weapons and several hundred rounds of ammunition were found near Popkowski and in the 37-year-old Grindstone man’s truck, the report states.
Popkowski was a well-liked, earnest and intelligent man who loved being a Marine and helped people even as he suffered from the debilitating disease, his family and friends have said.
“Bing died for a purpose,” Pelkey said. “He wanted people who had cancer to get help and that’s why we decided to do this [fundraiser] for him.”
Cyr said the fundraiser, which the Popkowski family supports, gives him great joy.
“The satisfaction of helping somebody else, a family that needs help with something, that makes me feel good,” said Cyr, who works at Pelletier’s Manufacturing just outside Millinocket, coaches youth baseball and just had his first child with Pelkey, 4-month-old Liam. “Hopefully someday it will come around tenfold and my sons are [among] the riders and they will help me out.
“I enjoy that. That’s what I know. It is a great feeling to see a smile on someone’s face that is sick and to hear them say thank you. It is priceless,” Cyr added.
Ride participants will gather at the legion post off Route 11 at 8 a.m. June 16 and start the day trip at 10:30 a.m., Pelkey said. The exact route will be determined this weekend.
Participation isn’t limited to motorcyclists, she said. A barbecue will follow the ride. Donations to both are welcome. Anyone interested in participating or making contributions should call Pelkey at 447-0551 or visit the legion.
Cyr said the riders want to help the other eight cancer sufferers they found.
“It stinks because we want to do something for everybody,” Cyr said. “One of them was my aunt. She has cancer and she is in her 70s. She could use the money like everybody else. We have to visit the families and try to come up with things we can do for their needs.”