Hundreds of Blue Knights are expected to roll into Tyler today for a weeklong international conference, an event that represents a first for Tyler and for Texas.
The 50-member Tyler Blue Knights Chapter 34 is playing host for the occasion that also includes a Thursday morning parade for the public on Broadway Avenue and an afternoon bike show.
About 1,000 participants and guests are expected to attend the conference, with some coming from as far as Austria, Australia, Belgium, Germany and Ireland, organizers said.
“We’re as ready as we’re going to be,” chapter president Richard Cashell said Friday. “We’re looking forward to it. We’ve been planning for it for two years, and it’s finally here … we’ve been practicing, and now we get to actually get into the game.”
Many participants started arriving into the Rose Capital Saturday; hundreds more are expected today. The conference wraps Friday with a private, members-only “Blessing of the Bikes.”
The police organization, started in 1974, has more than 20,000 members worldwide, with 45 chapters in Texas alone.
The nonprofit, fraternal organization is composed of active and retired law enforcement personnel and their families who enjoy riding motorcycles.
Tyler bid for the privilege of holding the event two years ago during the international conference in Billings, Mont., Tyler Convention and Visitors Bureau vice president Shari Rickman said.
Officials predict an economic impact of at least $2.5 million.
Most activities scheduled over the week are open only to members and their families.
A series of meetings is planned for Monday, followed Tuesday and Wednesday by guided and self-guided rides to Jefferson and Nacogdoches and other points in East Texas.
Wednesday plans also include a members-only shooting competition and tours of the Troup facility of Motor Trike, the title sponsor.
The public can show its appreciation to all the officers Thursday when the Blue Knights gather for a parade, with each country flying their respective flags, followed by a bike show.
The parade kicks off at 8:30 a.m. with participants leaving Tyler’s Holiday Inn, 5701 S. Broadway Ave., heading south on Broadway before turning left onto Grande Boulevard. From Grande, riders will head north on Copeland Road and west on Rieck Road, returning to the hotel via Broadway.
The bike show and judging is planned from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Sleep Inn Suites, 5555 Donnybrook Ave., behind and adjacent to Lowes.
For local Blue Knights, it’s been a difficult spring.
The chapter lost two members in less than a month: Will Rider, an officer with the Tyler Independent School District, passed away last Sunday following a difficult battle with cancer; Les Ferguson died June 27 of injuries sustained in a highway accident.
Ferguson, an instructor at the East Texas Police Academy in Kilgore, served as the chapter’s vice president and was in the midst of helping organize the conference when his life was cut short.
“We’ve had several sad months,” retired Texas Ranger and Blue Knight Kenny Ray said Thursday at Rider’s funeral. “We buried another buddy two weeks ago.”
Both officers will be recalled this week during one of the private events, organ-izers said.
East Texas has lost three Blue Knights over the years: Rider, Ferguson and Precinct 2 Constable Frank H. Creath, who died in 2008 following a lengthy illness.