Benefield: Santa Rosa Cycling Club's generosity returned in wake of Tubbs fire destruction

When the Santa Rosa Cycling Club was able to visit its shop and warehouse on Coffey Lane on Oct. 9, there was nothing left.|

When Santa Rosa Cycling Club ride director Bridgette DeShields went to the club’s shop and warehouse on Coffey Lane on Oct. 9, there was nothing left.

The Tubbs fire had ripped through the property the group has been leasing from a homeowner for nearly 10 years. The club’s uninsured losses are currently tallied at upwards of $150,000.

Gone were the cargo trailers and canopies, tables and cooking gear. Gone was everything that the 1,000-member nonprofit club used to put on the massively successful Wine Country Century, the epically grueling Terrible Two and the gear that for years has been loaned to other groups that use cycling as a way to do good in the world.

What was not gone was the goodwill the club has earned over the years from other cycling clubs and nonprofit groups that have benefited from the SRCC’s largesse.

Phones started ringing. Offers were made. “What can we do?” was asked more than once.

“They have been a friend and ally in this, so when their need came up it was logical to find out how to raise some money to help them get back on their feet,” said Doug Johnson, a Santa Rosa Rotary Club member who for four years had chaired Rotary’s Giro Bello committee.

That eight-year-old bike ride and fundraiser now draws 900 cyclists every June and nets about $70,000 for Rotary’s charitable giving.

The 2018 ride will focus on wildfire victims, but Rotary jumped the gun a little bit and cut a check for $20,000 to the SRCC to help the club replace some of its lost gear.

“Every June, they have loaned us all of the equipment that we need to run a cycling event,” Johnson said, adding with a chuckle that to help SRCC was really “self serving” because Rotarians will come knocking come spring for the SRCC’s help.

And SRCC members will give it. They always do.

Johnson said the wildfires have helped pull back the curtain on how so many charitable groups work in Sonoma County - they help each other.

When people sign up for the Giro Bello to support Rotary’s efforts, Santa Rosa Cycling Club is on board, too. When people ride the Tour de Fuzz to support Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Service in Sonoma County, SRCC is backing them. Levi’s GranFondo, which puts a spotlight on at-risk youth? SRCC chips in.

As the community came up for air and checked on loved ones after the fires, they checked on the cycling club, too.

“I have gotten so many phone calls from people saying, ‘What can we do?’” said Doug Simon, coordinator of the Wine Country Century and chairman of the club’s warehouse committee.

So crucial to the club’s operation was this space that yes, there is a committee dedicated to its operations and maintenance.

The outpouring made sense. It warmed hearts.

“It’s just because we have been so supportive of them. We have helped a lot of organizations, no questions asked,” Simon said. “It’s nice to be part of that community. It’s reciprocal.”

It is.

When the Davis Cycling Club hosted their annual money-raiser - Foxy’s Fall Century - on Oct. 21, they had to dramatically change the route to avoid burned sections in Napa County. But still riders came, including some from Santa Rosa.

“It was therapy for us and the riders,” said Davis Bike Club president Phil Coleman. “We had refugees from Santa Rosa saying, ‘I’m out of my house, but I love to cycle.’”

“It was an atypically larger sign-up, particularly given the circumstances. People were literally crawling out of the ashes,” Coleman said. “They seemed to rally around this event, which we have had for close to half of a century. It was a diversion.”

It was also a heck of a fundraiser.

So when the ride committee leaders came to Coleman with a plan, he was floored.

“They settled on $20,000,” he said. Half that amount went directly to SRCC, the other half to additional fire relief.

Surely, someone among the club’s 550 or so members would balk - why not keep the money in Davis? Why another cycling club?

“The membership rose up and said, ‘Hurray, this is fantastic,’” Coleman said. “I didn’t have a single grump in the club, which is unprecedented in the Davis Bike Club. Not a Grinch.”

Coleman, who was a captain in the Oakland Police Department when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit in 1989, said the worst disasters can bring out the best in people.

“In the face of mass tragedy, humans rise to a new level,” he said. “This is some evidence of that.”

Marin Cyclists reached out, too. The group had bikes it wanted some help with distributing to fire victims. A week later, they called again. Not only did they have bikes, their membership took a collection and they had a check for the Santa Rosa club.

An email updating Santa Rosa on their fundraising effort read, in part, “Please know that we stand with you, your losses hurt us too.”

They presented a check for $5,200.

The Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Foundation gave $5,000.

The Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, which is usually the beneficiary of SRCC donations, sent in a check for $2,000.

It’s not just others who are pitching in. Members have rallied and added to the pot.

The annual Christmas party is typically a social event that is subsidized to a degree by club funds. Not this year.

“This year we said, ‘Well, we can’t afford it,’” club president Bob Owen said. “I think the prevailing view was, ‘We can’t cancel it.’ Basically, the club is a fire victim, and to cancel the party would not allow the club to get together and continue the bonds of friendship. So we raised the price and turned it into a fundraising event.”

Despite the losses, there was never really any doubt that the club will hold the more than 40-year-old Wine Country Century in May and the Terrible Two in June. They are the club’s marquee events and the century ride is their major fundraiser. Club coffers need it to happen as much as cyclists do.

“It’s part of our rebuild,” Owen said.

“The bottom line is yeah, it’s going to be hard,” he said. “But we started doing it out of people’s trunks and with no equipment, so we’ll figure out a way to make it happen.”

And they have help. They have friends, relationships built over time and based on mutual interest.

For years, the Santa Rosa Cycling Club has been a group lending a hand, offering time and money to help support other community-minded groups. The club has helped people help others. So it was a little emotional when the tables were turned.

Coleman, of the Davis club, knows well what the Santa Rosa club means to its community. His members know it, too.

“Let’s just say it’s money well spent,” he said.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

Have a story that is wild, wacky, bizarre or beautiful? Tell me about it. Have a question that starts with, “What’s the deal with…?” Let’s figure it out together. This column is about the story behind the story, a place to shine a light on who we are, what makes us a community and all of the things that make us special. With your help, I'll be tackling the questions that vex us: (the funny, the mundane, and the irritating.)

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette