The Big Dreamer…
After Bruce Rossmeyer’s untimely passing in July 2009, many folks have expressed heartfelt sentiments and gave general impressions of a man, who unquestionably, has been of utmost importance to Volusia county’s economy, North America’s motorcycle culture and Central Florida’s community. “He was a great businessman, father and philanthropist,” many have stated. “He was proud to be involved in making Bike Week and Biketoberfest the events they are today,” many more have stated. In the past few months, Bruce has been called a visionary…a legend…an icon. But truth be told, prior to 1994, Bruce had to work hard to garner such accolades. In fact, after being turned down by Harley Davidson’s Board of Directors, Bruce was told that “hell would freeze over before he owned a dealership.” Well, I guess the devil needed a new leather jacket…and Bruce was the guy to sell it to him. Fast forward to 2009 and Bruce Rossmeyer’s name is synonymous with Harley-Davidson’s brand. The largest dealer presiding over the largest dealership in the world which is part of the world’s largest chain, Bruce defied the odds his whole life by dreaming big, living big and working hard. But these details are well known throughout both the local and motorcycle community.
Bruce rolled into town already a veteran of the automobile industry wars. He owned and operated his first dealership, Rossmeyer Dodge in Washington, NJ in 1969. By the time the family moved to warmer climates in Florida, quiet retirement was not part of this general’s battle plan. Jumping back into the auto trade with Daytona Toyota and DeLand Kia, he fought the naysayers at Harley by following his gut…by accelerating his dreams, a phrase that would be featured as his marketing mantra for years to come…by opening Bruce Rossmeyer’s Daytona Harley-Davidson on Beach St. in historic Downtown Daytona Beach. “Like everything he did…it started almost as a hobby,” states daughter Shelly Rossmeyer Pepe. “Who knew.”
Apparently Bruce did…or at least had a vivid dream which later came to full fruition in the shape of Bruce Rossmeyer’s Destination Daytona, located off I-95 and US Hwy 1 in Ormond Beach. In addition to featuring the largest Harley dealership in the world at a massive 109,000 sq. ft., Destination encompasses 150 acres of Biker paradise consisting of an amphitheatre, restaurants, bars and enormous vending areas for Bike Week and Biketoberfest. But again, all this is common knowledge found on any web site blog or biker magazine profile.
But do you know that before 1994, Bike Week was alien to the Beach St. area? In fact, you’d be likely to find 4 bikes anywhere near the downtown area or riverfront park in those days. But Bruce decided to fix that too. “We thought it was going to be another weekend hobby of Dad’s,” says daughter Mandy Rossmeyer. “A little extra work on the weekend. I remember Mom (wife Sandy) and the kids all unpacking boxes of T-shirts in the parking lot. We sold food and drink tickets with the help of just Sonny’s Bar-B-Q and Hooter’s.”
“We had 8 vendors and Dad thought he was Houdini,” adds Shelly. “No one’s ever done this here, but Dad had a vision and he saw the response…and once he started the ball rolling, there was no turning back.”
“I remember the plans for a 17 acre complex drawn on a napkin sitting on the kitchen years ago,” states son Will Rossmeyer. “He had dreams of Destination Daytona for years. He visualized what he wanted and ultimately saw it through.”
In another napkin-related story, Bruce was an avid Orlando Magic fan and food consumer, who on the way back to an aisle seat carrying mustard covered pretzels for the family, proceeded to drop his pretzels on the head of an unsuspecting victim. This motorcycle mogul, captain of industry, pied piper to tattooed road warriors everywhere, spent game time wiping mustard off a stranger’s head. The funny part of the story is that the man was wearing a toupee. Even funnier, Bruce and the follicly challenged man became great friends over the years.
We all know about Bruce’s love affair with his business, but little is blogged about his 46 year love affair with wife Sandy or his undying commitment to his family. Traditionally, Bruce insisted that his entire family – five children/spouses and nine grandchildren were to always be together on Christmas, sleeping army-barrack style in the foyer by the stairs, waiting to open the gifts. Bruce would regularly play Santa with his grandchildren on his knees. “People know Dad as a businessman,” states Mandy, “but he was the best Dad.” In addition to being with his family on every holiday, Bruce always had the need for speed. He tried offshore boat racing, that is until he flipped one too many times and Sandy informed him that his racing days were over.
It’s been well documented that Bruce was a pillar of the community giving back to those less fortunate. It wasn’t just his family that he wanted to provide for but everyone’s family. He walked the walk and talked the talk when it came to donating his money and his time.
Bruce was the founder and served on the Board of Directors of Camp Boggy Creek, a Division of The Hole in the Wall Camps founded by Paul Newman. The biggest fundraising event that benefits the Camp is still his very own “Ride for Children.” Bruce made a commitment to raise $1,000,000.00 in ten years for the Camp and after the 10th Annual Ride was over, proceeds totaled $1,800,000.00 for the kids!! Total funds raised to date total over $4,000,000.00. Bruce also served on the Board of Directors for Boys & Girls Clubs of Volusia/Flagler Counties. His involvement has led to the creation of naming rights to specific B & G Club locations. The Boys & Girls Club unit located in Holly Hill has been named “The Rossmeyer Family Unit” after Bruce committed $100,000.00 to the Club. Bruce was a major player in the fundraising efforts for the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital as well. The Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital named a family sleeping room at the Visitors Clubhouse in “Bruce Rossmeyer’s” honor for his continuing efforts to help the children.Bruce served on the Board of Directors of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County. His main bike related involvement included: Co-Creator and Sponsor of the VQ Bikers Ball held during Bike Week in Daytona and Committee Chair and Title Sponsor of the Bikers Bash held the weekend of the Ft. Lauderdale Toys in the Sun Run. These events have generated over $2,000,000.00 since their inception benefiting the Boys and Girls Clubs.
Bruce had also supported: Jim Moran, owner of Southeast Toyota, in one of Mr. Moran’s leading fundraising events, as a tournament leader sponsor of the “Jim Moran Classic” – with the donation of two Harley Davidson motorcycles. This event supports “The Youth Automotive Training Center”; “Petals & Palettes” fundraising auction benefiting the Ormond Art Museum; The Easter Seals Foundation; Serenity House; The Orlando Magic Youth Foundation with Bruce’s involvement being so appreciated by Richard DeVos, the owner of the Orlando Magic, that the team honored him by rewarding him a jersey with his own name and “number” that was retired; The Darrel Armstrong Foundation supporting premature babies; The Kyle Petty Ride Across America that benefits children’s ; Brian Hill’s Drive for a Cure” to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation; and the Kay Hill Love Affair to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Bruce served on the Police Athletic League Board of Directors for the City of Daytona Beach while his dealership, Bruce Rossmeyer’s Daytona Harley-Davidson, has in the past and continues to lease the City of Daytona Beach their motorcycle police fleet for $1.00 per year per bike. Appropriately, Bruce Rossmeyer’s Daytona Harley-Davidson is the largest dealer of police motorcycles in the world.
“Dad told me that he was involved with all these charitable organizations because almost selfishly…it made him feel good,” states Shelly. “It wasn’t just the money. With Camp Boggy Creek, he watched the barn and the pool get built. Our whole family would ride into the dining hall and the kids would all sit on the bikes. These are the images in my mind that I’ll always remember…the kids in awe of what we were doing for them, and us in awe of their love and appreciation.”
Online and in magazines, there are multitudes of pre-approved photos of Bruce behind his massive office desk, on bikes, posing with celebrities, and presiding over philanthropic events which he sponsored and co-chaired. Iconic images of the man adorn every bit of advertising real estate on property at Destination Daytona. His face, until recently, was plastered on billboards all over Central Florida. And before his accident, he was featured on national TV ad campaigns frolicking with the Giant Geico Gecko. Unfortunately though, you won’t find photos online of Bruce in a Santa suit with grand kids on his knee, in a Hawaiian grass skirt, leather chaps or in his workout clothes on his favorite exercise bike in the Daytona Harley-Davidson gym. In contrast to his millionaire biker image, it would have been nice for the world to have seen Bruce riding the escalator en route to the gym looking like he was going to take on Apollo Creed in some infamous Olivia Newton John music video.
However, your mind can catch a glimmer of these jovial images when you speak to his children, who are striving to keep his legacy of love alive and to make sure their father’s business and philanthropic efforts are bigger and better than ever. It’s these memories and images that resonate through the walls of Destination Daytona and the original Beach Street location. Their eyes light up when they talk about Bruce…the loving husband, father and grandfather…a different person than you’ve read about online and in magazines. A true man and indeed…a visionary, who could not have even conceived building such an empire without the love, passion, vision and caring he gave and received from his wonderful family.
Bruce Rossmeyer was a big man, with big friends, a big belly, big smile, big love and big dreams…and unfortunately, to those who only met or saw the celebrity, he was larger than life. But to his loved ones and friends, he was what their life was all about.
- by Anthony Sica