THOMSON, Illinois – Lindsey Wilke is planning her second memorial motorcycle ride for her fiancé Toby Johnson.
"He literally loved riding his bike," Wilke said Wednesday. "That was literally his life."
Johnson, age 24, of Thomson, Illinois, died July 1, 2017 at the age of 24, the result of a motorcycle accident in rural Thomson. The family had trouble paying the bills associated with the accident and death, Wilke said.
To help other families in similar situations, Wilke and Johnson's family began raising money for a Down Biker fund in Johnson's name.
"We all understand how hard it is to lose someone we love dearly so we have started a 'Down Biker' under Toby Johnson Memorial fund," Wilke wrote on the Toby Johnson Memorial "Down Biker" Facebook page. "This helps motorcyclists who have been injured pay hospital bills, time missed from work or those families who have lost their loved one pay for funeral cost."
"So far in June we've sent out three checks," Wilke said this week. A Clinton biker, Junior Snyder, lived through his motorcycle accident but spent time at Iowa City Hospitals and Clinics recovering from a brain bleed and broken bones, Wilkes said.
Cheryl Zeglen, 59, of Canton, Illinois was killed when "she hit some loose grass on the road," Wilke said. "And then, the last one was the one that was from Davenport," she said.
Lee J.W. Fersch, 51, was killed in the single motorcycle accident on U.S. Highway 52/64 June 14. Fersch failed to negotiate a curve on the causeway one mile north of Sabula and drove into a guardrail, according to Jackson County Sheriff's officials.
"I talked to his sister a little bit the other day," Wilke said.
Johnson enjoyed meeting other riders as he traveled, Wilke said. "It's kind of like a community thing, and we want people to know they're not alone going through this stuff."
To raise money, the Toby Johnson Memorial hosted a bags tournament Feb. 2, Johnson's birthday, and held a 50/50 raffle and bake sale. "[We] raised about $1,200 that day," Wilke said.
The organization sells koozies and T-shirts. "All the money raised for the T-shirts go to the fund," Wilke said.
The second memorial bike ride will begin at the The Station in Thomson and travel to the Psycho Silo Saloon at the intersection of Illinois Highway 40 and U.S. Highway 6 near Sheffield, Illinois. Riders will meet at 11 a.m. and leave The Station at noon, Wilke said.
Prizes donated for raffles and drawings include a 9mm Remington pistol, a Stoeger 12-gauge shotgun pump and gift certificates for local businesses including Poopy's Pizza, Applebee's, Vitale's Pizza and Restaurant and Manny's Too.
Wilke is not alone in raising money for the Toby Johnson Memorial fund. Johnson's mother, Lisa Starr Johnson of Thomson, his little sister Bailey Johnson, his aunt Laura Rathje and cousin Sabrina Rathje help plan fundraisers, Wilke said.
The Toby Johnson Memorial Fund is not incorporated and is not a 501(c)3 organization, Wilke said. It's one biker's family helping families of other bikers and reflects Johnson's character. "He was very giving."