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Curtis Gay: Don’t judge a book by the cover
Bikers with hearts of gold raise thousands for local kids at Christmas
Curtis Gay
Curtis Gay smiles as his wife, Jeanie hitches a ride in the sleigh he uses to bring Santa Claus to town for Santa's Toy Run each year. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT

Curtis Gay has loved motorcycles since he was a kid. He grew up riding dirt bikes, and as an adult, he’s loved riding on his own and with local clubs. 

“I started out with mini bikes when I was 7 or 8 years old. I always had a dirt bike or something growing up. Never had a street bike until I got married,” he said. 

Gay grew up in Hampton, Georgia, near Atlanta, where his father was an air traffic controller. But he spent his summers in Register, where his grandparents had a farm. That’s where he fell in love with Bulloch County. 

After he graduated from Henry County High School, Gay went on to attend Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, and graduated with an associate’s degree in agriculture. After that, he headed straight for Register to farm with his grandparents. 

It was during that time that he met his wife, the former Jeanie Rushing, who is from Register. The couple married in 1980, and he farmed there until 1983. Gay says he still had his dirt bike at that time, and he and Jeanie rode it a lot, “just dirt roads and stuff.”

Gay says that things weren’t great for farmers at that time, so he and his bride moved to Atlanta, where she could put her degree in computer programming to work. They moved to Hampton, he went to work for the post office, and the couple made it their home for 10 years. 

The family grew as the couple had two daughters, Kelli and Emily, and Gay found that he didn’t have as much time to ride as he would like. But he found that the dirt bike wasn’t really working for him for long distance rides, and so he purchased his first street bike, a Honda Gold Wing. 

While his family was in Hampton, Gay made a childhood dream a reality.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’d always wanted a Santa Claus sleigh for some reason,” he said, laughing. 

He had just started working for the Griffin post office, and his coworkers wanted to have something ready to participate in the Griffin Christmas parade. 

“So I told Daddy I want to build a Santa Claus sleigh. So, on Thanksgiving Day, me and him got out there with some lumber, and we laid this thing out and built it,” he said. 

The sleigh made its debut in the parade that year, and after that, Gay used it mostly for yard decorations and for “messing around with the kids at home.”

When 1994 rolled around, the young family moved back to Register, and Gay became a letter carrier for the local post office, retiring recently from the post office after a total of 30 years.  Gay brought his motorcycle to his new home, and he soon got involved with some of the motorcycle groups in Bulloch County. In 2003 he became a member of the Gold Wing Road Riders. He has since served as president of the club.

That first year he joined, the Gold Wing Road Riders were hosting a Christmas party for the battered women’s shelter that year, and Gay figured it was time to dust off the sleigh, and pull it using his motorcycle to the women’s shelter for all the kids there. A fellow club member dressed up as Santa and went along for the ride. 

“It was a big hit,” Gay said.

Such a big hit, in fact, that a representative from the Statesboro Mall contacted him and asked if he could bring Santa to the mall in the sleigh. He did so, with the help of about 10 friends riding along with him. 

Gay had been involved with Santa’s Toy Run for about three or four years, and they decided to combine the mall run with that. Early on, the toy run benefited children as they worked with the Department of Family and Children Services, and then as the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office came on board as a sponsor, they began to work with Fostering Bulloch. Gay says Fostering Bulloch is the best place for their support during the toy run. 

“It was a lot of the same kids,” he said, adding that this is the third year they have worked with Fostering Bulloch. “They’ve been great to work with. They’ve been real appreciative of anything we do for them.”

The toy runs throughout the years have grown in support, but also in the funds they raise. Gay says that with this year’s run factored in, they have raised around $70,000 worth of toys and money.

The toy run was a joint event with the mall for several years, until they outgrew the venue, and needed more space. More bikers wanted to participate, and the space at the mall just wasn’t large enough any longer. These days, the toy run ends at the Harville House Barn. 

“It’s a really nice venue and there is plenty of room for us to spread out,” he said, adding that this is the 19th year of the toy run. Last year, there were about 170 motorcyclists that participated, and he’s expecting about that same amount this year. 

When asked what kind of difference an event like the toy run makes for local children, Gay smiles.

“I believe it makes a big difference,” he said. “Everybody has always told us, even when we were doing it with DFACS, that what we donated was a big part of it. I think a lot of them wouldn’t have a Christmas. That’s one thing I can say about motorcycle riders — they get a bad rap, you know, with the bad images some of them give off. But the community, we’re like a family almost. They’re the most giving people.”

Gay is quick to point out that he has lots of help, and that he couldn’t do the toy run without the people who donate their resources and time. 

“I have to mention Mr. Lowell Baughn. He was the mall Santa when we started in 2003 and he stayed with me until he retired in 2017. After that, Larry Bumbalough put on the red suit and has been our Santa ever since. Also, James ‘Bubba’ Revell was very supportive of Santa’s Toy Run from the beginning. Bobby Durden has been my right hand working on this toy run. Cindy Durden has been a driving force as well,” he said. He also credited his church, Register Baptist, for helping with the cooking and serving of the meal at Santa’s Toy Run.

Gay has also been a part of the Southern Thunder Cruisers, and was president of that club for a while. He is also an active member of the Christian Motorcycle Association, and is now the local chapter president. CMA offers support to the local clubs, and Gay says he’s proud to be a part of the organization, just as he’s proud of his local biker family.

“Anything you need, you put the word out, and a group will come up and try to help you the best way they can,” he said. “If it’s got to do with children, they’ll come out in droves for that. I’m honored to be a part of this family. We’re a biker community; we’ve got everybody’s back.”

But even though he knows the hearts of his biker friends, Gay is well aware that others may have an inaccurate perception of them.

“I hope people realize that you can’t judge a book by the cover. They may look like big ol’ mean hardcore bikers, but all of them have a heart of gold,” he said. 

Gay knows this firsthand, as he has worked with helping to establish some local biker churches in the area. He’s not a preacher, but he has been able to use his connections to help get things set up. 

“Junior Elkhatib, Bill Galloway and I started a traveling biker church that we dubbed South Georgia Biker Church. From this, Pastor Robbie Goodman established Living Free Biker Church in Savannah, the only full-time biker church in our area,” he said. 

Gay smiles as he tells how Goodman came to pastor his church, and how his conversion was the direct result of a biker church event. 

“To look at him, you’d never know that he was a pastor. He’s rough, tough, got a beard down to here, tattoos all over him. But he’s one of the best preachers. He’s on fire for the Lord,” he said of Goodman, who he says, 10 years ago, was as “bad as they come.”

“He wouldn’t even talk to you if he thought you wanted to talk to him about the Bible,” Gay said. But Goodman attended a “hardcore biker event” at Big Roy’s near Sylvania, and hung out near CMA’s campsite. Gay says he was standoffish at first, but after building some relationships there, he came to faith. 

Gay says the appeal of biker churches for the riders is easy to see. In addition to riding to church, the bikers find it is a place of acceptance.

“A lot of these guys, because of their appearance, a lot of churches will turn them away,” he said. “I hate to say that. But they don’t feel welcome. So we’re trying to give them a place where they can be themselves, they’re among people that they have something in common with. We’ve reached some people by doing this that I don’t think otherwise would have set foot in a church.”

Overall, Gay says that riding motorcycles has been a real blessing for him. He has ridden in every state in the Lower 48, and he loves that riding has also provided him with ministry opportunities. He still rides a Honda Gold Wing, and still has his first one, as well as some dirt bikes that he rides. 

His daughters are now married: Kelli married David Gillis, and Emily married Jon Cain, and they are the parents of Gay’s only grandchild, named Shepherd. 

And Gay grins as he says that he is hopeful that someday, his grandson will be able to ride with him.