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‘It’s about giving’

Mark Daley, left, and Mark Lamsendorfe own Thunderstruck Custom Bikes and Star Bodyworks in Medford, respectively. The two organize the Southern Oregon Toy Run [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Editor’s note: Community Builder is a periodic Q & A series providing perspectives from local people involved in significant change in Southern Oregon. Today’s conversation is with Mark Daley and Mark Lamsendorfe, who coordinate the annual Southern Oregon Toy Run, planned for Dec. 3.

Q: Dec. 3 is the 42nd annual Southern Oregon Toy Run. How did you and your businesses get involved?

Mark L: We got involved years ago when Gene Nelson organized the Toy Run. The police department was not going to let the Toy Run happen unless their officers were paid to work it. ‘So the Toy Run is going to be canceled?’ Gene came to us, and we ended up paying for the police department to work the Toy Run. From that point on, we were financing and helping with the Toy Run. Seven years ago, Gene decided he’d been doing it long enough. That’s when Mark Daley and I stepped in.

Mark D: I’ve been doing it for 40 years as a participant. So I wanted to see it continue.

Q: What is a Toy Run?

Mark D: Motorcycle riders bring a gift or usually several gifts for kids, and we all ride together on a parade course. We meet at Touvelle Lodge in the morning, drop off the gifts and then ride down Table Rock Road to the Eagles Lodge. The Eagles provide a lunch for the riders. The toys are sorted and bagged, and Star Body takes them to distribute to different local organizations like Dunn House, churches, CASA and the police departments. The cash we raise stays here and is donated to different local charities. Last year, money went to Walking Tall, which is a group that helps young men. Every year we raise between $16,000 and $20,000.

Q: How many people typically ride?

Mark L: If it’s rainy and cold, we may only have 300 or 400 motorcycles on the Toy Run. But on a sunny day, we could have more than 500 motorcycles. But rain or shine, the Southern Oregon Toy Run has always gone on. It’s quite a parade — it takes about 40 minutes for all the riders to pass by on their bikes to the Eagles Lodge. We spend the whole next week delivering those toys.

Q: Why is this important?

Mark D: I traveled all over the country doing my bike stuff for five or six years. It was fun. It was good for my bike business, but it didn’t touch my heart. So we started a local bike show and organized the Toy Run to give back to the community that gives to us. That’s why I do it.

Mark L: I have a business in Southern Oregon. My family was into motorcycles before we moved here. We’ve always been enthusiasts. Helping Southern Oregonians — it’s what we do. And there’s a lot of people in Southern Oregon in need. We’ll get phone calls requesting toys. Somebody’s lost their job or having a tough time, and we help their kids by giving toys. It’s about giving.

Q: Here’s a quote from you: ‘Bikers are the biggest, softest guys in the community.’ That doesn’t fit the image of a biker.

Mark D: It’s true. Hang out with a group of bikers and see how they act toward each other. They call each other ‘brother’; they tell ’em they love ’em. You don’t expect to see that from bikers. Bikers around here — they’re all that way. Tell ’em a story about a kid that’s got cancer — they’ll cry. That’s who they are.

Q: Are you seeing an increased interest in motorcycle riding?

Mark D: I am. We see a lot of newer riders, younger guys and women. We build a lot of women’s custom bikes. Younger riders come in with these brand-new high-tech motorcycles. We had to step up our game, ‘OK, we’re not building an old chopper anymore; we’re building a high-tech computerized machine.’ You gotta know more about ’em and how to work on them. You can tune your bike from your phone now! So that’s where it’s changed.

Q: How did Thunderstruck Custom Bikes get started?

Mark D: I’ve been a car and bike guy for a long time. I grew up around the motorcycle world. That’s what my dad did. That’s what my uncles and my whole family did down in Southern California. I came up here, and I was working on hot rod cars. It started with a bike I customized. Someone asked, ‘Would you be interested in doing something like that on my bike?’ And I was, ‘Oh yeah, I guess I could do that.’ Another guy asked me if I could build a custom bike. I did that, too. That bike got noticed, and then another guy asked. That’s how it grew. I was doing it on the side for a couple years, literally working around the clock. I’d go to work all day, come home, go in my garage and work all night until the business built up. I did that for quite a few years. I thought, ‘OK, I gotta keep my reputation. I gotta do what I say I’m gonna do and do it to the best of my ability.’ Business got bigger and bigger. I’ve been building bikes for almost 30 years now.

Q: You’re involved with Boys & Girls Clubs. How did that come about?

Mark D: For 27 years, I’ve done a local bike show with custom motorcycles. At first, we didn’t make much money. We tried to find a local organization we could help. Somebody said, ‘Hey, the Boys & Girls Club always need help.’ I visited the local Boys & Girls Club. They needed money to buy computers and new playground equipment. We must be pushing $500,000 in donations to Boys & Girls Clubs in Southern Oregon over the years from the bike show.

Q: Star Body Works moved to Central Avenue near downtown from West McAndrews Road. How has that move been?

Mark L: We’d outgrown our shop on McAndrews. We were getting ready to break ground on another building, but we had seen this location vacant for a year or two. It’s the best move Star ever made. The McAndrews shop is still open as a Geico-only body shop. The move has been a blessing. We hit capacity almost overnight.

Q: Tell me about growing up. How’d you get to Southern Oregon?

Mark D: I grew up in Southern California and started getting in a little bit of trouble. My dad got killed. My mom said, ‘You're not going down that road.’ She called my grandpa, who lived in Phoenix and said, ‘You need to come get him outta here before he goes the wrong direction.’ The next day, my grandpa was there with a trailer, and he moved me to Oregon with him. Mom followed after she got everything taken care of. I went to Phoenix/Talent schools and graduated from Phoenix High.

Mark L: I’m a Southern California transplant — I hate to say that. I’ve been here since 1989, about 33 years. My father had three motorcycle stores in Southern California. Motorcycles have always been a big part of our lives. Real estate in California got to be worth so much money, and dad was offered a ridiculous amount for the land. We locked the business, moved to Southern Oregon and ended up buying Star Body Works in 1989. It’s grown from one shop to five and more than 70 employees.

Q: What do you like about this area?

Mark L: What I really love about Southern Oregon — and it’s still that way — people are honest. You can take people at face value. I still do a lot of deals on a handshake, where you couldn’t do that in Southern California. If somebody gives me their word, you shake hands and they stand behind it. That’s still happening here in the valley.

Mark D: I love that everything is so close to us. We have a beach two hours away. A beautiful river is minutes away. We’ve got lakes just down the road. I’d rather ride here than anywhere I can think of. And I love the Southern Oregon community.

Q: What do you think would make Southern Oregon better?

Mark D: Not as many fires. When I first moved here, we never had fires like we do now — it’s been terrible. And I don’t like the drug thing. I hate to see that happen here or anywhere.

Mark L: Southern Oregon has a drug and homeless problem that’s out of control. It’s affected my family. We really have to figure out how to deal with these problems. It’s a national problem — it’s not just us. But it’s broken. Our police and law enforcement here, I take my hat off to ’em. I know a lot of them personally. I love the way they handle things. They get it done. I know their hands are tied on a lot of things, but they keep us safe at my business and my home. I appreciate that.

Q: Mark, you’ve built custom bikes for disabled veterans. What does that entail?

Mark D: The Combat Hero Bike Build is really important. If a Vet doesn’t have legs, it’s tough. ‘Well, I can’t even walk. What am I gonna do?’ When you get ’em on a motorcycle again, you should see what it does for their soul. It’s beyond anything you could ever imagine. They’re doubtful they can ride a bike. You have to assess what they can do. I’ll sit them on a bike and see their balance. Can their hands work the brakes? We have to figure all that out; we haven’t been stumped yet. I’ve probably built 10 custom bikes for Combat Heroes. There are other builders around the country now, too.

Mark L: Mark Daley is a phenomenal guy in the motorcycle world. He’s an artist as much as a biker. He builds beautiful motorcycles. Mechanically, they run great. And he’s just a good person. He raises a lot of money and does a lot of good things for the Boys & Girls Club and veterans. It’s been a great partnership with Mark and his group of guys. They’re good people.

If you go

The Southern Oregon Toy Run takes off at noon from Touvelle Lodge, 9367 Table Rock Road, Central Point. A social hour begins at 10 a.m., and the ride ends at the Eagles Lodge. The event is open to all street-legal motorcycles. All proceeds go to local charities. For more information, see facebook.com/southernoregontoyrun

Steve Boyarsky is a retired educator and longtime resident of the Rogue Valley. He continues to be involved in educational and youth programs.