Motorcyclists Upset With OKC Memorial Museum

Monday, January 8th 2018, 7:24 pm
By: Aaron Brilbeck

Organizers of the world-record-breaking Ride to Remember motorcycle ride are changing direction. They will no longer be donating proceeds to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, because they feel the museum could be spending the money in better ways.

Last year, 1,900 riders took part in the charity ride, raising almost $50,000. The ride has been going on for 10 years, but it stops this year.

"I don't know that they need our donations anymore,” said Ride to Remember organizer David Dunn.

A confidential source with knowledge of the museum says donations are being spent in lavish ways.

"Private jets. Six-hundred-dollar-a-night hotels. Extravagant dinners. All coming out of the memorial's budget." The source said, "When you're inside and see what's going on with that money it's… it can be disheartening."

According to 2015 tax records, the National Memorial and Museum spent $24,568 on travel and another $13,554 on conferences. Executive Director Kari Watkins made $340,143. That's compared to the president of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art who makes $190,626 and the president of the Cowboy Museum, who makes $295,938.

"I can't in good conscience tell them to donate their hard-earned money and know myself that they're spending it on charter jets and luxury hotels,” said Dunn.

Museum Board member Michael Turpen says money raised by the bikers goes toward maintaining the grounds. He believes the criticism stems from a dispute over who's responsible if riders are injured.

"We had to change the rules like a lot of nonprofits in America to come up with criteria where they accept more and more of the responsibility for the liability instead of this board and this entity accepting responsibility for all the liability,” said Turpen.

As for the private jets and the salary of the executive director, "I don't know about private jets or hotel rooms. I really don't know. But we've flown people in from all over the country in the last 20 years. Presidents and public officials of all sorts." Turpen said, "I'm not here to comment on the executive’s salary. Except for the fact whatever we're paying her and I know what that is, it's not enough."

Dunn says the decision to change direction was made before the museum asked ride organizers to accept more responsibility for liability.

Turpen says he is disappointed. 

"We had riders from all over the country, all over the world coming to our sacred ground. They did good work. I'm proud of them. And I really appreciate them for it. So, I'd be glad to talk to them any time anywhere,” said Turpen.

Organizers say the ride will go on April 21, but proceeds will go to the Oklahoma Law Enforcement and Firefighters Memorials and the Emergency Responders Assistance Program.