Members of an Oak Harbor-based motorcycle club are giving back to the community while defying stereotypes about bad-tempered biker gangs. After all, the meanest member of the club is a Chihuahua with an attitude.
The ‘Chauns of Island County – short for Leprechauns – is a nonprofit organization that, along with about a half dozen other local clubs, has have raised thousands of dollars for charity.
“We’re small people doing big things,” explained Tammy Ellis, a “Lady ‘Chuan” and wife of the club’s president and founder John “Knotrite” Ellis.
The ‘Chauns originated in the Ellis’ home state of Missouri. After Tammy and John moved to Whidbey Island to be closer to family, they started a new chapter in Oak Harbor.
The club regularly holds fundraisers for different causes, inducing raising money for cancer patients.
Last Saturday morning, a group of leather-clad bikers met at the Country Corner Inn in Anacortes. There, they warmly greeted each, then ate and drank together, before embarking on a ride that took them all the way to Arlington. There were stops in Clear Lake and Stanwood where even more bikers joined. This time, they came together to raise money for Arnie Haskins, a fellow biker who has stage 4 prostate cancer.
All the motorcyclists pay to participate in the ride. There is an auction at the end of the ride, usually consisting of items collected from local businesses.
“It’s fun, but these things are a lot of work, too,” said Thor Westerland, another member of the ‘Chauns. (Thor is his real name, by the way.)
The ‘Chauns raise money for the community in a variety of ways, including a year-round food drive.
On Tuesday night, they presented $4,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Oak Harbor. They also gave the same amount to the Boys and Girls Club of Anacortes. The money came from raffling off a motorcycle, something they do every year.
“We want to keep it local,” said Westerland, who came up with the idea to raffle off a bike. “This is designed to be a revolving charity. We buy another bike every year out of the money that we collect, then we give the rest away so we can do it again and again again.”
In April, the ‘Chauns raised $9,100 in a single day for another cancer patient named Anthony Fields. They once raised $5,000 for David Staley, a 31-year Navy vet to get a kidney transplant, which he was able to do a couple of weeks ago. His wife Debra owns the Quilter’s Workshop in Oak Harbor. She made a custom pouch for ‘Chaun Dwayne “Goner” Fletcher’s little dog Gizmo so he can ride in Fletcher’s jacket when he’s on the bike.
“He’s mean as hell,” Tammy said about Gizmo.
Fletcher said he got his nickname, Goner, because of the way he’s been known to ride — which was fast, to say the least.
“I joined the club to try and slow down because by myself, I’m always (going) over 100,” he said.
He claimed the fastest he’s ever ridden was about 210 miles per hour.
Fletcher says he loves riding a motorcycle because of the freedom it gives him. He’s traveled all over the country on his bike; his first trip he did at 19 after a stint in the Army.
Motorcycles are notoriously dangerous. On Saturday, the group riding to Arlington was a lot smaller than expected because a memorial for a biker who died in Bellingham was happening at the same time. Two people have died this month in motorcycle accidents on Whidbey Island. The risk seems to only bring motorcyclists closer together.
The club has members from all walks of life. Several are veterans. Tammy is a “Lady ‘Chaun,” along with Thor’s soon-to-be wife Lulu Mount. Tammy and John’s oldest grandson, who is 17, participates in all the rides, although he isn’t old enough to officially join the club yet. The club frequently stops at bars on their rides, so the eligible age is 21 years old.
Bikers may be known for swearing, drinking and acting tough, but the ‘Chauns insist that they also have a reputation for generosity.
“Most every biker has a huge heart and all we want to do is help people out,” Westerland said.