Dick Cates cycles 200 miles to support River Valley School District endowment fund

Dick Cates has taken some long bike rides in his life. But his latest trek was for a cause especially dear to his heart.

Cates, a senior lecturer in the UW-Madison Department of Soil Science, embarked on a 200-mile, 24-hour bike ride during daylight from Ashland County in northern Wisconsin to Spring Green, where he and his wife currently reside.

Left to right: Dick, Kim, Eric and Kiley (and a first granddaughter soon).

The marathon ride raised money for the Cates Family River Valley School District Endowment Challenge in memory of Cates’ son, Peter. Peter passed away in 1994 at the age of seven after a four-year struggle with childhood leukemia. He was also diagnosed with Down Syndrome at an early age. Peter would be 30 years old this year.

“We started the challenge to support the River Valley School District because the teachers here were so wonderful to Peter, as well as to our two older children, Shannon and Eric. We just wanted to celebrate, and say thank you!” says Cates.

Dick displays a photo of his son Peter, who would be 30 years old this year.

Aiming to embody the spirit of the River Valley School District and its Blackhawk mascot and “ride like a Hawk,” Cates ticked off 170 miles in 17 hours; Dick says he was fortunate to be able to draft behind his son Eric for 50 miles while his wife Kim drove the support vehicle. Cates finished the ride the next morning in 2 ½ final hours; he reports, with a chuckle, he burned about 13,000 calories over the course of the ride.

All told, the endeavor is closing in on raising a total of $20,000 over the past month. The Cates family kick-started the first $2,000 and then an anonymous donor pledged a 50 percent match on all donations.

When he was younger, Cates recalls, he rode his dad’s three-speed Schwinn bike 1,223 miles from Spring Green to Dartmouth College, his alma mater, over the course of 15 days, and later rode a more conventional 10-speed bike across the U.S. And as a child, he would ride to Eagle River with his father, a tradition he has passed down and shared with his own children.

Dick and Eric on the ride.

The RVSD Endowment was established in 2012 to provide “financial assistance, on a competitive grants basis, for teachers who have inspiring ideas about how to enhance student learning, in or out of the classroom,” according to the website.

Cates has been a member of the River Valley School District Board of Education for 12 years, and was recently President. He is also the director of the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers, a business and training program for start-up farmers which he helped found in 1995. Since 1987, he and his wife Kim have co-owned and operated the Cates Family Farm LLC near Spring Green. The farm is a managed grazing, direct-market grass-fed beef business. Cates’s son Eric and wife Kiley are taking over the business.