Terisa Olson was only 16 when she attended her first Wichita Toy Run motorcycle parade in 1986.
She went with her father and her father’s friends. They were all riding Harley-Davidsons. She was riding a Yamaha 650.
Since then, Olson has attended the parade every year, together with an increasing number of bikers who were carrying toys and donations across the city to give to charity Christmas programs. On Monday, Olson, who is an organizer for Toy Run, sent an e-mail to the media, the charities and other partners, announcing that the motorcycle parade will be suspended. Instead, Toy Run will host a rally in the Delano district, just west of downtown Wichita, on Nov. 4.
“We feel this is the best way to avoid incidents, accidents and injury to Toy Run participants as well as maintaining the safety of the public,” the statement said. “The Wichita Toy Run Committee has the welfare of everyone involved as our top priority.”
Discussions about changes in the Toy Run format started a couple of years ago, stemmed by concerns about the participants’ safety, Olson said. Last year, there were two accidents involving parade motorcycles.
Historically, there were years without any recorded accidents at the parade, said Wichita police Capt. Russell Leeds.
There has been one fatal crash, in 2001, which killed rider Dustin L. Traffas.
In the 32 years since the parade started, the number of participants grew from 30 in 1980 to around 3,000 in recent years. The bikers paraded between Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and the Kansas Coliseum, carrying toys and donations for charities such as the Salvation Army, Marines Toys for Tots and the Kansas Food Bank.
“It’s grown and it’s involved so many motorcycles and covered such a long distance that logistically it was hard to keep it safe both for the organizers and for the law enforcement,” Leeds said. “There’s no way we could manage that many bikes or control the behavior of all those riders once the procession started.”
After a brainstorming session with Sedgwick County and Wichita law enforcement, the Toy Run organizers approached Nancy Lawrence, president of Historic Delano Inc., to discuss the possibility of a rally in the area.
“I was really excited about it from day one, when they first started talking about it,” said Lawrence, who also owns Central Plains Novelty in Delano. “I think it’s going to bring a lot of people down here who may not know where Delano is, and while they’re there they can see what else Delano has to offer.”
Some of the businesses will stay open for the occasion, even if it falls on a Sunday, Lawrence said. Bikers will have a dedicated parking place for their motorcycles. There will be a variety of vendors, a chili tent, live music and places for donations, Olson said.
“It will be like any other rally,” she said. “People will be able to come down, spend some time, have an area for donations and then enjoy the afternoon with other motorcycle enthusiasts.”
Olson recalls her first years attending the Toy Run, when she met bikers who “only had 5 bucks to their name” for the charity chili and a toy to donate. The new format of Toy Run will serve the same purpose – bring Christmas to disadvantaged children.
This year’s event will also celebrate Holly Potelle, a longtime organizer of the Toy Run, who died in a motorcycle crash last month.
“We’re sad to see the tradition of the parade routes going away,” Olson said. “But we’re also pretty excited about the new venue that we’re going to have in that area. So it’s going to be a new, exciting adventure for us.”