Lee Lazure Spreads the Message to Bring Cyclists TogetherApr 28, 2022 05:15PM ● By Brody Hilgenkamp
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Lee Lazure was always physically active, running for a number of years until his knees started hurting. That’s when he decided he needed a new way to occupy his time and keep moving. He considered indoor pastimes, but was drawn to the outdoors; hunting or fishing didn’t provide much social interaction.
Bicycling, however, checked all the boxes. It also granted him a new life endeavor and a new community.
Lazure, 77, began his cycling journey nearly two decades ago when he bought a TREK 7200 Hybrid and started riding three or four miles per outing. He realized he liked riding because he could listen to music while he rode, and it was an enjoyable way to meet people.
“Everybody who’s on a bicycle seems to get along with everybody else, and it’s a great social activity as well to just exercise,” he said.
After a few years Lazure got more involved with the Omaha cycling community through the Omaha Pedalers Bicycle Club, and eventually he became the vice president of Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska, a 400-plus-mile race that occurs every June.
The Omaha Pedalers organize rides throughout the Omaha area. Some of the rides are weekly outings, such as joining the Taco Ride on the Wabash Trace Nature Trail in Iowa, “rusty spokes” rides on Thursday mornings, or Saturday rides from Waterloo to Fremont and back. The group also organizes signature rides like the Great American Pie Ride—scheduled for May 21—tours of historic landmarks throughout Omaha, and rides to vineyards.
Camaraderie and community hooked Lazure because the rides are accessible to all levels of cyclists, from those who want to ride fast to those who pedal at a more leisurely pace.
“They’re just open to anybody and everybody. No one is left behind,” Lazure said. “They’re a social event as opposed to a race.”
Lazure begins each year hopping on one of his three bikes during warm days in January and February, if weather and trail conditions permit. As the spring progresses, he’ll start doing hill training on the stretch of Highway 75 that runs from Omaha to Fort Calhoun and Blair. Eventually he’ll work his way up to 90 or 100 miles a week during the peak riding season of the summer months. All of the outings organized by Omaha Pedalers and the motivation to ride in BRAN, which Lazure has done nine times, mean Lazure easily rides 2,700 miles in a year. His personal record is 4,104 miles in a year.
“It’s enjoyable to ride by yourself, but it’s perhaps even more enjoyable when you ride with a group of people and you stop to have something to eat, have coffee or beer and you can ride with each other as you’re going down the highway,” he said.
Kim and Doug Scherlie have worked closely with Lazure in promoting the cycling community in Omaha, Kim as the president of Omaha Pedalers and Doug as the president of BRAN. “Lee was always there to help out,” Kim said. “He’s always been a really good supporter.”
Lazure’s biggest impact, they say, has been in promoting BRAN. Lazure first rode in BRAN in 2010, and years later, when he came on board as vice president, he took over the public relations responsibilities. Ridership had fallen into the 300s, because as riders aged out or developed other interests there weren’t new riders coming in to replace them. The previous group that organized BRAN, Northwest Rotary Club of Omaha, had seen its membership decline and no longer had the manpower to organize the event, Doug said. The Omaha Pedalers took over organizing BRAN in 2018.
“There really had not been a whole lot of work done to reach out to people, to advertise what BRAN was about,” Lazure said.
He didn’t have much experience in marketing but had taken some classes in graduate school. His first idea was to place advertisements in magazines like Bicycling and Adventure Cyclist. To accomplish this, he secured grants from the Nebraska Tourism Commission to pay for the advertising. He also enhanced communication with local media, and developed posters and other material to display at bike shops and wellness exhibitions. BRAN has also started advertising on social media. The result was a notable increase in riders—425 rode in 2019, the last year BRAN was held.
“He’s been really good about writing stuff and promoting it, and he’ll call you up and he’s like, ‘Hey, can I knock [an idea] around on you?’” Kim said.
Lazure said his favorite part of working with BRAN is the interaction with the BRAN committee, all of whom are volunteers. The event requires coordination with seven different towns that will have to accommodate more than 400 people in an evening. “You get to know the people in the smaller communities in Nebraska, and they are just wonderful people to work with. They really add to the ride,” he said.
This year’s BRAN will be June 5-11 from Alliance to Wahoo, with stops in Hyannis, Thedford, Callaway, Ord, St. Edward, and Shelby. The course is 424 miles, and the longest stretch is from Thedford to Callaway at 82 miles. It’s the 40th BRAN and is dubbed BRAN 40.2 because the event was canceled the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lazure worked in human resources for 43 years, and he retired in 2015 from his role as the personnel director for Douglas County, one he had held for 10 years. He found his experience working in human resources applied to promoting BRAN because both revolved around recruiting and developing relationships with people.
“When you’re work in the human resources profession, a lot of times you’re dealing with really complicated issues and problems, and in a way getting into the [cycling] organizations and the clubs and so on, I could see where there were a lot of things that could be done for the benefit of the sport and for the benefit of the people,” he said. “In HR, you are an advocate for the employee to make sure they’re well taken care of so you can retain them. In HR you’re constantly trying to take care of the most important asset of the company.”
The Scherlies say Lazure’s work experience is an asset to BRAN. “He not only helps us get the ride going but then he thinks about the post-ride: what we need to do, what we need to ask, what worked well and what didn’t work well?” Kim said.
It’s obvious Lazure enjoys devoting his mental and physical energy to cycling because he is always interacting with people on rides and is so proactive in promoting BRAN, the Scherlies said.
“There’s an old saying when you get off the bike you feel younger,” Doug said. “...It frees the mind and the soul to do a lot of things and it gives you a lot of time to think, but it also affords you the ability to communicate and hang out with a lot of other people too.”
Lazure agreed: “When you retire you kind of feel like, Well, what am I going to do next? And here cycling was a sport that provided enjoyment, it provided people interaction.”
Visit bran-inc.org for more information.
This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.