Bar patrons can expect to encounter some surprise visitors next Sunday afternoon while relaxing at their favorite Forest Park watering hole. No, this will not be another one of the Forest Park Police Department’s recent underage drinking sweeps. Instead, the guests of honor will be a group of bikers combining fun and charity for the third annual “Tour da Host.”
The concept is relatively simple. River Forest resident Robert “Legstrong” Hosty and “The Field,” a group of mostly friends and family members, ride their bikes through Forest Park eateries and bars including Kevil’s, Molly Malone’s, Doc Ryan’s, Healy’s Westside, Duffy’s and Goldyburgers, soliciting pledges from patrons and bar owners for Misericordia, a Chicago-based home for adults and children with disabilities.
The group then returns to Kevil’s, 7228 Circle Ave., for a finish party including live music, hot dogs, and an opportunity to lend support to the riders, all funded by the restaurant. The party also serves as a refueling session, as, weather permitting, the group’s more ambitious riders will then embark on a 25 mile bike ride to conclude the day.
Hosty, who readily admits that his size makes him an unlikely candidate to lead a bike tour, began the annual event three years ago after receiving a new bicycle as a Father’s Day gift and rediscovering the sport of cycling.
“I’m 57 today, and I hadn’t been on a bike since I was 13 or 14,” he said. “I told my family, but nobody believed me.” Though the first bicycle quickly succumbed to wear and tear, Hosty immediately purchased a replacement from Barnard’s Schwinn in Oak Park and it was smooth cycling from there.
Several friends, including Frank and Colleen Kevil of Kevil’s, suggested Hosty use his newfound hobby for a good cause. Hosty thought of his family friend, Oak Parker Tom Monaco, who has a son at Misericordia, and the Tour da Host was born. He then reached out to a Misericordia volunteer who helps organize the event and even accompanies the bikers to the bars, announcing their arrival at each stop.
“It’s sort of taken on a life of its own,” said Hosty, who has spent the last few weeks soliciting pledges by mail. Those who cannot make it out to see the bikers in person can also pick up pledge sheets at any of the participating bars and restaurants. Last year, the fundraiser brought in $11,000, up $3,000 from the year before.
But for those who can come out, the look on unsuspecting customer’s faces as anywhere from 20 to 40 cyclists interrupt their enjoyable but usually predictable Sunday afternoons can be quite a sight to see.
“Usually there’s a couple people that know about it, but a lot of people sort of say ‘What the heck is going on?’ When a very large man in a Lance Armstrong-type bicycle shirt comes riding through the room, it obviously turns some heads,” said Robert Hosty’s cousin Mark Hosty, an owner of Healy’s Westside.
Despite the initial surprise, Robert Hosty said, the bikers have always received a positive response from the bar patrons they encounter. “We’re grateful to hear [the feedback],” he said. “We’re even more grateful when they include a check, of course.”
All the bar owners, as well as the village, have been supportive of the cause, according to Hosty. “The town has been very cooperative. It’s a nice place to do this type of thing. Everyone’s very receptive,” he said. “Doc Ryan’s is the best because there’s so much open space to ride through.”
Mary Win Connor, another one of Hosty’s many cousins in the area, said that the Tour da Host is a continuation of a family tradition of charitable work. “Our mothers were very involved with special needs kids and helping out with the Special Olympics,” she said.
Misericordia, operated by the Sisters of Mercy under the auspices of the Catholic Bishop of Chicago, has been serving people in need since 1921, but began focusing its services on the disabled in 1954, according to its Web site, www.misericordia.org.
Today the home, located at 6300 N. Ridge Ave. in Chicago, serves 550 people, about 20 of whom are from the near-western suburbs. The programs offered include “residential placement and day-to-day support, job training and employment opportunities, physical, occupational and speech therapy, fitness and healthy living guidance, social and recreational outings, and opportunities for spiritual growth,” according to the Web site. Residents also staff Misericordia’s in-house restaurant, bakery, greenhouse and gift shop.
According to Monaco, who estimates that he visits Misericordia about 20 times a year, the Tour da Host is just one of many fundraisers for the home. “They have golf outings, auctions, phone drives, they mail letters out-there’s something going on there every day. It’s amazing,” he said.
Still, the Tour da Host stands out to Misericordia’s staff.
“We do have a lot of different fundraisers, but this is one of the most interesting in that it’s one guy riding his bike and putting it all together. It’s also different because usually the families put on the fundraiser, but this is a friend of the family,” said Paula Conrad, a spokesperson for Misericordia.
Though Hosty said his roster of bikers is already filled to capacity, he is hoping for as many people as possible to come out to the bars to provide both monetary and moral support-especially monetary-to the bikers during Sunday’s festivities.
The tour through Forest Park will take place between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday, with the after-party at Kevil’s lasting until 9 p.m. Pledge sheets will be available all week at the participating restaurants and bars.