We Were Family: The Mid America Conference of Clubs (MACC) , 1974-2020
Compiled by Robert Ridinger, Historian, MACC, 2021.
In The Beginning…
The history of the leather clubs of the Midwest begins with the founding of a leather night at the Hi Ho Club on Broadway in Chicago, an idea of Chuck Renslow and Dom Orejudos, better known as the physique artist Etienne. They used these nights as a springboard to the establishment of The Gold Coast, one of the earliest leather bars in the nation, which opened in 1960.
(Source: ” The Artist Etienne ” The Leather Journal, Issue 28, November 1991 : 39.)
Mid America Conference: History and Boundaries
The story of the Mid America Conference (MAC ) begins in April, 1969, with the creation of what is now known as the Atlantic Motorcycle Coordinating Council, the first multistate organization of this kind east of the Mississippi. According to the club news highlights for 1969 published in the last issue of WHEELS, the magazine of Cycle M.C., the founding clubs of the AMCC were 2nd City of Chicago, the Vikings of Boston, SMCLA and the Spartans of Washington, D.C. Its insignia was designed by Roger Torkelson of Second City, and the summer run hosted by Second City M.C. of Chicago in Michigan in July, 1969 was its first ” official ” run. In the same month, Empire City M.C., the Rocky Mountaineers of Denver and S.N.C. joined the AMCC. In February, 1970, the AMCC changed its name to the Atlantic Midwest Coordinating Council and WHEELS was ” designated best vehicle for disseminating Council news.” The importance of this organization is that it provided a model for all later regional conferences such as the MAC. The AMCC met quarterly, and gradually clubs outside the area began to be aware of its existence. It thus served as the model from which all subsequent organizing of leather/levi clubs in the East, Midwest and South would be drawn.
The Atlantic Motorcycle Coordinating Council (AMCC)
Second City M.C. of Chicago
An entry in the June/July 1973 issue of LINKS, newsletter of Second City M.C. of Chicago, records the foundation of the conference in some detail.” On Saturday afternoon, during 2 Becomes 8, our Captain hosted a brunch for the President and one other member from each club in attendance. After the brunch, a short meeting was held to give birth to the Mid-West Conference. It was decided that no officers would be elected, no clubs voted in or out, and that any club that considered themselves a Midwest Club would be invited to participate. Attending the meeting were representatives of the following clubs: Unicorns (Cleveland), Cin City ( Cincinnati ) , Tribe ( Detroit ), Atons ( Minneapolis ), Silver Star M.C. ( Milwaukee ), Chicago Knights ( Chicago ), Hellfires ( Chicago ), 2nd City ( Chicago ) and the Omaha Meatpackers. Attending as guests were the Vanguards and Keystone Riders of Philadelphia. It was decided that we would attempt to attend each other’s functions as much as practical. However, since most of us have limited funds, we decided that we would promote one major event for each club during any given year.” The date was April 28, 1973, marking the beginning of several decades of growth and change across an area stretching eventually from Denver to Columbus and from Green Bay to New Orleans and Atlanta. The “Captain” mentioned in the article was Frank Thomas, president of Second City. He had been a member of Wheels M.C. in New York City and had moved to Chicago and joined Second City, taking office as Captain in February 1973, two months before he chaired the meeting that created the Mid-West Conference.
In the November, 1974 issue of WHEELS, the monthly club news magazine issued by Cycle M.C. of New York City, which printed news reports from many clubs within what was then termed the Atlantic Midwest Coordinating Council in the column Inner-Cycle, note is taken of the resignation of Atlantis MC from the AMCC, a note which reads in part ” we believe that the efforts we have exerted in AMCC can be more productive by participation in the Mid-West Council.” It would thus appear that the one of the initial original names of what was to become known as the Mid America Conference was the Midwest Council, said name being modeled on the AMCC name. It was also known as the Midwest Conference, a reference made in the history of Second City M.C. written by Don Kubiak in the spring of 1975, viz. ” part of the history of 2nd City M.C. must, of course include its part in the formation of the Midwest Conference, which is today called Mid-America Conference.” (italics Ridinger) . The Atlantic article fits with the known data from the Midwest, where the new body formed in September 1974. The name Mid America Conference was apparently established as the chosen organizational name by the spring of 1975. The formation of the MAC was apparently the result of at least two meetings of club delegates or officers from groups within the region. This is indicated by a news report from the March 1974 issue of WHEELS noting that the 1974 ” Do A Fool ” run in Detroit sponsored by Tribe MC in April ” was also host to the second Midwest Conference.” It is possible that the date we celebrate each September reflects the date of formal incorporationrather than actual founding.
The Mid America Conference of Motorcycle Clubs, Inc. formally incorporated as a nonprofit organization in the State of Illinois in 1974.
Clubs which existed in the future MAC region as of 1974 were the Atons of Minneapolis, the Stallions of Cleveland, Tribe MC of Detroit, Second City of Chicago. Chicago Hellfire Club, the Argonauts of Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Knights d ‘Orleans, Chicago Knight, Unicorn MC of Cleveland, Gateway MC of St. Louis, Atlantis MC of Atlanta, the Celtic MC of Jackson, Mississippi, Silver Star of Milwaukee, The Pride, Chicago, the Selectmen of Detroit, and Rodeo Riders. It was out of this group that the founder organizations of the MAC came.
By March 1975, membership in the Mid America Conference stood at twenty-four clubs. They were: Unicorn M.C., Stallions, Tribe, Selectmen, Cin City, Atons, Chicago Knights, 2nd City, Hellfire, Pride, Trade Winds, Argonauts, Silver Star, Gateway M.C., Falcons, Meatpackers, Breeders, Wranglers, Houston M.C., Celtics (3 chapters ), Atlantis M.C. and the Rocky Mountaineers.
(The above list is taken from an article posted to WHEELS magazine by Tad Currie of Atlantis M.C., coordinator of the conference, in March 1975). This number had grown to 26 by the annual business meeting and election of officers held in New Orleans on October 9, 1976, jointly hosted by the Celtics M.C. (celebrating their fourth anniversary) and the Knights d ’Orleans, then one year old. At that meeting, the Blue Max M.C. of St. Louis was seated in the house of delegates, bringing the Conference to 27 clubs. Three additional clubs were also proposed for membership at this meeting.
The "Times of Turbulence“: 1978-1985
The Argonauts were the first club to raise objections to the way the MAC was being run.
A conflict over scheduling for both a planned all-conference run scheduled for August 29- September 1, 1980 in Kansas City, Missouri (which did not then materialize) and the annual event mounted by Chicago Hellfire Club, Inferno, occasioned the following formal resolution, drawn up by Hellfire in April,1981:
Concerning Structure and Purpose Of Mid-America Conference of Clubs
Chicago Hellfire Club (Incorporated as Windy City Hellfire Club )
WHEREAS: It appears that the present structure of Mid-America Conference of Clubs has proven unwieldy as evidenced by:
—The inability of the Conference to promote and execute a run since 1975
—The disillusionment of the member clubs resulting in their withdrawal from the Conference
—Breakdowns in fulfilling the purpose as stated in the Bylaws of run coordination, and
WHEREAS: There are indications that the Conference has strayed from the purpose for which it was founding (sic) with Chicago Hellfire Club as one of the founding members, and,
WHEREAS: The underlying concept of brotherhood has not optimally materialized,
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED: That Chicago Hellfire Club move the formation of a committee to re-evaluate the goals, objectives, purposes, and structure of the Mid- America Conference of Clubs, and,
THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That this committee be charged with the responsibility of creating recommendations and workplans for restructure, and,
THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That this committee be instructed to present a progress report at the October Mid-America Conference of Clubs meeting and a final report with recommendations at the spring 1982, meeting of the Mid-America Conference of Clubs.
(A copy of the resolution was given to the MAC historian by Dr. Anthony De Blase.)
By the time Peter Thomas succeeded Al Kraudelbach of the Conductors as coordinator of the MACC in 1986, there were only six clubs remaining as members, and the future of the organization was in serious question. Gradually, under his leadership, the disruptions which had led to the resignations of many member clubs were resolved, and by 1998 the MACC had regained a large number of the clubs of the Midwest as participants, with 30 clubs seated in the house of delegates.
This history was also memorialized by an exhibit prepared before IML 1997 by Rob Ridinger, then historian pro tem, which illustrated the present MAC area, listed all past and present member clubs, and used pins from the collection of the Leather Archives and Museum to illustrate their existence, beginning with the black and silver pin of Second City. The exhibit remained up at the Leather Archives on Clark Street in Chicago from May 1997 to May, 1998.
On May 16, 1998, a formal presentation of the colors of the Mid America Conference was made to the Leather Archives by Peter Thomas, assisted by Ed Luisi, MAC delegate of the Rodeo Riders of Chicago and his partner Paul. The donation consisted of three panels, the central one being a framed MAC back patch with a plaque underneath bearing the date of presentation. The left panel was made of the information brochure of the conference displayed front and back, while the right showed two maps of the MAC physical area marked in yellow, the top showing the original boundaries as specified in the Constitution, the bottom illustrating the present boundaries, following the departure of the Texan groups in 1976 to form the Texas Conference of Clubs (TCC) and the resignation of the Rocky Mountaineers of Denver. Receiving the donation was Joseph Bean, archivist of the Leather Archives and Museum, with MACC historian Ridinger there as formal witness and recorder.
The MACC entered the 21st century under the leadership of Peter Thomas of the Rodeo Riders, whose sixteen years of service ended with his resignation in 2002. He was succeeded by Steve Chaisson of the Conductors of Nashville, who was elected at the Fall 2002 MACC meeting held at the Corn Haulers Dr .Seuss run in Des Moines, Iowa in September 2002. His term lasted until August 21, 2004, when Threasa Rushing of the Corn Haulers assumed the office of president, the first woman to hold the office since the creation of the conference. She was succeeded in 2010 by Sam Carlisle of the Atons of Minneapolis who served until 2016. His successor from 2016-2018 was Brad Borenson of the Argonauts of Wisconsin, who passed the office of president in 2020 to Michael Ferry of Blue Max, who had formerly served as MACC secretary. The MACC had also adopted the use of conferencing software to make meetings of the house of delegates more convenient prior to the more widespread adoption of this technology seen as the pandemic continued.
Prior to the emergence of the COVID pandemic in the spring of 2020, several veteran club leaders of the MACC passed away- Peter Thomas (2016), Sam Carlisle ( 2018 ) and in late 2020 John Owen, one of the founding members of Leather United Chicago.
There were significant changes within the membership of the MACC during the first two decades of the twenty-first century. In 2006, the Knights d ‘Orleans, long a major institution in the leather life of New Orleans, formally disbanded, followed in 2010 by the Rodeo Riders of Chicago.
On September 17, 2011, at the fall MACC meeting held in Minneapolis and hosted by the Minnesota Storm Patrol, the host club stunned the house of delegates that they were dissolving effective at the end of the run. Eight years later, the Panther LLC of Atlanta sent out a letter informing the national leather community that after thirty-one years of activity within both MACC and the Southeastern Conference of Clubs, the members had vote to disband the club and that its colors would be retired and hung in the Atlanta Eagle.
The opening year of the new century witnessed the birth of two new clubs, in the Midwest the Chicago Leather Club and in the land of Louisiana the Crescent City Outlaws of New Orleans. The leather heritage of Memphis was reborn in 2015 with the founding of HOIST, and the imagery of the lighthouses of the Great Lakes was added to the MACC with the creation that same year of the Michigan Leather Lights. Downriver, in 2016 St. Louis witnessed the birth of a new club drawing upon the imagery of the gladiatorial swords of Rome as the Rudis Mens Leather Society.
A new type of leather group centered upon teaching and supporting the leather lifestyle was born out of a discussion in September 2011 by members of the central Iowa kink community, followed up in July 2012 by the first organizational meeting of the Titans of the Midwest. Declaring themselves in the Mission Statement to be “ a nonprofit social organization whose mission is to provide education and guidance to further the development of knowledge and skills of the Midwest kink community “, their membership would eventually number more than 150 individuals in fourteen states and Canada.
The first two decades of the new century were also marked by the deaths of several of the leaders of both individual clubs and the MACC. The first occurred in 2016 when Peter Thomas, longtime president of the conference and senior member of the Rodeo Riders, passed away at his home in Chicago. His overlay with club colors was then presented to the uniform exhibit at the Leather Archives and Museum. Two years later, Sam Carlisle of the Atons of Minneapolis, who had served as MACC president from 2010 to 2016, died in hospital, leaving a permanent gap in the leather community of Minnesota and the upper Midwest. The pandemic year of 2020 also saw the death in December of John Owen, one of the founders of Leather United Chicago. May they rest in peace and their memory continue to brighten the world.
Runs and Anniversaries
During the early twenty-first century, runs continued to be held across the MACC, growing and developing with a variety of themes. The joint runs hosted at the Farm in Hilbert, Wisconsin by the Argonauts and the Castaways continued to be held from 2000 to 2016. The Castaways celebrated their 25th anniversary with the Argonauts in August 2004 with the run theme of “Campin’ It Up: Broadway Style “The MACC fall 2004 meeting was also hosted at this event on August 21, 2004.
In Iowa, the Corn Haulers hosted their Corn Ball between 2000-2008, while in Missouri the KC Pioneers greeted their guests at Trail’s End, and across Lake Michigan the Grand Rapids Rivermen kept up the tradition of Hug Me .
Between 2000 and 2012,, the Atons hosted their Gopher run at Flandrau State Park in New Ulm, Minnesota and drew upon the unique cultural heritage of Minnesota., beginning in 2000 with Gopher XIV, “ The Legend of Paul Bunyan.”Gopher XV, The Exxxtreme Run, held from July 19-21, 2002 marked the 30th anniversary of the Atons of Minneapolis and was also the site of the Spring 2002 meeting of the Mid America Conference of Clubs. The opening ceremonies of this event were held on the Friday evening as soon as full dark had fallen. All club delegates and their alternates (or GDIs filling in for them ) assembled in alphabetical order and processed down to the flat bed of the former lake near the lodge, where the one not carrying the club colors was given two white candles. A semicircle of unlit tiki torches had been set up, with the open side facing west. Central to that side was an altar set up with a small gold pyramid atop it, out of the top of which flames came, and next to it a large burning brazier of coals. Behind the altar stood all members of the Atons in full uniform in front of a line of lit tiki torches. President Sam Carlisle stood behind the altar and began the ceremony by reading the names of all Atons who had passed on. He then ordered that each club, when called, should come forward into the firelight, and light its candles from the brazier, then proceed left or right in sequence to the outer ring of torches, which they would then light. At the end of the ceremony, an arc of leathermen and women in full dress uniforms, representing clubs from as far off as Columbus, New Orleans, Chicago, Omaha, and Kansas City stood there, figures illuminated by the flickering light. Carlisle then read out the names of the Atons by decade, beginning with founding member Jim Courtney and proceeding to the newest member, who was then given a torch and sent into the dark behind the line of torches, carrying a torch that trailed after like a comet’s tail. With a great whoosh, a trio of interlinked Xs was suddenly illuminated by fire, and the run was pronounced open. Ten years later, in 2012, the 40th anniversary of the Atons based its imagery on the Egyptian symbol for life, the ankh, long a part of the club’s heraldry, with the theme for Gopher XX “Valley of the Kings.” And a purely Midwestern stereotype was deftly parodied in 2017 at the Hilton Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport, Bloomington by Gopher XXI held July 14-16, 2017, using as its theme Minnesota Naughty. 2012 was also the last year that Black Frost held a formal run.
Notable club anniversaries were in the first two decades of the new century. In 2008, the Iron Eagles celebrated their 10thanniversary. followed in 2010 by the 35th anniversary of the Rodeo Riders of Chicago, Sadly, this was the final run for them, with a formal farewell penned by Foreman Peter Thomas included in the text of the run book. 2012 marked the 40thanniversary of the Atons, and the Argonauts/Castaways Joint Run August 15-17, 2014, at Hilbert, Wisconsin (themed as “The Fabulous Forties “) Hilbert, Wisconsin celebrated both the Argonauts 40th Anniversary and the Castaways 35th Anniversary. The men and women of Trident Windy City marked two anniversaries during this period, the 10th (2002) and the 25th ( 2017).
The MACC and the Leather Archives
The MACC has the distinction of being the only multistate leather organization whose heartland houses the Leather Archives and Museum. Since its founding in, its collections have been enriched by the contribution of colors, pins, and memorabilia from the entire chronological span of the MACC. The personal leathers collection also contains the vest of MACC president Peter Thomas.
Conference history was first memorialized at the Archives by an exhibit prepared before IML 1997 by Rob Ridinger, then historian pro tem, which illustrated the present MAC area, listed all past and present member clubs, and used pins from the collection of the Leather Archives and Museum to illustrate their existence, beginning with the black and silver pin of Second City. The exhibit remained up at the Leather Archives on Clark Street in Chicago from May 1997 to May 1998.
On May 16, 1998, a formal presentation of the colors of the Mid America Conference was made to the Leather Archives by Peter Thomas, assisted by Ed Luisi, then MAC delegate of the Rodeo Riders of Chicago and his partner Paul. The donation consisted of three panels, the central one being a framed MAC back patch with a plaque underneath bearing the date of presentation. The left panel was made of the information brochure of the conference displayed front and back, while the right showed two maps of the MAC physical area marked in yellow, the top showing the original boundaries as specified in the Constitution, the bottom illustrating the present boundaries, following the departure of the Texan groups in 1976 to form the Texas Conference of Clubs (TCC) and the resignation of the Rocky Mountaineers of Denver. Receiving the donation was Joseph Bean, archivist of the Leather Archives and Museum, with MAC historian Ridinger there as formal witness and recorder.
Subsequently, the MACC made presentations of unique banners featuring patches from all member clubs to the Archives to mark significant anniversaries of the conference , as well special anniversary pins.
The MACC set up its first website in 2002, which listed all member clubs and officers of the conference and remained active until its redesign in 2016. It featured the map shown here. Late in the first decade of the new century MACC President Sam Carlisle asked Andrew Bertke to take over management of the page handling website business and the domain registrations. He moved the site and registrations under to his Dreamhost account and has been hosting it since that time. The original appearance of the site was maintained for a few years occasional updates to the clubs and the officer pages. In the Fall of 2015 Andrew rebuilt the HTML site and added the MACC Google Calendar. In August 2016, he assisted MACC President Brad Borresen to set up the site as a WordPress site, which he maintained until the end of 2020. In the spring of 2021, Andrew and Matthew Novotny built a new WordPress site.
Into the Future
The MACC has long been home to men and women with vivid imaginations, creative spirits, and above all a sense of community within the widely separated leather community of the land reaching from Minnesota to Louisiana to the Great Lakes. The demonstrated adaptability of the MACC to new connective technologies and its determination to survive and prosper through changing and challenging times promises that the story written in the lives of the its members will continue to successfully evolve into later generations.
Copyright RR July 2021