I’m constantly reminded of the need to make each day count. Time is precious and lives can be altered in an instant, making every good day a gift. In my life’s mission, I think of this as respecting those who’ve lost years…decades in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. For these people their lives are no more valued in our society than those who are guilty. It’s shameful and inexcusable that innocents in prison have little hope for vindication.
With this said, I think of how meaningful it was for our five incarcerated guys in Wisconsin to learn that another fundraiser was being planned in their honor. Our second annual Hotrod and Motorcycle Breakout benefit for the Innocence Project of Minnesota (IPMN) was held on Saturday, August 2, 2014. These men look forward to it even though they cannot be there. They are touched just knowing that others support them.
Logan directing the classic cars onto the lot
This year, the number of classic cars tripled from 34 last year to approximately 100 this year. We estimated about 500 people came-more than double last year’s total. We raised $2000.00 despite reducing the entry fee for classic vehicle owners in half, from $10 to $5. It was exciting to see the colorful parade lining up almost immediately after we showed up-an hour before we officially opened. We had again succeeded in creating a unique experience full of laughter, tears and important awareness.
We didn’t know how much interest would be generated this year because we know the topic of wrongful convictions is a sensitive one that gets little attention in today’s society. But at these events I often come across people who’ve experienced an incident similar to a wrongful conviction. I’m always amazed at how many are willing to share their personal stories.They offer thoughts about what we are trying to accomplish and we see many of them putting money into our donation barrels.
I’m highlighting the sponsors who helped to make this event possible. Gene Kohler, owner of Route 65 Classics in Ham Lake, Minnesota and General Manager, Sue Stang, who has enthusiastically hosted this event both years. Their support afforded us access to a great venue. We also gained a new food vendor this year. Brad Slawson Sr. and Jr., owners of Route 65 Pub and Grub in East Bethel, MN supplied delicious food and refreshing spirits. They also initiated sponsorship from Budweiser who supplied us with two 4’ x 8’ banners for advertising purposes.Thanks also to Kathy Sauvageau who manages things at the bar/restaurant for her assistance in organizing their participation and helping to serve food that day.
Chuck Brost, owner of Tunes to Go in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota was his energetic witty self while providing musical entertainment and trivia throughout the day. Christi Williams, owner of Grinkie Photography in Minneapolis, MN documented the day by taking wonderful photos and promoting them on social media. She added a splash of the “Grinkie” style by inviting men and women dressed in apparel from a bygone era well suited to the sea of amazing classic vehicles. The fine folks at Dahlke Trailer Sales in Fridley, MN donated and set up a large platform for the second year in a row for our use as a stage.
Attorney Steve Kaplan with Exec. Dir. Amy Tomczyk
Speakers for the day included: Amy Tomczyk, interim Executive Director for the IPMN. She shared statistics regarding wrongful convictions and the important work that is being done by the organization. Steve Kaplan, the lead Attorney on our Wisconsin Monfils case shared aspects about this arduous case and his gratitude for the day’s event. Trudy Baltazar who advocated on behalf of Koua Fong Lee in his exoneration case from Minnesota gave a speech that left the crowd stunned as she covered aspects of that case. Our Wisconsin exoneree Michael Piaskowski again traveled over from Green Bay, and brought both Denis Gullickson and John Gaie-co-authors of the book, The Monfils Conspiracy. Both Mike and Denis shared their unique perspectives on this case.
Trudy Baltazar addressing the crowd
Also from the Green Bay area: A heartfelt thanks and tribute goes to Clayton and Brenda Kutska, their son Mathew and Brenda’s Mom Claire; our esteemed guests and family members of one of our five innocent men. They had come to help us with last minute details and to witness the support. A dear lady and friend, Shirley DeLorme, who hosts the monthly FAF (Friends and Family) meetings in Green Bay, was a wonderfully cheerful addition to our event.
Chuck Brost, Rosemary Bonnett and Logan handing out prizes
Lastly, I’d like to also acknowledge appreciation for these extraordinary people; Rosemary and Pat Bonnett and Eric Von Son, who supplied trophies, flyers, programs and prizes.
I’d like to share some final thoughts about those who spend time complaining about what is wrong with the world rather than taking action and doing something about it. I’d ask you to take a day, look around you and focus energy on remeding the plight of others less fortunate. Don’t wait until you are faced with a personal crisis of your own. See how lucky you are. Then realize how your words and actions can effect those around you. Use this understanding to decide whether or not you can make your life better and maybe make a difference in someone else’s. This will certainly open your eyes to the importance of making each day count.