A legend is defined as, “a nonhistorical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.” It is often overused in todays self-absorbed world, where anything or anyone seem to be characterized as legendary in some quarters, almost to the point of the word being useless in describing and defining an individual. But on this Saturday afternoon at the Elks Lodge 1812 in El Cajon, people came out to celebrate the life of an authentic local legend, Charles “Chuck” Holenda. Particularly for east county
A legend is defined as, “a nonhistorical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.” It is often overused in todays self-absorbed world, where anything or anyone seem to be characterized as legendary in some quarters, almost to the point of the word being useless in describing and defining an individual. But on this Saturday afternoon at the Elks Lodge 1812 in El Cajon, people came out to celebrate the life of an authentic local legend, Charles “Chuck” Holenda. Particularly for east county motorcycle riders, Chuck Holenda was synonymous with Harley-Davidson.
One of America’s greatest generations, it is reported that Holenda rode his first Harley-Davidson to San Diego back in 1942. Then, after serving in the Army Air Corps (the forerunner to today’s U. S. Air Force) during World War II, he worked at Baton-Rouge Harley-Davidson, before travelling to New York and Canada. Returning to San Diego, he worked at National Iron Works, while starting a Harley-Davidson repair shop called The Alamo. Thereafter, The Alamo became his full-time job, which eventually led to Holenda becoming a Harley-Davidson dealer and subsequently moving the dealership to El Cajon Boulevard, where it is located today.
“Chucks greatest passion in life was Harley-Davidson motorcycles. He started dirt racing in 1946–hill climbing and riding trials events on big Harleys. Through the years he participated in desert racing, endurance runs and hare-and-hound runs. Chuck spent over 50 years riding, promoting, and being involved in Harley activities. From 1985 to 1987 he served on the Harley-Davidson Dealer Advisory Council. He also served three terms as president of the Southern California Harley-Davidson Dealers Association and three terms as president of the California Motorcycle Dealers Organization. Chuck was also instrumental in the inception and perpetuation of the Laughlin River Run. In April 1998 while in Laughlin, Nevada, for the 16th annual River Run, Chuck was presented with the Crystal Eagle Award by Dal-Con Enterprises. The Crystal Eagle Award is a perpetual award that remains on display at the Laughlin Automotive Museum and is presented each year to another recipient of importance to the run. After 51 years in the Harley-Davidson business, Chuck sold the dealership in July 1999 and happily retired,” stated his obituary.
In the context of American motorcycling, Chuck was a local leader in the generation that gave birth to the modern-day motorcycle – biker – culture. Perhaps it was first popularized, although in grossly exaggerated terms, in the 1953 movie “The Wild One” starring Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin about a supposed riot in Hollister, California over the July 4th holiday in 1947. Though history tells us the reports were well overblown, a new lifestyle came to be and was embraced by the veterans of World War II. A lifestyle in part captured by the above portion of Holenda’s obituary.
A lifestyle that lives on today, with Vietnam era veterans, like those from the Patriot Guard Riders attending the Celebration of Life to present honors to Holenda. Astride their Harley-Davidson motorcycles and wearing the ubiquitous vests adorned with military patches, they came together to recognize a fellow veteran who is a legend in the local motorcycle community.
One local veteran, who served in the Army in Vietnam, Herb Exarhos, was sporting a bright orange T-shirt commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Holenda Harley-Davidson. Explaining his association with Holenda, he spoke of riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles after returning from Vietnam but stopping for a while due to the requirements of working and raising a family. Once ready to resume riding, he went to Holenda Harley-Davidson and bought a 1997 Road King, the first of five bikes he has purchased from the dealership over time. As Exarhos explained about Holenda, “Without asking, he knocked a thousand dollars off the price. I didn’t ask, and nobody believes me, because he wasn’t known for being easy on prices. But I am a big fan of his.” Purchasing multiple motorcycles from the dealership was not uncommon, as mentioned by Marine Corps veteran Ken Brassell during the instructions he provided the group prior to honors ceremony, citing the four bikes he purchased there. Others remarked upon their knowledge of Holenda, when they met him, and the lasting impact he had on the local biker community, with special comment made of his role in starting the now annual Laughlin River Run. Notable by his presence was New York Myke Shelby, owner of a competitor dealership, San Diego Harley-Davidson. This spoke to Holenda’s lasting impact upon the local biker community and why so many turned out to honor him.
In the instructions provided to the assembled group, Brassell explained that the group would enter in two lines, those carrying American flags at the front. Once in the “big room,” military honors would be provided by members of the U. S. Air Force Honor Guard, including folding and presenting the American Flag and the playing of Taps. The Patriot Guard Riders would then Present Arms in honor of their fellow veteran. Then an explanation of military honors, including the symbolic meaning of each of thirteen folds of the American flag, would be provided by Lorenzo Lizarraga. All went according to the briefing, and then the bikers solemnly filed back out, returning to their bikes.
If “popularly accepted as historical” accurately defines a legend, then the mixture of shared memories and coming together of Vietnam era bikers to recognize a fellow veteran serve to tell the world that Chuck Holenda is indeed a legend. His accomplishments during those 50 years as a Harley-Davidson dealer are absolutely the stuff of which legends are made.