By Aaron Porter and Anthony Moser
We wanted to take one such opportunity to talk about the Cruise to the Blues and give our readers a short history of the Illinois Veteran Home in Manteno. For those of you unfamiliar with the Cruise, simply put, it is a group of wonderful, patriotic motorcycle enthusiasts who ride for donations each year to help enhance and enrich the lives of the veterans of the Illinois Veterans Home in Manteno.
The Illinois Veterans Home in Manteno was established in 1986 as a home for veterans requiring skilled care. Skilled care refers to an individual who is required by a physician to receive at least two hours of personal care per day. The Home has five skilled care units, which include Special Needs Unit for Veterans suffering from severe dementia. The facility is capable of treating up to 340 individuals, and is currently treating twenty female veterans. To qualify for admittance, an individual must require skilled care, be an honorably discharged Veteran of a U.S. Military Service, enlisted for service in the state of Illinois or have lived in Illinois for 12 months prior to applying for admission. Priority is given to those who served during a time of conflict.
Manteno is fully funded by the state, and the veterans pay $1,429 per month. If veterans cannot afford these fees, they are obliged to pay what they can and the state coversthe remaining cost. They are never in danger of losing their place in the home. Generous donations from community groups and veterans organizations have made it possible for these veterans to receive better mattresses, better lifts, and motorized wheel chairs which help them keep their independence. The donations also allow for fun events that keep them active and independent, including Cubs and White Sox baseball games, picnics with community groups, and other off-ground activities.
In addition to donations,the Illinois Veterans Homeis also supported by a tremendous group of people who do volunteer work. Kathy Sanzotta, Director of Therapeutic Recreation and Volunteer Service Coordinator, urges anyone willing to please come out and visit, experience the home and the veteran’s first-hand, and offer any time they might have.
“When I took the position (Director of Volunteer Services Coordinator) in 2001, I was amazed at the importance of the motorcycle clubs and our facility. I was aware of the veteran organizations being a very generous part of our donations. They’re always giving parties, organizing bingo, bringing toiletries, wish-list items, whatever it may be. I was amazed at how many motorcycle clubs would come out here and do a fundraiser or motorcycle run with Manteno as the beneficiary.”
“With the help of our community and volunteers we were given the gift of a wonderful lake that is now about 3 years old. It was created and developed with all volunteer help. Local unions did the excavation, the electric, the plumbing, did everything and created an amazing space for our veterans to go out and fish, a catch-and-release facility.”
Event Organizer, Chicago Shorty, talked to us about The Cruise to the Blues, and why the event is so important to him.
“Every Saturday of the Chicago Blues Festival, for the last 23 years, I’ve run a fundraiser for the Manteno Veterans’ Home that is located in Manteno, Illinois. The event is called “The Cruise to The Blues”. It is a motorcycle event where we all get together and do a poker run to raise funds for our veteran’s. We ride from the south suburbs, stopping at Little Al’s Mokena Inn, The New Image Lounge and Tank’s Pub. We head down to Buddy Guy’s Legends, arriving about 6:00 pm, were we have a blast listening to the blues and have a custom motorcycle show on Wabash Avenue. We have a great group of volunteers that have helped us over the years. And, each year, we have the same good folks that participate in the run, and always some new faces too. All motorcycles are welcome on the Cruise. We don’t discriminate as long as they’re there to help, we don’t care what they ride. Buddy Guy and his staff have always made us very comfortable and gone out of their way , in the pre-planning and on the day of the event, to help our run be a success. But, most importantly, we all come together each year to help the men and woman who have served our country. Many of them are veterans from the Korean War, so there are some forgotten souls here that we try to help. These vets have done things in the past that allow us to enjoy our freedoms. We remember.”
“When I was just a young boy it was very difficult to get my father and grandfather to talk about the war. When they did it was always in hushed tones. However, since I loved to hear their stories, being a bit of a history buff, they always had my undivided attention. From hearing their stories I decided that when it was my time, if I was able, I would want to serve. However, I never had the honor of serving, and for that reason I felt compelled to do something to help the veterans.”
“I grew up in the late 50’s and early 60’s. We had 6 children in our family. Every Sunday my mother would hand my father a list and say this one needs shoes, that one needs pants, and we would go down to Maxwell Street and Dad would bargain for whatever us kids needed. From my earliest recollections, the old blues artists would set up in the parking lots or front porches with their amplifiers. That’s where I first saw Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, all of the blues legends that we know. I wanted to go listen to the music. So by the time I was seven and we’d go down there every Sunday, my Dad would buy me a sandwich and a coke and take me to where ever the music was and there’d be a bunch of ladies around dancin’ and he’s slip them a buck and ask them to keep an eye on me while he went shopping. I would sit there and listen to the blues music and, believe it or not, when I mention this to some of the old blues artists who played there and frequent Buddy’s club today, I’ll be a son of a gun if they don’t remember me. One of them is Homie”.
“So I had a love of blues music since my early days, a respect for the veterans and as I grew older I developed a love for motorcycles. Over time these all came together as The Cruise to The Blues. The men and women we ride with share these sentiments and have dedicated themselves to the cause. Weather is big factor if our event. Two years ago we rode down in a tornado. It was hard rain the entire way there. That year we had about sixty-five people who stuck it out with us. “
“Originally, we were working with the Little Angels Home in Joliet, Illinois. On our first ride we raised about $1,600 in donations. When I went back to the facility the next year to make plans I was told my contact had passed away. When I went to meet with the new director he told me that he didn’t have time for my miniscule donation”.
“I was angry about it. I stopped by my local hang-out and ran into Pat McHenry, a friend of mine. Pat runs a motorcycle organization called the Ridgewood Motorcycle Association. He noticed I was upset and he put his arm around me and asked me what was up. I told him what had happened. He said, “I know someone who will be glad to get the money”. He told me about the Manteno Veterans’ Home. This brought me back to my experiences of listening to my Dad and Grandfather talk about the war. It got me back to my roots and to my desire to help the veterans. This brought several of my passions all together . . . my respect for the Vet’s, my love of blues music and my love of motorcycling”.
“You know, I never had any thoughts about the success of it, I was never looking for a pat on the back either. I just wanted to do what I was able to do. If I can change the life of one veteran or put a smile on the face of just one veteran, that is more than enough thanks for me”.
This June, when you hear the thunder rolling down 700 S. Wabash, don’t grab your umbrella, grab your wallet and head down to Buddy Guys Legends and give Chicago Shorty and crew a hand raising money to help the brave men and women of the Manteno Veterans’ Home. You don’t need to ride a motorcycle to help. Just come on down and join the festivities and make a contribution. The world will be a better place for it.