‘Ride to Remember’ to Memorialize Pawling Man Whose Passion was Helping Addicts
PAWLING, N.Y. – Jeff Coursen was passionate about two things in life: motorcycles and helping others combat substance abuse.
Coursen, a Pawling resident and husband to former Town Supervisor Beth Coursen, was killed in September 2009 when his motorcycle struck a deer while he was on his way to an AA meeting. He was 53 years old.
Coursen’s friends Ed and Mary Mahaffey, owners of The Annex flower shop in Pawling village, decided that an annual tribute was called for to honor and memorialize Coursen and help out his favorite charity: St. Christopher’s Inn in Philipstown, N.Y., a treatment facility that is home to St. Anthony’s Clinic, a licensed and accredited substance abuse program that provides rehabilitation and outpatient services. It has been working with addicts for more than 100 years.
The Mahaffeys came up with the idea for “A Ride to Remember” – an 80-plus-mile motorcycle ride that starts at the Pawling firehouse and travels through the Harlem Valley, across to Connecticut and back to firehouse. A brief stop is made at the location of Coursen’s accident on North Quaker Hill, where riders can take a moment of silence before a wreath that has been laid there in his memory.
When the ride finishes at the firehouse, it’s time for a pig roast and some live rock ’n’ roll. There’s also a raffle for a 2013 Victory Crossroads Classic motorcycle, as well as a 50/50 raffle. The bike is on display at Herman’s Performance on Route 22 in Patterson.
“Jeff would be happy with this because the purpose is to raise awareness for people who are in recovery,” Beth Coursen said. “And we are celebrating his passion for riding motorcycles.”
Coursen said St. Christopher’s Inn was instrumental to her husband’s recovery from alcohol abuse.
“Jeff went to a retreat there and it transformed him from just a recovering alcoholic to someone who was passionate about helping others who were on the road to recovery,” she said. “After his retreat he became a whole different person – a spiritual person committed to helping others. The transformation was remarkable. The difference was palpable.”
The fourth annual Ride to Remember will be held Sunday, Sept. 15, at the Pawling fire station on South Street, beginning at 9 a.m. when riders can sign up. There is no advance registration. Coffee and pastry will be provided during the sign-up. The ride and the subsequent picnic are free, but donations in any amount will be accepted. Donations are tax-deductible.
“One hundred percent goes to St. Christopher’s,” Mary Mahaffey said. “Thousands of dollars have been raised at past rides.”
At 11 a.m., the ride begins with the traditional blessing of the bikes by the Rev. Bill Drobach, CEO of St. Christopher’s. It heads north from Pawling on Route 22 to Amenia and crosses over to Sharon, Conn., and eventually picks up Route 7 and heads south. It makes a stop at Housatonic State Park before heading on to Kent, Conn., and then Gaylordsville, before heading west on Route 55 and then south on Route 39 to Sherman, Conn. It eventually takes Taber Road to North Quaker Hill, where it stops at the site of Coursen’s accident.
“It was very impressive last year,” said Ed Mahaffey, who leads the procession. “All the bikes were lined up and everyone walked up to the wreath.”
Mahaffey said the ride sticks primarily to rural roads because that is what Coursen liked best.
“We attract all types of motorcycles – from dirt bikes to $60,000 Harley Davidsons,” he said. “Four years ago we started with 62 riders. Last year we had 110. My goal for this year is between 150 and 200.”
The picnic festivities at the firehouse are expected to begin around 1 p.m. Mahaffey said the public is welcome – you don’t have to be a rider – but donations are appreciated.
“The food [at past rides] has been unbelievable,” Mahaffey said. “We have the roasted pigs, clams, corn on the cob, hotdogs and hamburgers, salads, and all kinds of desserts. We actually ran out of food last year and had to send out for more. We had over 300 at the picnic.”
Music will be provided by the rock band Night Shade, which is performing free of charge.
For information about the Ride to Remember or the pig roast, or for tickets for the motorcycle raffle, call Ed Mahaffey at 845-855-9612.