Given terminal diagnosis, 82-year-old St. Paul woman had one last request: Ride a Harley-Davidson motorcycle

16 July 2023

Given only six months to live, St. Paul resident Judy Yaeger-Jones could have asked for anything under the sun to have as her final wish from an organization that makes dreams come true for terminally ill adults.

Her dream?

To ride on the back of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

The 82-year-old, who was diagnosed with a terminal disease and in May and given a six-month life expectancy, took her first motorcycle ride on Saturday — a final ride that came true thanks to the Dream Foundation and the St. Paul Harley-Davidson dealership in Oakdale.

Although Yaeger-Jones had always been interested in motorcycles, it wasn’t until one of her nurses, who rides a bike herself, asked Yaeger-Jones if she wanted to ride a motorcycle.

“I said yes,” Yaeger-Jones said Saturday as she sat in the lounge of St. Paul Harley-Davidson waiting to go on her ride.

The nurse, who was with Allina Health Hospice & Palliative Care, reached out to the Dream Foundation, which has granted more than 34,000 final dreams sin

St. Paul resident Judy Yaeger-Jones prepares for her first – and last – Harley Davidson motorcycle ride, a wish granted to her after she was told she only had six months to live. (Courtesy of Kelly Birch Photography)

ce its inception in 1994, a spokeswoman said.

Before her ride Saturday morning, Yaeger-Jones explained why riding a Harley was her dream.

“I’ve had a lot of good things in my life, but I’ve never rode a motorcycle,” she said.

When she talked to the Dream Foundation, she told them, “There is a sense of freedom in riding a motorcycle. For me, the thrill of the risk is exciting! This will be the last ride.”

Before her ride on Saturday, she said she wasn’t the least bit nervous about it and was in good hands with the professionally trained instructor who would be in the front seat of the bike.

“If you don’t take a chance sometimes in life, you’ll regret it,” she said.

Yaeger-Jones said it had been a “hell of a week” because in addition to her dream being granted, she was also honored by the St. Paul City Council for her work on Women’s History Month projects over the years and her “life of service to the community” in a resolution.

The resolution detailed many of Yaeger-Jones’ numerous contributions to the community over the years, including writing the book “Celebrating 10: 1973-1983,” which documented the founding members of the DFL Feminist Caucus. She also wrote a book about a deaf American poet called “Sweet Bells Jangled: Laura Redden Searing, A Deaf Poet Restored.”

Among her other accomplishments listed, she also wrote the St. Paul Public Schools curriculum for Black history month and women’s history month, the resolution said.

But, the resolution said, her most notable project was researching local Toni Stone, the first Black woman to play in a men’s professional baseball league, and writing a book about her. As a result, the Great American History Theatre in St. Paul commemorated her story in a world premiere production, “Tomboy Stone.”

“Women’s history should be all year round,” Yaeger-Jones quipped Saturday when her work with Women’s History Month projects was brought up.

The 1959 graduate of Central High School in St. Paul said she’d had a lot of friends in high school who had ridden motorcycles, but she never had. Another opportunity to ride a Harley came at a wedding she was attending, but she said she had to pass because she was wearing a dress.

Wearing an orange Harley-Davidson T-shirt and black gloves that said “Meow” to honor her cat that had just “crossed the rainbow bridge,” Yaeger-Jones read the sign she held out loud, “Born to ride, baby!”

When asked why she wanted to ride a Harley instead of say, go to Disney World or something, she said that she and her husband, Bob, had traveled and done a lot of things in their 62½ years of marriage, but she’d never ridden a motorcycle. The idea appealed to her because of the “freedom” it symbolized.

Judy Yaeger-Jones, of St. Paul, sits with her husband of 62 years, Bob, as she prepares for her first motorcycle ride. The 82-year-old’s dream came true Saturday thanks to St. Paul Harley Davidson and the Dream Foundation, which grants wishes to terminally-ill adults. (Courtesy of Kelly Birch Photography)

And when she returned from her ride, the first thing she said was that the ride felt like “freedom.”

“And now, I don’t want to get off,” she said.

She leaned over to the professional trainer, Scott Steffen, who gave her the ride and asked, “How much does one of these costs? No, I’m half serious. But I don’t have room in my garage.”

Her daughter, Angela Flanaghan, said that while her mother didn’t buy a motorcycle after her ride, she did buy a shirt, sweatshirt, glasses and a toy motorcycle and that they stayed at the store for another three hours.

Luke Johnson, general manager of the store, said that when the Dream Foundation reached out “to tell us Judy’s story and special request, it was a no-brainer.”

Judy Yaeger-Jones sits behind Scott Steffen, a professional trainer who teaches people how to ride motorcycles and a retired St. Paul police officer. It was her dream to ride a motorcycle. (Courtesy of Kelly Birch Photography)

He said the dealership was honored that someone in their community’s dying wish was to ride on the back of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and “thought of us when it came time to make that dream come true.”

“It made us all realize that we take getting to ride our motorcycles and experiencing the freedom on a daily basis for granted,” he said.

Listening to Yaeger-Jones talk about how much fulfilling this dream meant to her made Johnson feel extremely grateful that he works for a company that gets the opportunity to help make people’s dreams come true, he said. “I’ll never forget the look on Judy’s face and how happy she was when they returned from her ride.”

Her husband, Bob, said his wife “did really good. She got what she wanted.”

When asked if the ride was what she expected or better, Yaeger-Jones answered, “Better! Better! Better! It was really something! I’d do it again. I really would.”

Yaeger-Jones encouraged others to try something they have never done before.

“Sometimes you have to take a chance and try it,” she said. “If it doesn’t work out, then you’ve learned something. If you don’t take a chance, you’re not living your best life.”

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