Hancock County native Jim Huinker last year contributed to the start of his own memorial bike ride around Clear Lake, which this year will formally commence at 10 a.m. on June 19 in Ventura.
His community of support, sharing his love of life and outdoor activities, gathered last summer to support him after his diagnosis of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“He was an avid biker,” said his wife, Conrae Huinker. “Last year was just a fun ride with friends, which turned into about 70 people. He was already in a wheel chair. Now, we plan on doing this for many more years to come.”
In addition to biking, the longtime Garner automotive technician loved snowmobiling and taking time to fix other peoples' vehicles. He was officially diagnosed in September 2019 when he was still walking, but noticed some issues with motor functions, Huinker said. She said he was not feeling right on a weekend trip to Okoboji and started having trouble grabbing things at work.
Jim had worked 32 years at Schukei Chevrolet in Mason City. By April 2020, he was in a wheelchair, which lasted until his passing on Oct. 19, 2020. Huinker said that looking back, perhaps some earlier signs were dismissed.
“This is about keeping Jim’s memory alive,” Huinker said. “A goal is to raise $3,000 for his (Garner-Hayfield-Ventura High School) memorial scholarship and bring awareness to ALS, which is a growing health issue for other people.”
She said he would have loved to see all his friends doing this. So, she wants to continue to honor him annually while helping others. He was well known by many area residents with more than 500 people attending his funeral.
Huinker has worked as a hospice nurse for MercyOne North Iowa for seven years and has been with Mercy for more than 15 years. Interestingly, she had to take time away from work to provide hospice care for her husband.
The morning of this new memorial bike ride will kick off with breakfast biscuits and gravy for all riders at Kim’s Lounge in Ventura before about a 14-mile jaunt around the lake, with numerous stops mostly at participating sponsor sites. Riders will end the day at the Garner VFW. Several relief ATV vehicles will follow riders along the route to provide bike, medical, and other assistance.
Registration fee of $25 for the memorial ride includes a T-shirt and drink koozie worth about $10, with the other $15 going to the Jim Huinker Memorial Scholarship. At least 200 had already signed up as of May 14. At least 150 riders are expected on the day of the ride.
“Our scholarship is more geared toward that student going to a technical school, and something like beauty school could also qualify,” Huinker said. “It would start in 2022.”
Jim Huinker attended Northwest Technical College in Sheldon. He and Conrae, both Garner natives, shared 27 years of marriage. Their three children are Samantha Bock of Garner, Brianna Huinker of Waukee, and 19-year-old youngest child Nicholas Huinker of Garner. Nicholas took a year off following graduation from G-H-V High School to help his father. He plans to attend the University of Northern Iowa in the upcoming school year.
“It’s been hard for him,” Huinker said of her son. “He really gave up a lot to help his dad and then had the loss of his dad too. He would have done anything for him. All of the kids were here and helped most of the time.”
Huinker said the overwhelming support of the local communities has been such a help to the family. She cited a March 2020 benefit held at Duncan Hall, which was standing-room only. She said Jim also had six siblings and many of them helped as well.
“We are overwhelmed by the amount of support we received,” she said. “That benefit is what sustained us through this and saved us. Now, I just want to honor him, help others, and increase awareness about ALS.”
She said what is most difficult is seeing the rapid progression of ALS, which robs persons of their ability to do everyday things that many people take for granted.
She said her husband’s symptoms started first with twitching and weakness in his legs, robbing him of the ability to walk. Disease symptoms then progressed to his arms and hands and finally to the neck and chest, making it increasingly difficult to speak and ultimately breathe. She said he refused a tracheotomy and breathing tube. She said most people have an average life expectancy of 2-5 years after being diagnosed with the terminal disease.
Huinker cited a kinship that developed between them and another area couple, Chuck and Angela Myers of Clear Lake, who were going through similar challenges with ALS. Chuck was a couple of years younger than Jim, who also went to school in Garner, and was already in a fight with ALS.
“Once diagnosed, we reached out and spent some time together,” she said. “It was nice to be able to share that with someone else who was going through it.”
Now, the legacy of this annual ride will constantly raise ALS awareness, while helping local high school students through the scholarship program. Jim would surely be proud of how his friends and family have created larger, ongoing positive influences, stemming from his personal circumstances.
Rob Hillesland is community editor for the Summit-Tribune. He can be reached at 641-421-0534, or by email at email@example.com.