The Milwaukee Bicycle Collective was started seven years ago. Its main objectives are to provide kids and adults with low cost bicyles and to provide a shared workshop to fix bicycles and learn how to do it. Those who can't afford a monetary donation can donate time to the shop instead.
Through the years the Bicycle Collective, which is now a co-op, has seen hundreds of volunteers, if not more, come and go. But two years into its existence the Bicycle Collective found its most dedicated volunteer: Maurice "Pops" Scruggs.
OnMilwaukee.com, with a little assistance from Collective volunteer Morgan Sawicki, cracked open a beer amid patched tubes, bottles of chain lube and a pile of mismatched wheels to talk to Scruggs about his experience.
OnMilwaukee.com: Where did you get the nickname, "Pops?"
Maurice Scruggs: I don't know. Somebody around here just started it. I guess I was the fatherly figure. When I first started at the collective most of the people around here were younger and I worked a lot with the kids and it just stuck. You know, someone just said, "Pops!" and I said, "Huh?" and it it just stuck.
OMC: How long have you been with the Bike Collective?
MS: I figure I've been here for about, let's see, five years.
OMC: And how did you find out about it?
MS: I had a flat in the winter time one year and I was trying to fix my flat in the cold and I couldn't do it. I kept wasting patches. And a guy said to me, "There's a collective over there. You can go over there." And he told me where it was and I came over and I kept coming over through the winter and no one was ever here. Then finally I came down here one day during the summer and it was open.
OMC: Excellent. That's dedication. I would have given up going after the first couple unsuccessful visits. So you came up here and fixed your bike and stuck around?
MS: Yep. I was a biker and I've been a constant biker, an every day biker since, oh I'd say about 2000. I gave up on vehicles. Or cars, anyway. And I figured this would be a good place for me to be because I've got some mechanical abilities, but there were certain things I didn't know how to do, and didn't have the tools, but I was willing to try and learn.
OMC: Why did you decide to give up cars?
MS: Insurance, gas, maintenance, cost. It was just getting to be too much for me. And I figured out I didn't need it. I had started years ago, instead of getting in my car and driving three blocks to the grocery store I'd get on my bike and go. And that's when I really started it. And I figure wherever go, whenever I move I wanna stay in a range where I can get to everywhere I need to go on my bicycle. And I've been able to do that.
OMC: What's your favorite part about volunteering at the Bike Collective?
MS: The kids. The kids. When I first started here I started working with the kids and it was ... how would I put it? Undesirable. The attitudes of the kids was just horrible and I kinda got a negative attitude working with the kids and then I said to myself, "This isn't right. If I'm gonna work with kids, if I'm gonna make a difference, I have to learn to deal with those kids that are trouble." And that's what we were dealing with. And me and (another volunteer) Jake came up with a plan to deal with them and it's worked beautifully. Those kids that are problem kids know what we expect of them and for the most part they don't come back no more. Now, if they wanted to come back they can, but they just can't run through the shop anymore.
OMC: Last Saturday there was a kids' bike giveaway. How did that go?
MS: Excellent. It went good. I wish we would've had more kids and more bikes. We gave out approximately 15 bikes to kids six years and younger. We might have fudged that age on a couple of them, but their parents were willing and they were good kids, so we just gave them the bikes. But from my perspective I think it went very well.
OMC: It looked like things were going well. Everybody was waiting patiently to pick out a bike.
MS: Well, the key to that is to have one kid with their parent come up at one time. What we did, instead of letting all the kids come up at one time, was if I have three volunteers I let three kids come up to be with those volunteers. They just have to come up and stay with that volunteer and work with that volunteer. Four volunteers means four kids can come up. But never no more than what I have for volunteers.
OMC: Do you have children?
MS: I have two boys. They're grown. One is an electrical engineer and the other is a draftsman. They live at other ends of the country. One is in Kansas City and the other is in Indianapolis.
OMC: Did you teach them how to ride bikes when they were kids?
MS: Yes, I most definitely did. We rode a lot, the whole family did; me, my ex-wife and the two boys, we would take little rides. Maybe only about an hour or so, but you know, nice little rides.
OMC: So, what were you doing before the Bike Collective?
MS: Nothing. I spent a year at home just sitting around doing nothing. Going fishing and doing this and doing that, but ...
OMC: What were you doing before you retired?
MS: I was a food inspector for the City of Milwaukee Health Dept.
OMC: Do you have any horror stories from your food inspection days?
MS: You don't want to hear them. Believe me, you don't want to hear them. I did that for 15 years. Basically on the South Side. And after that I was glad to be retired. I kicked back and thought, "Yeah, I finally made it." Then I got bored. I tried to do a little work on the side. I tried doing a little bit of maintenance work on people's cars but I was getting exploited. Then working on people's houses getting exploited. I tried a temporary agency and the same thing happened. So I figured if I am going to work, I'm not gonna be exploited. I would volunteer to work to help somebody else.
OMC: What do you do besides work at the Bike Collective?
MS: I do a variety of volunteer work. I volunteer at central city churches Outreach Ministry. I volunteer in a food pantry and if you go over and ask them what I do they'll tell you everything. I volunteer at St. Ben's meal program on Sundays running the dishwashing machine. And here. So that's pretty much a full schedule for me.
OMC: So you decided not to sit around and fish all day?
MS: I took about a year off after I retired and I found myself watching TV in the day time. Judges and soap operas and that kinda stuff and that wasn't for me, so I had to and find me some other things to do. I did some part time stuff with these temporary agencies and I couldn't deal with that either. I just couldn't deal with it. Then I got hooked up here and, sheesh, haven't been able to get away. And the same with St. Ben's. I used to go down to St. Ben's a lot and just do volunteer work and just help them maintain the place and "Duh, we need you on Sunday night." Same thing with the food pantry. You know I enjoy it. I enjoy the work and I enjoy the people.
OMC: What do you hope that the Milwaukee Bicycle Collective provides to the city?
MS: A positive direction, especially for the kids. A positive direction. This is one of the reasons I don't like people coming in and saying, "My kid needs a free bike." I don't like that. That's not a good direction. I would prefer them to come in and say, "My kid would like to have a bike and is willing to work for it or willing to do something for the bike rather than for free." I hope for the collective, in terms of the city, is for the kids and the adults that we encounter, we are able to put them in a positive direction or a positive mood. Oh, and of course, ride that bike every day.
OMC: What's the worst part about working here?
MS: I would say there is no worst part. I'd like to get the place more organized, but I wouldn't say that's the worst part. This is something on my wish list. Get more organized, get more dedicated volunteers and I'd like to move forward in terms of expanding and offering more services to people. But there is no worst part. There are things that I definitely want to do more, but there is no worst part. I enjoy it.
OMC: Have you seen any changes since you started volunteering here?
MSs: Most definitely. Now, I'm not patting myself on the back, but it's changed in the way it's been managed. We're pretty loose now, but it was pretty loose before. I think that's attributed to the fact that I know most of the people in the neighborhood because I work at the pantry. And when they come in and I know their motives aren't consistent with what we want here I just say, "You gotta go." I can spot them coming a mile away.
OMC: You're pretty no-nonsense about that.
MS: Yeah. Well, we're volunteering our time, our services, our parts, and hey, we don't have time for that. They should not try to exploit us, which a lot of that has happened in the past.
OMC: Who's your favorite volunteer?
MS: Well, I'm gonna say either-or if I have to make a choice. It's gonna be either-or Jason or Morgan. Actually, I have no favorite volunteer. The people I have been dealing with this year have been dedicated. They're not going to come and volunteer and get what they want and then I don't see them anymore. The people are consistent in coming, not just to get stuff, but to help. If you ask me who my favorite volunteer is I'll say all of them are my favorite. Every single one of them. And if they are gone for an extended period of time I get concearned or worried. You know, I want them to come back.
OMC: Do you have a favorite bike?
MS: Yeah, I'm riding it right now. Well, not right now, I need to fix it. It's my Raleigh Wyoming.
OMC: Why do you like it so much?
MS: It just fits. It's almost like I don't have to shift gears with it. It seems like it just shifts by itself. You know. It's amazing. It goes where it wants to go and does what it wants to do. The Wyoming is by far my favorite. Now I'm riding a Schwinn Le Tour III because I'm working on the Wyoming. But that thing is just beautiful. It just does what it's supposed to do.
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.