‘We’re all from the same town’
Jones Memorial Scholarship Ride benefits Dodgers, Gaels alike
Heather Farrell often gets showered with praise at the conclusion of each Kayla Jones Memorial Scholarship Ride, which has raised nearly half a million dollars for Fort Dodge high school students since its inception 11 years ago.
Farrell sees this success story from an entirely different point of view.
“It’s the community that deserves all the credit,” said Farrell, Jones’s mother. “A lot of people tell us how much we’ve meant to them or how much we’ve done for kids at Fort Dodge and St. Edmond. But their (collective investment) in honoring Kayla’s memory is the true story here. It’s not just about (the organizers) — it’s everyone who contributes in their own special way. It truly takes a village, and our village of support is the inspiration.”
Jones, the daughter of Heather and Mark Farrell and Todd and Becky Jones of Fort Dodge, tragically passed away in a 2007 car accident at the age of 15. She was a sophomore student and a cheerleader for Fort Dodge Senior High School at the time.
An event that first served as a coping mechanism of sorts for Jones’s family has turned into a celebration that honors the spirit of both Kayla and the people who loved her through the years.
“We’ve never made it about one school or one type of (scholarship recipient),” Farrell said. “We’re all from the same town. Kids and families have different needs. We didn’t feel like it was right to make it (exclusive). We wanted to reward and recognize as many kids as we could, whether they were from Fort Dodge or St. Edmond.
“Whatever (the Kayla Jones Memorial Scholarship Ride) brought in, we were giving it back out.”
At first, the event — which annually begins at Lefti’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill in Fort Dodge and usually covers a trek of around 120 miles — raised $10,000. Farrell and the organizers decided to distribute 20 scholarships evenly at $500 per individual.
Last August, $60,000 in donations and auction sales meant 30 local seniors were gifted $2,000 each in scholarship funds for the graduating class of 2020.
“It was just really disappointing that we weren’t able to give (the scholarships) out in person (due to the global pandemic) this spring,” Farrell said. “That’s always the highlight of our year: being able to present (checks) to the kids, and getting to know all of them and their families. It really gives us a sense of pride and helps us make that connection in Kayla’s honor.
“We notified both schools (of the winners), and they helped (publicize) it through social media (in June). We did what we could given the circumstances, but we’re looking forward to seeing all of the kids face-to-face again (in 2021).”
Over 400 people participated in either the ride or the festivities afterward last year. The bikes and vehicles made stops at Rails in Eagle Grove, Jerry’s Place in Belmond, Flipside in Lu Verne, Roadhouse in Rolfe, and Antler’s Pub & Grill in Clare, before returning to Lefti’s.
“Merrill and Theresa Lefler (the original owners of Lefti’s) were so good to us when this all started,” Farrell said. “It’s obviously grown a lot in the last 11 years, but Lefti’s is still home.”
This year’s event will be Saturday, Aug. 29. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m., with the group taking off en masse at 11.
A free-will donation dinner, with a live and silent auction and other giveaways, will be offered at Lefti’s after the ride is complete.
“We receive donations from local people and businesses, and also have a lot of unique auction items,” Farrell said. “We sell around 1,000 shirts every year, too.
“Again, I can’t say enough about our community and how it rallies together. We had no idea what to expect or think when this all started. It’s such a testament to the heart and spirit (of the area). It’s gotten bigger and better every year because of you … we’re incredibly thankful to be a part of it, and have it going strong still today.”
2020 KAYLA JONES MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENTS