Michael T. Rae doesn’t like fund-raising.
What’s worse is that in his work, he’s not permitted to ask his co-workers for contributions. So, there’s no passing of a sheet around the office like most of us see when it’s Girl Scout cookie sale time.
No, when this attorney with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Cleveland needs to come up with the $1,750 entry fee to take part in the Police Unity Tour that travels on bicycle from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., every year, he needs to get creative.
And this year, Rae’s getting pretty romantic.
In previous years, Rae’s done a lot of selling.
“EBay is a great place,” Rae said.
He should know, because he’s successfully taken to the Internet’s largest garage sale to peddle one-of-a-kind items to fund his charity work.
Currently, Rae’s selling “The Kennedy Detail: JFK’s Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence,” by Gerald Blaine. The books are signed by Blaine, who was one of Kennedy’s agents, and Clint Hill, the agent who famously jumped up on the back of the limo in which Kennedy was riding the day he was shot in Dallas.
Also closing out sales this week were copies of “Unbroken,” the story of a former POW’s struggle to readjust to life after war, by Laura Hillenbrand; and “Abraham Lincoln,” a biography by former presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. George McGovern.
Any proceeds raised from sales of this type of merchandise go directly to the Police Unity Tour, which marks its 16th year in May.
During the four-day ride, law enforcement officials from across the country gather to honor those who died in the line of duty.
The first ride, in 1997, consisted of 18 riders. Rae said that in 2011, more than 1,200 took part and that they donated $1.325 million for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
According to www.policeunitytour.com, the charity has donated a total of $8.4 million to the fund since 1997.
And, in 2005, $5 million was pledged to support the National Law Enforcement Museum in Washington. The museum is set to open in 2014 at Judiciary Square in Washington. The area surrounding is home to the FBI’s D.C. office, U.S. Tax Court and D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.
The 55-year-old Rae said he’s participated eight times so far and plans to take part again this year, from May 9-12.
In addition to his fund-raising through collectible goods, Rae is offering another of his many skills to area residents.
Rae, who became an ordained minister when a friend asked him to officiate her daughter’s wedding, said he’s available for hire to those who are getting married or who’d like to renew their vows.
His fee? A $150 contribution to the Police Unity Tour.
Rae is ordained through Universal Life Church Monastery, which helps those interested in performing these types of services get their official licenses online.
His first wedding ceremony united Brandilyn and Bryan Maibach in Tallmadge on Oct. 23, 2010.
His longtime friend, Robyn Fry of Mentor, asked him to perform her daughter’s wedding.
“The kids wanted someone that was special to them and that their ceremony would mean something not only to them, but also to the person involved with the ceremony,” Fry said. “We thought of Mike, and without hesitation, he said yes, filed the paperwork and become ordained — just for them!! He is truly a great friend.”
Fry said having Rae in charge of things gave her great comfort.
“He will do anything for you,” Fry said. “... He is very special. It meant everything to my husband and me to look at the front of the church, see our daughter on her special day — and be in such great care with Mike.
“The truth of the matter is, he will do these things for all of his friends, he is someone you can count on. He is always volunteering for numerous agencies and donating his time and effort to worthy causes. I am so lucky to have him as a friend.”
Rae said he’s performed two other weddings since then, including one for a colleague who got married at the lighthouse on Marblehead.
He said he tailors the ceremonies to the needs of the bride and groom, ensuring it’s exactly what they want. He dresses for the occasion, wearing a suit and stole bearing the symbols of the major religions, but said his is a non-denominational ceremony.
“Anything they want to do, I’m game,” he said. “A lot of people don’t have a home church, so they look for a minister.”
Rae gets quiet when he talks about his efforts to raise money. He said it embarrasses him, and that because he’s limited by federal rules that preclude him from asking for donations from colleagues, he has a more difficult time than those on the local law enforcement level.
Rae is among the charity’s biggest cheerleaders, freely discussing its mission and the joys of taking part.
“I just want people to know the two core statements,” he said. “We ride for those who die. And we ride to remember.”
For those unfamiliar with the Police Unity Tour, it’s a remarkable gathering of active law enforcement officials, who travel 300 miles by bike in memory of those who’ve given their lives in the performance of their duties.
Each rider wears a bracelet bearing the name of a deceased officer.
The riders travel in pairs on the road, as Rae said, in a nod to the “thin blue line.”
“The blue line is meant to depict police officers,” he said. “There’s a thin line between society and chaos, and that’s police officers.”
The riders are led by a team of motorcyclists and tailed by a support team that moves around them while ensuring their safety and preparing meals and tending to other needs.
Once they reach the monument at Judiciary Square in Washington, Rae said riders meet up with the “survivors.” Family members of those who’ve died descend on Washington for a candlelight vigil honoring the fallen on the night after the riders arrive.
Rae described downtime when they get to sit and talk.
“It’s a sorority you don’t want to be a member of,” he said. “I go up and say, ‘what’s your story and why are you here.’ ”
He said during those conversations, he met in person someone he'd corresponded with for months before the ride. Debbie Greene is the mother of a young police officer who was killed Oct. 30, 2010, in Hoonah, Alaska. Anthony Wallace was legally deaf, but worked his way from a troubled childhood to a wrestling scholarship, then on to a job with his four-person force.
When Greene came to visit him from her home in Florida, he took her on a ride-along during which he was shot by what Rae described as a “mentally ill man who held a grudge.”
Rae said the suspect had been arrested by Wallace previously and he retaliated.
During their conversation, Greene asked Rae for directions to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. After he obliged, she confided that her brother’s name was listed on the wall.
They kept in contact after the Tour’s events, and Rae got her hooked up with Concern of Police Survivors, a group that works to help “assist in the rebuilding of the lives of surviving families and affected co-workers of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.”
COPS conducts events, works with families, and is sponsor of National Police Week, which takes place in Washington, D.C., this year the week following the Police Unity Tour.
Rae looks on his time spent taking part in the cycling event as just something he can do for those who have fallen. He thought for a minute and said he thinks he’s taken about two years worth of his annual leave to do the rides.
He said he gets in about 3,000 miles a year on his bike, including 500 to 800 in the months before the May ride.
“I ride the streets,” he said. “We have wonderful street lights in Mentor. When the weather gets warmer (Rae and his girlfriend Martha) hit Lakeshore and the bike paths in Eastlake.”
He said he has struggled with getting time on the bike in the past few months because of the poor weather. This past week, for instance, as been too cold for him to head out. But, he said he’s a common sight in the area.
“The people in Mentor know me,” he said. “They probably think, ‘there’s that nut on his bike again.’ ”
If you'd like to help:
To contact Michael T. Rae about performing weddings or renewals of marriage vows, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call him at 440-974-2070, or 216-849-1542.
To make a donation in Rae’s name, send a check made out to Police Unity Tour to Mike Rae, Attn: PUT, 2400 Orange Ave., 2nd Floor, Cleveland, OH 44101-9726.
Rae sells items as a fundraiser for his entry fees at eBay.com, using the seller name mikemarty48stf.