Raising money to help his community was not on Ron Emard’s radar or even a part of his plan. He was perfectly content riding his Harley and enjoying life; however, that changed in the ’80s when he shifted gears and became one of the most involved and generous contributors to his community.
Ron, 76, doesn’t believe that having a servant’s heart is a choice. “I think it happens to you, it is a calling,” he said while sitting in his office at Harley-Davidson. “If you see something that needs to be done or someone needs help, you don’t think about it much, you’re compelled and you do it. It’s that simple.”
Answering that call, Ron and his wife, Yvette, have raised more than $5 million in support of more than 30 local children’s charities in their Southern California community, the Antelope Valley.
Having a salesman’s personality, Ron said he has always enjoyed interacting with people. His career in automotive sales led him to a general manager position at the North Hollywood Honda dealership from 1983 to 1995, and he then became managing partner of Robertson’s Palmdale Honda in Palmdale, California, from 1995 to 2012. In 2004, he took on a second career while simultaneously running the Honda store as principal dealer at Antelope Valley Harley-Davidson in Lancaster, California, joining general manager Scott Kellerman. They are now co-owners.
“Ron is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met,” said Kellerman, saying that Ron will be the first one to arrive at an event, setting up tents and tables, and the last one to leave, after all the cigarette butts and trash have been picked up. “He certainly doesn’t have to do that.”
Kellerman believes Ron’s checkered past and huge heart have transformed him into such a unique, selfless, and humble person. “Ron has an amazing ability to bring all kinds of people and resources together to serve a common cause, all while having a great time. He is definitely one in a million.”
Volunteering and serving on many boards is part of Ron’s daily job. Organizing his own events, from dealership promotions to citywide events, he isn’t one to wait for anything to be executed; he already has it done before anyone thinks to move.
His philosophy: Never complain unless you have a remedy to fix the situation. “If I had to attribute anything to my success, it’s that I sincerely try to be kind to everyone; if that doesn’t work it’s OK. I smile and keep moving whether or not I have their approval.”
Both Ron and Yvette became extremely busy in their community serving the ones who need it most. The power couple has helped thousands of children including those at the Painted Turtle Camp, Antelope Valley Saddle-Up Therapeutic Riding, The Child & Family Guidance Center, Royal Family KIDS Camp, and numerous schools and food shelters.
“People say I’m lucky but I’m not, I’m just laboring under the correct knowledge,” Ron explained while glancing upward. “In my 20s, I had about a three-year fainting spell that I’m not proud of, but those life experiences often end up revealing what’s most important.”
He claimed it was the prayers of his momma that kept him out of prison. “We have lots of choices in life; what makes us or breaks us, is our response to those choices and then, taking responsibility for them.” As he progressed along in his life, he decided it was time to return to the roots of his Christian faith and has never looked back.
Thunder on the Lot
In 1995, Emard founded a new classic car and motorcycle event, Thunder on the Lot, a two-day event that he originally hosted at the Honda dealership to draw traffic, raise funds for a charity, and create some entertainment.
Little did he know that over the years it would become so enormously successful that it kept moving to larger venues and eventually filled the 100 acres at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds. It wasn’t unusual to see bike club members taking tickets next to Christians flipping burgers while fairgrounds staff poured beer. “We rarely had any trouble at all, we had excellent security and for the most part it was known as a family event,” Emard said.
Thunder on the Lot ended in 2017, and in 2018 the Emards founded a new faith-based, nonprofit organization, Communities for Christ, inviting their community to pray, serve, give, and labor together. Their signature event, GraceFest, is an annual Christian music and message festival that takes place at the Palmdale Amphitheater in Palmdale, California.
With A-level headliners plus national and local performers, the gathering draws about 7,000 people to the main event and 2,000 to the opening, the evening prior.
“When Ron said we were going to do another event, I thought, oh no!” laughed Yvette, “but when he said it was a Christian concert event, I said, in that case, let’s do it!” The first festival gathered 1,200 people. “We just winged it and it was amazing, God’s grace was all over it.”
Brian Littrell of the Backstreet Boys, who was breaking out as a Christian solo artist, was at the debut.
“Brian was such a gracious performer, he even sang a few Backstreet Boys songs for his fans—it was really fun,” she said.
In the early days, Wilson Events handled the production and helped to build GraceFest; however, after becoming a member of the Christian Festival Association and having the opportunity to transfer production to Transparent Productions, things really took off.
Tim Tabor, owner of Transparent Productions, is responsible for producing more than 275 music events a year, including Fishfest, which sells out to a crowd of 15,000 every year in Irvine, California, and is now partners with Gracefest. “People who really get the whole Christian music scene are there to help and support in any way possible,” explained Yvette. “It is amazing what we can all do when we gather together as one.”
Stepping out in faith, doing things they know they aren’t capable of accomplishing on their own, has never deterred the Emards. No matter how many programs, fundraisers, and events they create, they continually learn as they go, acknowledging they could never do it without God’s grace and the colossal support from friends and volunteers.
Linda KC Reynolds began her photography career in the United States Air Force. After serving six years, she worked full-time for Northrop Grumman on the B-2 Stealth Bomber and now freelances for various aerospace companies and other venues. She is passionate about free speech, musical production, and sharing peoples’ stories.