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Bemidji Ride for the Troops co-founder Donaghue dead at 67

One of the founders of the Bemidji Ride for the Troops, Ken Donaghue, passed away on Tuesday due to injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. File photo | Bemidji Pioneer -

BEMIDJI — Ask anyone: Nothing negative has ever been said about Ken Raymond Donaghue, and nothing ever will.

His friends and family describe him as "humble," "sweet" and "gentle," and a man who never said "no." In his 67 years of life, Donaghue’s passions surrounded his family, his cabin, his Harley and giving back to his fellow servicemen and women — both past and present.

Donaghue passed away Tuesday, Sept. 24 in Fargo, N.D. from injuries sustained in a motorcycling accident.

Not only was Donaghue an avid motorcyclist, he went a step further to transform that passion into a way to show support for those around him. He was a co-founder and committee member of the annual Bemidji Ride for the Troops event, a 134-mile ride through the Northwoods of Minnesota, and also helped found the Chapter 1, Post 122 American Legion Riders of Deer River.

Donaghue also served as a member of the Minnesota Patriot Guard, not only performing missions for the guard, but meeting the bodies of fallen soldiers when they arrived in Bemidji and escorting them home.

"Being a vet was a very proud thing in his mind," Donaghue’s son, Tim of Bemidji said.

Tim Donaghue and his brother, Michael, discovered only a few weeks prior to their father’s death that he had earned both the Bronze Star Medal and the Air Medal during his two years of service in Germany and Vietnam as a member of the First Air Cavalry/Artillery Division of the United States Army.

"We had no idea he’d earned those medals," Tim said. "He never liked to brag. He always tried to stay out of the spotlight."

And his son is not the only one to speak on the topic of Donaghue’s humility. According to fellow Ride for the Troops committee member, Tracy Koski-Bailey, Donaghue put in more work than anyone to get the event on its feet each year and he would never admit so.

"I’ve known him for seven years and he’s done so much," Koski-Bailey said. "He’s such an integral part of the whole ride. He was one of the most humble men you’d ever meet. The number of hours he put in was amazing and he would always be the last one to want acknowledgement."

For 27 years, Donaghue worked as a land surveyor for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. After his retirement in 2005, he remained busy — whether on his bike, planning events, spending time with his three grandchildren or honoring the fallen in the Patriot Guard. His son Michael, who also rides motorcycles, often accompanied him on his Patriot Guard missions.

"He had a very unique way of seeing things," Tim said. "He was a very fair guy. He loved his grandchildren very much and he loved the outdoors. It was a huge part of his life."

Donaghue owned a lake cabin, which he and his family refer to as "Little Bass" because it sits on the shores of Little Bass Lake, west of Itasca State Park. According to Tim, spending time at Little Bass was among his favorites.

But what Donaghue seems best remembered for was his ability to put everyone above himself.

"He was always there for people," Tim said. "He showed up for his grandkids’ functions no matter what. If he had something going, he’d drop it so he could be there, that’s just the type of guy he was."

"You’ll never hear anyone say anything against him," said lifelong friend Al Sprague. "He was very well-liked and I can say that with all honesty."

Sprague, along with Donaghue and Guy Wold rode their motorcycles to Mentor, Minn. to meet Marine Corps veteran, Sergeant Chuck Lewis as he entered Bemidji on his walking-trek from California to Washington D.C., called "Walking for the Fallen." It was very important for Donaghue and local veterans to support Lewis’ cause. Lewis even stayed at Sprague’s home the night he reached Bemidji.

"(Lewis) just reached the (Vietnam) Wall today," Sprague said Friday afternoon. "I believe he flies home tonight. He was extremely sad to hear about Ken’s death. We made sure to call and tell him."

As with Lewis, the length you had known Donaghue was irrelevant, he meant a great deal to all who’d met him.

"I only knew him for a year," Diane Stay of the American Legion Riders of Deer River said, choking back tears. "I called him my ‘gentle giant.’ Of all the things I heard he did, the one thing that struck me most was his patriotism."

According to Stay, Donaghue never said no when it came to the Legion Riders. She was always sharing ideas and plans with him regarding the Riders and he was game for each. Stay said she mourns knowing that he’ll never be able to carry them out.

"He was a great guy," Sprague said. "If you couldn’t get along with Ken, you better look in the mirror because that’s where the problem is."

Funeral services in Donaghue’s honor will be today at 3 p.m. at the Cease Funeral Home followed by interment at the Evergreen Northern Township Cemetery in Bemidji. Military honors will be given by the Ralph Gracie American Legion Post 14.

Koski-Bailey and the other Ride for the Troops committee members have already been discussing ways to honor Donaghue’s memory at the 2014 Ride for the Troops.

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