92-year-old Churubusco woman has a love affair with fast wheels
There is a popular stereotype of little old ladies who drive quite a bit slower than the rest of traffic, peering at the road from under the top of the steering wheel. Sunday drivers, ya know.
That impression just blew apart with Miriam Berger Laisure of Churubusco who loves to go fast, faster and fastest . . . not only in her daily vehicle, a 2008 Ford Edge, or in her 32-ft Georgie Boy Pursuit RV, but also on her pride and joy – a 2003 Gold Wing Lehman trike, on which she tours the country from coast to coast.
This on-the-go cyclist, who loves to party, play cards and is a member of the Red Hat Society of Kendallville, will celebrate her 92nd birthday on July 1st.
Born on a farm, “Berger,” as she is affectionately known, developed an early love for motorcycles and at the age of 20. She partnered with her father to buy their first motorcycle, a 1947 Matchless. A year later, she bought her dad’s half out and from then on, she has always owned a cycle of one kind or another through the years.
After graduation from Central High School, Berger worked at the YMCA and then at Wolf & Dessauer’s department store before spending 42 years at Magnavox as a forklift operator, after which she retired.
The consummate traveler on her motorcycle, Berger has friends all over the country with whom she has gone on cycle trips country-wide and she has even biked to Nova Scotia, Canada. The only states she hasn’t yet cycled to are Delaware, Alaska and Hawaii.
Some of Berger’s cycle menagerie over the decades include an English Indian (one cylinder); a 1957 Triumph; a 1963 Honda Dream; a 1967 BMW (German bike); a 1978 Gold Wing 1000; a 1983 Honda Silver Wing; and a 1983 Honda Gold Wing trike; and in 2003, she had her used Gold Wing Lehman cycle converted into a trike, since Honda didn’t make trikes. That is what she is still riding on.
When Berger joined the Fort Wayne Street Rod Association, she won a new pick-up truck drawing in 1998 given by the club at their Northern Street Rod Association at the Kalamazoo, MI national convention. She turned around and sold the truck back to the dealer and put the money in her funeral account where it remains to this day.
(A motorcyclist friend, who has known Berger 59 years, remembers the event well, saying: “Berger found a lavender dress at a garage sale for $1.00, and her instructions are that she be buried in it. I have never seen her in a dress!”)
When she impulsively married James Laisure in 1949, a widower with three very young children, Berger’s motorcycle friends were a little confused, until a fellow cyclist finally asked the question about the elephant in the room, “Why did you marry a man with kids so young?”
Berger’s retort was a classic: “Because he rode a MOTORCYCLE, of course!”
When Laisure married Berger, he bought a herd of cattle after they built their house in the country. No animal lover, Berger tolerated the cows, even when Jim loved them enough to name every single one in the herd, and then obviously couldn’t eat them – would you eat your friends? Because the couple was gone so much on their cycles or in their RV, the cattle enjoyed the life of Riley.
Later Berger bought a side of beef for their freezer, and when asked how she wanted it cut, she simply said, “Ground.” The couple ended up with 200 lbs. of ground beef.
Berger still has her 1939 Ford Deluxe that she drove to the street rod conventions. But when Laisure died in 1998 after 49 years of marriage, Berger quickly learned how to drive the couple’s 32-ft Georgie Boy Pursuit RV which she continues to drive to Zapata, TX annually on her vacation, towing her Ford Edge behind.
She chortled when telling the story of how she got stopped for exceeding the posted limit in Texas while in her RV, with her car in tow two years ago.
“The officer asked me why I was speeding,” said Berger, “and I said to him, ‘Well, that’s the only way I can meet a man!”
When the officer found out she was a 90-year-old widow, he had a change of heart and just gave her a warning.
For more than 65 years Berger has been a member of the national Motor Maids, Inc. organization and has attended 41 of their annual conventions, including the one last July at the Dot Robinson Road Run in Peoria, Ill. Berger, who is the oldest member in the state of Indiana, plans to attend the 2018 convention in Alabama this July.
Around her Churubusco farm, Berger has done all the chores herself ever since her husband died in 1998.
“I still use my 1972 David Brown tractor for work around the farm,” said Berger, who delights in mowing her own grass and large farm fields each summer on the 40-acre estate where she and Jim built their house and 2 barns and planted the trees along the extended driveway in the 1970s.
The next time you see a little old lady driving slowly down the highway in her old 1970 Buick Skylark, stay in your lane, because another little older lady might be cycle-passing both of you, one whose philosophy might be, a paraphrase of comedian Flip Wilson’s, “If I could marry my motorcycle, I’d roll him right up to the altar!”