AMVETS poker run becoming must-do event

by Sheldon Ocker

Motorcycles, pierogies and maybe a Weed Whacker. And don’t forget the Jeeps. In Richfield. How do these seemingly unrelated items entice more than 200 people to come together on a summer day?

It’s called the Robert L. Gilbert II Gunny Run. Richfield AMVETS Post 176 sponsors the event. AMVETS member Steve Schmidt was in charge on July 29, as he has been for 14 years.

The gunny run is really a poker run. If poker run is an unfamiliar concept, bikers travel 60-80-100 miles, making five stops enroute. At each stop, riders select a playing card at random. The rider who collects the best poker hand wins.

It’s a little different in Richfield. Riders don’t collect their cards until the end of the run, and for the past two years, Jeeps have been eligible to participate, as well as motorcycles. Schmidt said this year, the run included 30 Jeeps in addition to about 110 bikes.

According to him, the threat of rain held down the number of motorcyclists, which more typically would range to 200 or more.

All of this activity precedes an all-you-can-eat pig roast. And Schmidt testified that all you can eat should be taken literally.

“Absolutely, it’s all you can eat,’’ he said. “You can come back 10 times if you want.’’

Schmidt hasn’t actually seen anyone make double-figure trips to the buffet table, but ”We’ve got some big eaters. That’s what we do it for,’’ he said.

For the 200 or so who dropped in for dinner, the menu included macaroni and cheese, rigatoni, potato salad, veggie salads and pierogies, as well as protein.

“We made two pigs,’’ Schmidt said. “We filled one pig with chicken.’’

All of the food was donated. So were all the items up for bids during the annual raffle.  Among those have been chain saws, fire pits, Szalay’s gift cards, restaurant gift cards – Whitey’s, Teschner’s Tavern, Musketeers, Mission BBQ Gasoline Alley, Fisher’s Restaurant, Country Maid ice cream, to name a few – Harley Davidson packages, golf packages, goodies from Colonial Pharmacy and Corkscrew Johnny’s. And this is only a partial list.

This year, Schmidt said the number of sponsors reached 110. It would take less time and fewer words to list the businesses in Bath and Richfield that weren’t sponsors.   

There also are financial donors. The primary objective of holding the poker run is to give $10,000 to the Hero Miles program, part of Fisher House Foundation.

Fisher House provides a free place to stay for military families visiting hospitalized loved ones. Most of these residences are located near military or VA hospitals. The Hero Miles program helps families travel to hospitals.

Schmidt said Post 176 has been giving $10,000 to Hero Miles for seven or eight years consecutively. Even in 2020, when virtually every activity was put on hold because of COVID, an abbreviated poker run was held.

“We had a run but no dinner,’’ Schmidt said. “We only had 50-75 bikes, but we still made our $10,000 donation. We didn’t miss a year.’’

Schmidt said great care was taken to avoid sullying the reputation of Post 176 and the AMVETS generally by allying with a charity that was untouched by scandal.

“We researched and researched and came up with the Fisher House,’’ Schmidt said. “Since, I think, 1972 or ’74, they had misappropriated not a dime.’’

Members of Post 176 went to Maryland to present the first poker run donation, and the traveling party, including Schmidt, received a lavish welcome and a lengthy visit with the CEO.

“They are the most amazing organization on the planet,’’ he said.

Another reason to continue the poker run is Marine Gunnery Sgt. Robert L. Gilbert II, a Richfield native who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010 at the age of 27.

“It keeps Scotty Gilbert’s name out there,’’ Schmidt said. “For us, that’s an important thing. He’s from town, and he lost his life in action.’’ ∞

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Robert L. Gilbert II was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010. Photo from ScripType archives.

Steve Schmidt organized the Gunny Run for 14 years. Photo submitted by AMVETS Post 176

Making sure the event goes off without a hitch is Richfield AMVETS Post 176 Adjutant Dave Mruk (back to camera) and Tom Sadar. Photos by Dan Draiss.

Officer Doug McArtor controlled the flow of motor cyclists.

Robert Gilbert, the father of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Robert L Gilbert II who lost his life in action, and his wife, Michelle Gilbert, take part in the memorial event.

Veteran Jimmy Caldwell has been actively involved for several years.

On our cover (Photo): The AMVETS Post 176 Poker Run was started in memory of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Robert L. Gilbert II who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010. It supports the Heroes for Miles Program. Photo by Dan Draiss.