By Bill Herrin
Most times, when you think about people that have made a positive impact on your life, the ones that come to mind are cherished and remembered fondly. This story is about a team that helps make fond memories for so many others throughout the year—each and every year—and they do it selflessly. The Rick McIntosh Memorial Bike Shop resides in an out-of-the-way space behind St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Destin. The story behind the shop, its people, and the impact they make is huge.
The bicycle shop was started by Dwayne St. John around 2007 and is a huge part of the Blue Door Ministry at St. Andrews Episcopal Church. Mr. St. John not only started this bicycle ministry, but he spearheaded the public shower program for the underprivileged in this area. Not only did he have a heart for the people of Destin, but Mr. St. John also served his country valiantly in the Korean War and was one of the few soldiers that survived the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, a fierce battle in North Korea that took place under brutally cold conditions. It involved both Chinese and Korean adversaries, and the United Nations troops that survived the conflict were later called “The Chosin Few”—and for good reason, as they were lucky they made it out alive.
The bike shop at St. Andrews is a treasure trove of tires, rims, frames, handlebars, seats, and bike parts galore. Walt Cheidsey, a retired schoolteacher, has helped facilitate the shop (as a volunteer) for 12 years now and was kind enough to share a little about their processes, their donors, and their overall ministry. Bicycles are donated from many sources, including local citizens, bicycle rental companies, bike shops and more. The bikes are checked out, tuned up, and readied for the road.
Once they’re inspected and deemed roadworthy, they’re available to give to homeless people, the needy, and also to J-1 visa workers that come to the area to work throughout the tourist season here on the Emerald Coast. The first year the shop was in operation, 76 bicycles were given away, and the total has climbed every year since. Two years ago, the shop gave away 1,485 bikes, and last year they gave out 1,506. Last year alone, almost 600 J-1 Visa workers were given bikes to use for getting around town and to their jobs. This is huge.
People that aren’t needy can also come to get a bike (donations are appreciated, and are used to buy parts, inner tube, tires, etc.), and nobody is questioned about their actual income. It’s an honor policy, and the ministry is happy putting people on two wheels. Having a bicycle is life changing for many that would otherwise have to walk. There is a rule in place regarding folks who’ve gotten a bike, and may need another soon thereafter—there’s a six-month wait between bikes. Mr. Cheidsey maintains, however, that they will work with people on a case-by-case basis to help them in a pinch. The rule is basically to eliminate abuse, such as selling the bicycles they’ve received, etc.
Along with Walt, the shop has three other volunteers that provide mechanical work and lots more. Bill Parsons, Michael Prentice and Ed Fletcher, according to Walt, are the mechanics and muscle behind the operation, providing help in many areas. Bill Parsons is a Snowbird from Michigan who used to own a bicycle shop there. He has been volunteering at the shop for five years now and will be returning to Michigan soon. In his time volunteering at the shop, Bill has learned firsthand how vital a role the shop plays in the lives of the less fortunate.
“I didn’t realize how important a bike really is until I moved here,” says Mr. Parsons. That’s a big statement coming from a guy that made his living with bicycles. His comment rings true, as the people can get around much easier than by foot, and when public transportation is at a premium. Ed Fletcher was not in the shop on the day of my visit, but he’s worked with the shop for seven years (when available) and is noted as a huge asset as well.
Michael Prentice worked on a bike as I spoke with Walt, and he never stopped moving. Michael has been volunteering at the shop for four years and rounds out the current four-man crew. He is dedicated, and often serves hours well beyond when the shop is officially open.
There is always room for more help, especially since the seasonal loss of Bill Parsons is imminent. If you or someone you know have mechanical skills, or want to learn, they’ll find a place for you to fit in and help out. Walt, at 78 years young, is supposed to be at the shop Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 9 AM to noon, but often ends up there much more. Although he wasn’t asking for help recruiting volunteers, I’m certain he’d be ecstatic if he had some more helpers (contact info is at the end of this article).
Recently, there has been a change in the bikes that are offered at no cost—now; it’s mainly the “beach cruiser” variety, the kind typically donated by bike rental companies. These bikes are easier to have “up and running” with the least amount of labor. With so many of these bikes available to them, spare parts are easily harvested from other bikes—a win for the shop, and for the folks in need. Other bikes that have derailleurs (multiple speed bikes) present a lot more mechanical challenges and repair time. Since that’s the case, a monetary donation for these types of bikes is desired, due to the fact that fixing them is so labor-intensive.
The Rick McIntosh Memorial Bike Shop was named in loving memory of the main mechanic that volunteered his time for almost six years at the shop. Last August, he was struck and killed by a vehicle as he crossed Highway 98 in Destin. The loss of Rick really hit Walt Cheidsey hard, along with all the people that knew him from the church ministries. Having been with the bicycle ministry for 12 years, Walt has seen a lot of people come and go and seen many needy walk-ins ride away smiling.
“He’s greatly missed,” says Walt. “Our ministry here is so important, and it’s not just for the homeless, but for those in need from this area. Even if they have a car, there may be times that they can’t afford gas or a car repair. That’s when a bike comes in really handy.” From the first load of bikes he picked up from a shop on 30A to the yearly donations he receives from shops and individuals all around the area, Walt sees all the good that the ministry does on a daily basis.
He named Bob’s Bicycle Shop (FWB), Coastal Cruisers (Destin), Robin’s Bicycles (Silver Sands), Big Daddy’s Bicycles (Blue Mountain), Rent Gear Here, Yellowfin, Watercolor, Alys Beach and La Dolce Vita as some of the biggest donors to the bike shop.
“We’re here to help,” says Walt. “That’s the bottom line. The people that come to us really need the help, and we treat them with dignity and respect.” As we walked out the door, we were surrounded by bicycles, and almost immediately a woman walked up to Walt and asked for help with her bike. They were talking as I left, and I was thinking to myself, this is truly a ministry where the rubber meets the road.
If you’d like to donate a bicycle (or more than one), get a bike, volunteer to help out, or donate or support this ministry, you can call Walt at 850-687-9330. Shop hours are Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 9 AM to noon, or you can call to see if you can stop by as well. The St. Andrews Episcopal Church is located along Highway 98, at 307 Harbor Boulevard in Destin.