Custodian by night, director by day

Courtesy /
2013 Blessing of the Bikes in Baldwin, Michigan.

Courtesy / 2013 Blessing of the Bikes in Baldwin, Michigan.

Peter Chhum

The “Blessing of the Bikes” is an annual event that brings motorcycle riders from across the state to Baldwin, Mich., to receive blessings for a safe riding season. As the event enters its 42nd year, there is a common misperception of its roots. The event is not simply a biker bash; it’s a fundraiser for the community.

To set the record straight, one Grand Valley State University custodian has created a film to showcase the core meaning of this motorbike affair and its social effect.

Organized by the Para-Dice motorcycle club of Grand Rapids, the event is held as an effort to raise money for the Baldwin and Lake County community — the poorest in the state. The event attracts as many as 40,000 bikers with the proceeds going toward the Lake County Senior Services in support of Meals on Wheels and other senior amenities. In addition to raising money, the event has also raised eyebrows about its actual intentions and purpose.

“The whole thing started to get out of hand because people took it for granted. They assumed that the bikers are lining their pockets with this money,” said Allen Bialk, a custodian at GVSU and the film’s director. “Over the years, there were blurred lines between celebration and tradition. These people started something that was really good, and so I wanted to tell their story. I tried to show all of their passion and conviction they put into it.”

What Bialk created was “The ‘Original’ Blessing of the Bikes,” a documentary that showcases the story of the event and the struggle for those who inhabit Lake County. To help with the project, Bialk recruited the assistance of various GVSU film students and professors Jim Schaub and Joe McCargar.

“I had heard about the blessing of the bikes before, but I never knew that it was for raising money. People don’t realize all of the money they raise goes to poor people in Lake County,” Schaub said. “It’s not just a big bike rally and money making venture for the bikers, all of that money goes to Lake County. The misperception is why he wanted people to know.”

To make the film possible, Bialk relied on his resources — his relationships.

“Allen and I ran into each other all the time in the halls of Lake Superior Hall — both of us doing our jobs,” said McCargar, who narrated the film. “I wanted to be a part of it because it’s a really good story and to put it simply, he’s the real deal.”

As a custodian who works in Lake Superior Hall, Bialk had built a rapport with the students and faculty over the years. His connections then became major components of his documentary.

“After working in the department for a few years, I would get to know a lot of the students, I’d see them in there late at night and year after year,” Bialk said. “I’ve seen students develop their own styles and can see them maturing and honing their skills in the areas they are heading in. I thought this would be a great opportunity for their help to benefit the both of us.”

After three years of production, the film was premiered on March 27 at the Loosemore Auditorium on GVSU’s Pew Campus.

“The premiere was the culmination of all the hard work,” Bialk said. “I had a lot of people that showed up and believed in me. Just by seeing their faces made me feel good that they were behind me, and that really is the bottom line.”

As the film showcased the true origins and story of the “Blessing of the Bikes,” Bialk’s core message is of his responsibility to give back and as a character example of empathy.

“It showed the real character and compassion of the human character. Our society goes so fast but this kind of thing brings it out that there are people who care, and I’m a firm believer of that,” Bialk said. “The film was about the blessing of the bikes, but its core was about the compassion and conviction of the human element.”

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