Mr. Ross Willard is a central Pennsylvania native and former executive from Norfolk Southern Railroad. He managed night shift operations at Enola diesel shop near Harrisburg Pennsylvania, and retired in 2006. An avid cyclist and bicycle safety proponent, his full-time retirement “job” is volunteering for his community and church. Whether he is working with bicyclists of all ages, roller skaters, the urban poor and disadvantaged, or those who just need a second chance, his goal is to make a useful and lasting difference in people’s lives.
A Modest Beginning: 2001 through 2005
One afternoon in 2001, Ross Willard and some other volunteers were feeding disadvantaged people at a park on Emerald St. in Harrisburg. Ross noticed that most of the bikes that the kids in the neighborhood were riding did not have working brakes.
Ross decided that this was a situation that needed to be corrected. He started repairing bicycles on Harrisburg Street corners, and at block parties and multicultural festivals. At this point, he was working out of his personal car with a small tool bag in the backseat. Gradually the tool bag became a toolbox and the family car became a van that would hold more bike parts. As demand grew, more and more residents looked for Ross around the city to get their bikes repaired free. A small open top trailer was added to the mobile repair facility.
Ross quickly realized that there was far more demand than he could service by himself. He recruited a handful of volunteers to help repair bikes and make them safe for the owners. These volunteers – retirees, bicycle riders and bicycle mechanics – quickly became consistently involved, and became the critical core supporters of Ross’ efforts.
The Vision Develops: 2006
At a League of American Bicyclists Safety Conference in New York City, Ross realized that he needed to have a bicycle repair shop and storage facility for donated bicycles in order to serve the local community. Until 2007, the “storage facility” for all the bikes was Ross’ home: the basement, the garage, and in the yard! He also realized he had to have a name for his operation: Recycle Bicycle Harrisburg was coined.