Firefighter and paramedic Richard Garner was well-known for his generosity, his kindness, working with youth, giving back to his community, his dedication to firefighting, and his love of motorcycles. All of those things and more will be remembered about him at this year’s annual Richard Garner Memorial Ride, which will be held Saturday, Sept. 9, 10 a.m. at Harley Davidson-Madison.
Garner died tragically on Easter morning in 2018 – just four days before his 30th birthday – shortly after finishing a 48-hour shift on the job. David Guthrie, Garner’s good friend and ambulance paramedic partner at station 10, has been organizing the annual Richard Garner Memorial Ride every year since in an effort to keep Garner’s legacy alive for many years in the future.
“The Richard Garner Memorial Ride is a great day to celebrate Rick, and that’s what this has always been about whether we had five people, 100 people, or 300 people … it’s always gonna be the core group, for the most part, that remembers Rick and knows who Rick was and wants to keep his legacy alive,” Guthrie tells Madison365.
“And that’s why I think this event has been so successful. It’s not about what I do or what the [Garner Memorial Ride] committee does, it’s about who Rick was as a person,” Guthrie continues. “And that’s what really has fueled us … that’s what has made us a success … is because of Rick. He made it easy for us. All you do is say his name and people immediately remember him… but it is kinda hard to forget a guy that was 6’6″.”
Garner was the first of three children born to Richard Sr. and Lennell Garner in Woodland Hills, California. Lennell Garner traveled from California last year to attend the Richard Garner Jr. Ride and she tells Madison365 that she “loved this event from day one.”
“Ricky loved Harley Davidson, he loved the fire department and he loved all of his co-workers,” Lennell Garner says in a FaceTime call from California. “So to me, it was a collaboration that was awesome all together. I attended the event last year and it was great and I was just walking around the [Harely Davidson] store … hadn’t even said anything yet. And this lady walks up to me and just was like, ‘Oh my God, you look like you’re Ricky’s mom!’ That made me feel like, ‘Wow, he made such a large impression on you that you even looked at me and figured out who I was.’ The woman went on to share a whole bunch of stories, too. So it was bigger than just the fire department to me … it was like now the owners and the workers knew him, too.
“I knew he was special. But until I was able to attend this event, I didn’t realize how much,” Garner says. “So it’s truly a blessing and a great feeling. I think with this being such a tragedy, people will say to me, ‘Oh, my god, you’re doing so well!’ But in all honesty, all those stories about Ricky from people he has touched have helped me. It’s helped me so much.”
“So on Sept. 9, much like we do every year, we start the registration at 10 o’clock. People start rolling in, and we’ve got a silent auction set up. Registration goes till 11,” Guthrie says. “Bikes will start coming in and out about that 10-10:30 a.m. mark. We do what’s called a poker-style run so you can ride in smaller groups, so it’s a little bit safer.”
In the first two years of the Richard Garner Memorial Ride, the large group of bikers all rolled out at the same time.
“It’s amazing to see all the bikes show up, but it’s a little harder as far as safety goes because we have to set up roadblocks everywhere we go and we have to get in line with all the sheriffs and PDs [police departments] throughout Dane and Sauk counties ,,, so it’s a little more difficult. So we transitioned to this poker-style run,” Guthrie says.
“So usually people will go out with a few of their friends — four or five people — and then they go through different locations finishing at Wisconsin Brewing Company again this year,” Guthrie adds. “We’re still doing the live music, face painting, and balloon artists. The kids are gonna have food trucks and the ice cream truck.”
Guthrie adds that this year they are offering half-off registration to all former and current military members and their riders will ride for free. There will also be a silent auction at the event with Packer tickets, Badger tickets, hotel stays, gift cards, tools, and more. “This event is fun for everybody. And even if you’re not familiar with the fire department or you don’t ride a motorcycle, people can just come out and enjoy a beer, listen to some good music, eat some great food, and all the money is going towards the scholarship fund.”
The Richard Garner Memorial Scholarship was created to honor the life of Richard Garner Jr. and to help those who are entering the fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) fields.
“The money raised at the ride will help somebody else. And that person will go on to help somebody else,” Lennell Garner says. “For me, this is a win-win and this is what Ricky was all about.”
“So, generally, our application period goes from January 1 to May 1. Then we do our interview selection process and we’ve already selected that individual for this year,” Guthrie says. “So once again, the money raised this year is going to go towards the 2024-2025 school year.
Victorian Mielke is the most recent Richard Garner Memorial Scholarship recipient. He currently is an intern at the Fitchburg Fire Department and is following in the footsteps of his older brother, Emmanuel “Manny” Mielke, a previous scholarship winner.
Guthrie adds that you don’t have to be in attendance at the event to donate to the fund.
“We’ve received donations from California, Texas, Georgia … people that I’ve never met or heard of before,” Guthrie says. “But they either knew of Rick or read Rick’s story and are also continuing to give back. So that’s been super special.”
Richard Garner Jr. was also a member of the Sable Flames, a non-profit organization of Black firefighters in Madison, that works hard to give back to the community.
“Ricky always put other people first. That’s what he did. It didn’t matter who you were; he didn’t have to know you … he just wanted to help all the time,” Lennell Garner says.
“Rick did so many good things during his short time on earth whether it was in California, at UW, or for the fire department or the community,” Guthrie adds. “He affected so many people in his life and now those people are paying it forward, in a way, which is really good to see, because he gave so much of himself to other people and he never asked once for anything in return.”