Gloria Struck was 16 years old when she first rode a motorcycle, a 1941 blue Indian Bonneville Scout. Her family owned a motorcycle shop next to their home in Clifton, N.J. and she was beginning to feel the pressure to try it.
“I was nearly in tears,” Struck said. “I never really wanted to ride.”
Her family eventually talked her into it, and in 1941 Struck experienced the thrill of riding a motorcycle.
By 1946, Struck heard about Motor Maids Inc., North America's first women's motorcycle club. She became a member of the group at a time she recalls having trouble as a woman motorcycle rider.
“They saw I was a woman and wouldn't serve me gas at some places,” she said.
Struck, an American Motorcycle Association Hall of Fame nominee who just celebrated her 88th birthday Sunday, rode across the country on her 2004 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic to join the Motor Maids' 73rd annual convention, held this year in Bend. Although her motorcycle broke down several times during the trip, she made it the final length with her daughter, Lori Struck DeSilva.
The Motor Maids, with just under 300 members expected to attend this year's conference, has approximately 1,200 members of all ages across the U.S. and Canada. Conventions typically consist of executive board meetings, the skill-testing Dot Robinson Road Run and a downtown parade in full white vest and white-gloved uniforms. The parade wound through Bend 7-8 p.m. Wednesday.
Nancy Blakeney of Chewelah, Wash., the Northwest district director of the Motor Maids, said she wanted to bid for a convention in a city in Oregon.
“We try to stay out of big cities,” she said. “And, we've never had a convention in Oregon before. Central Oregon has beautiful riding, so it was perfect.”
Motor Maid publicity officer Diane Rumbel of West Hazleton, Pa., said many Motor Maid members also enjoy quilting and are planning on making the trip up to Sisters for the annual Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show. But, overall, they look for motorcycle-friendly communities with scenic roads.
In order to be a Motor Maid, the club requires members to own or borrow a motorcycle from their family. Also, they are required to ride their motorcycles to events; only members with 50 years' membership or more are exempt.
Margaret Wilson, a 93-year-old member who has been with the Motor Maids for 67 years, was unable to ride to the convention this year after injuries. But she said she and her husband, 93-year-old Melbourne “Mike” Wilson, still find ways to make it over the road to conventions from their home in Iowa.
“It's part of the experience,” said Wilson, who was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2004. “You wouldn't want to miss all of the scenery.”
She said she and her husband frequently rode their motorcycles around the country, once spanning the continental 48 states and the 10 Canadian provinces in three months.
“You're tired, exhausted, and your mind is tired,” Wilson said. “But you enjoy it.”
Although the convention's purpose is to discuss changes to the club's rules or constitution, Rumbel said the convention also serves to reconnect friends who may have not seen each other for a year.
“Ladies like to ride, no matter where you are,” said Rumbel, who rode 3,353 miles to get to this year's convention. “It makes the Motor Maid bond stronger.”
Struck said she can attest to the bond formed by the Motor Maids, recalling her husband's death three years ago. She said the club president heard about the death and called to express her sympathy. But, the president told Struck, she wanted her to go to that year's convention. Struck said she buried her husband on Wednesday, got her gear ready on Thursday, and rolled out on Friday for a 2,200-mile trip.
“The support I received from the club was worth it,” Struck said. “It did me good. I can't describe what that meant to me.”