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Exhaust billows as friends and family give a motorcycle salute after Roger Ready's memorial service Tuesday afternoon in Larimore, N.D.

900 pay tribute to beloved biker

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Tattooed, wind-burned, black-leather-clad bikers wept openly and hugged one another at the funeral for Roger Ready, a brother in several ways to many of the 900 or more people who filled the high school gym here Tuesday.

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It was the largest funeral in the history of this city of 1,400, longtime residents said.

The 90-minute service was a celebration and a tribute to a remarkable man who clearly affected many people by the way he lived his life.

Ready died riding.

It was midmorning last Thursday, and he was with biker brothers, tooling down state Highway 200 near the center of North Dakota on his way to an American Legion legacy ride when they hit a bad patch of road.

"It was a pothole 2 feet wide," said a biker familiar with the story that immediately spread through the region's biker community. Ready and one or two others went down. Ready was hurt badly and died later at a nearby hospital. He wasn't wearing a helmet.

He was 61.

'When and where'

By the next day, people from Canada, South Dakota, Minnesota and across the state had telephoned "and said 'just tell us when and where,' " said Paul Redding, one of the organizers of the funeral service.

Looking at the 200 motorcycles, many of them colorful and "chopped," lining the streets outside the gym and the crush of people lined up to go inside, Karen Sheppard said, "You can tell he touched a lot of lives."

Ready was chaplain for several groups, including Resurrection Riders, the local chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association.

"He was always there for us," said Rich Sheppard of Ready's ministry. Sheppard biked from Grand Forks with his wife for the funeral. "He married a lot of people from other clubs."

This was a prophet not only honored by those in his own country, but beloved.

Jeff Bahr grew up nearby in Ready's hometown of Wahpeton, N.D., and heard stories about Ready there long before he knew him, he said during a moving eulogy. Bahr told no tales, but made it clear there were many wild-doings before they met and became "instant friends."

The chief fact of Roger Ready's life was his dramatic encounter circa 1985 with a personal faith in Jesus Christ, said Bahr, who shares the same faith.

"It was a life-changing experience."

Ready was a character who had lots of character, according to those who knew him.

"You know, when Roger came to town, he was a pretty rough character," said Jim Hougen, a longtime businessman in Larimore. "But he came to Christ and that definitely changed him."

His pastor, the Rev. Bradley Schmidt, gave a long, impassioned sermon, opening with a request for the hundreds packed into the gym to remember that common sight of Ready seen so often: "Roger with his arms around two bikers' shoulders, praying with them." The mourners did the same, draping arms over the shoulders of someone next to them during Schmidt's opening prayer.

Schmidt, pastor of the Church of the Nazarene and wearing the black leather vest he received from Ready, ended the sermon the way he said Ready would want: with a strolling, hard-sell appeal for everyone in the crowd "to get right with God."

Ready's brother-in-law, Lyle Green of Breckenridge, Minn., played a plaintive "I Love You, Lord," on harmonica.

Afterward, Green said tunes on the "harp," always brought tears to Ready's eyes.

The Rev. Rick and Carol Wadholm drove 225 miles from Garrison, N.D., to the funeral.

When the Wadholms were pastoring the tiny Baseview Assembly of God near Emerado, N.D.,and raising a family, Ready, who worked civil service at the nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base, would stop in to worship once in a while.

"One of the first times, Roger shook my hand and then walked off," Rick Wadholm said. "Nobody knew he had just palmed me 300 bucks. And that wasn't the only time he did it. He was making good money and just wanted to share it."

Carol Wadholm is only half the person she once was, she says, "Because of Roger."

Ready had a stomach reduction operation and lost a lot of weight. A few years ago, Carol Wadholm, then very overweight, asked Ready to tell her about it and he convinced her to get gastric bypass. "I lost 120 pounds," she said.

Rick Wadholm was the one who urged Ready to get ordained because "he already was doing the work of a minister."

The Rev. Mike Smith, an Episcopal priest from Moorhead, showed up because he was in an international ministry with Ready for years and ordained him into the ministry through a Florida-based Pentecostal group.

Chad Wolf, Ready's son, said after the funeral, "He was just a good, caring man, who loved his family and loved to help his children."

The fact is, Ready would do anything for anyone who needed it, Bahr said.

Ready often called him at "two, three in the morning, and I'd hear 'Glory!'" That was Ready's favorite word, Bahr said.

Then Ready would translate the Gospel into his patented, practical version, still prodding, Bahr said: "Remember,

Jeff, He even likes YOU."

Ready was known for always being keen to ride, whatever the conditions, whatever the cause.

"I've seen him riding in sleet and snow," said Frank Larson, one of his biker casket-bearers. He rode with

Christian bikers, American Legion bikers, with the Patriot Guard that provided security from demonstrators at the

funerals of fallen soldiers.

Local vets gave Ready a color-guard send-off, including a gun salute. The 200 bikers traipsed out of the service

into the bright light, straddled their machines and revved up a motorcycle salute that ripped the air of Ready's

town.

Early this morning, a convoy of his biker brothers and sisters will wend their way, following Ready's casket, to

Mandan, N.D., where he will be buried in the veteran's cemetery.

Ready set an example of how much good one person who is devoted to God can do, Bahr said.

"He was always ready to finish what he set out to do."

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