RAVENNA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Every Sunday, Tom Linacre can be found in a place that feels like home: his routine of fellowship and food. He rides his Harley from his home in Muskegon to the Ravenna Pub.
“It’s a great place. It’s a great family environment, very comfortable, and that’s why I enjoy coming here,” Linacre said.
As he sat there on an April Sunday, enjoying his usual two hotdogs and a Natty Light, he was thinking about the fire that had torn through the First Reformed Church of Ravenna a week prior.
“They have nowhere to go. It’s impossible to go into another church and feel as comfortable as you were in your own church,” Linacre said.
Nearly 20 fire departments responded to the April 2 afternoon fire that burned into the next morning. The smoke from it filled the entire town. It was a billowing reminder of the loss, but there were signs of hope — the church’s cross still standing.
In that moment, in his bar, Linacre says he had an epiphany over a cold one: combine two of his loves, his Harley and Ravenna Pub, to raise money for the church.
“We started reaching outside the community for additional help and it’s been just amazing how many people are willing to step up and help a community and a church that they don’t attend,” Linacre said. “I don’t attend the church. I had no vested interest in doing this other than trying to help others.”
Linacre asked longtime Ravenna Pub employee Ann Marshall if the pub would be interested in putting together a fundraiser for the church. Managers were quick to jump on board.
Marshall said she contacted food distributors and other vendors who began donating food and equipment.
“We have a very close-knit community. When things go wrong, we all kind of pitch in and help each other out,” Marshall said. “And we thought it would be a great way to be able to help the community.”
Together, the two came up with the Ride to Rebuild and Ravenna Strong Day. The Ride to Rebuild will be a nearly 20-mile motorcycle ride from Hot Rod Harley Davidson in Muskegon to the Ravenna Pub. Linacre says registration begins at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 21, with the ride leaving at noon sharp. It’s $20 per vehicle and organizers are welcoming two or four wheels from any community to join.
“A group ride for a cause, I mean, that’s a great feeling,” Linacre said. “You look around and everybody is here for the same reason. We’re all here to help. And that gives you a great feeling in the heart.”
Once the ride reaches the pub, everyone is invited to stay and eat, drink and enjoy the four bands and DJ scheduled to entertain, along with a 50/50 raffle. The pub has decided that 100% of food or drink proceeds from the day, including the registration fees and any other donations made, will go directly to the church.
“This so important for this church. They need the money,” Ravenna Pub owner Paulette DeYoung said. “We’ll make our money every day. We make money every day. So this one day, we’re not going to make money. And we’re going to put on this huge event for a good cause.”
DeYoung says that’s the type of community Ravenna is, that’s the type of bar she runs and it’s an act of love for a church that means so much to so many.
“Pastor Steve, he (led the funeral for) a very dear person to me…” DeYoung said about the church’s pastor, Steve VanderWoude. “I’ve always had this fondness for him and his kindness that he gives to the community. Because I’m not a member of that church either, yet I turned to him when I needed somebody to help me in my time of need. And he was there and he was wonderful and I’ve always wanted to give back to him and that church.”
VanderWoude will be in a side car of the lead motorcycle for the ride. He’s overwhelmed by the support.
“The week after the fire, I get a call from this guy Tom and have no idea who Tom is and he’s like, ‘Can we do a fundraiser? You know, we’d like to do a ride and raise money for the church,'” VanderWoude recalled.
VanderWoude said he can see the similarities between what is happening Saturday and what his church does each week. A gathering of fellowship and bread breaking — a congregation of community to celebrate and support each other.
“As we go through the process of grieving and healing from the loss, as we rebuild, I truly believe we’re not rebuilding a building, we’re rebuilding a community,” VanderWoude said. “What is church? For the next two years, we as a church are going to get to rethink that. I think to rediscover that, that you know, we are unbelievably blessed by the love in this community and the outpouring of that love.”