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Friday, December 24, 2010

New York - Celebration to recall life of Fran Zyglewicz, "last of the true biker chicks"

She put 'mother' in Mother's Roadhouse


EAST GREENBUSH -- Fran Zyglewicz was a maternal presence, always ready with an ice-cold beer and a warm heart, a surrogate mom who befriended scores of born-again Christians, members of the Hells Angels and Harley-Davidson devotees of all stripes who live to ride and ride to live.
She was the wild-maned mama who ran Mother's Roadhouse, a Route 4 honky-tonk beloved by bikers that eventually expanded to include bars in Watervliet and Troy under the Mother's banner.
Mother's was the kind of joint where the proprietor, at 5-foot-2 and 160 pounds of tattooed bulk, with beefy biceps unencumbered by sleeves, did not require the services of a bouncer.
"She could come across that bar in a flash, be on a man as quick as a cat, and have him pinned to the ground before he knew what hit him," said her younger sister, Janet Wade. "She also carried a pocketknife with her at all times. And she knew how to use it."
When Zyglewicz died of cancer on Dec. 17 at age 69 in her hometown of Winthrop, Ark., Harley aficionados and a wide circle of biker friends on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line remembered her as "the last of the true biker chicks" -- though some of her friends used a descriptor that rhymes with stitches.
On her deathbed, she was presented with perhaps the highest honor for someone in her line of work: a gold Hells Angels medallion only rarely given out. It was inscribed with "81 Supports You," an insider numerical code for the letters H and A that designates the notorious biker gang.
"She was some woman, one tough lady. They don't make 'em like that anymore," said Adrian "Bunny" Mather, 71, of East Greenbush, a longtime Harley rider. He noted that she was revered as the founder of one of the first female biker clubs in New York, the Free Spirits, a group tough enough to pass muster with the 81.
Mather worked the door at Mother's Roadhouse in East Greenbush for a couple years and heeded his boss' warning: "Don't ever hit anybody if you don't have to."
Mostly, he kept the peace among various motorcycle clubs who crowded the rustic bar during countless fundraisers the owner organized for worthy causes, people down on their luck, old bikers in need of a helping hand.
Of course, word rarely leaked out about the rough-hewn antics that went on at Mother's, such as the night some bikers hoisted a couple of motorcyles with ropes and brawn into the high limbs of a big old shade tree on the bar's property. Needless to say, they weren't Harleys.
"If you didn't ride a Harley, you dare didn't pull up to Mother's, especially with one of those crotch rockets," Mather said.
They sang to Southern rock and country tunes on the jukebox, an homage to the roots of the owner.
Women occasionally danced on the bar, sometimes feeling the need to shed their tops. "That's when they had a lot of the Captain (Morgan) in 'em," Mather recalled. "Nothing got really obscene. They always put their tops back on and knew how far Fran would let it go."
Fran Wade Brewer Zyglewicz was born and raised in Winthrop, Ark., a dry community. Her parents later owned taverns in Oklahoma and Texas. Their daughter's wild streak ran deep and wide. At 11, she ran away from home and hitchhiked across Texas, which is when she got her first ride on the back of a Harley. She was hooked.
"She was a free spirit even way back then," her sister said.
Their mother and Fran told stories about Fran's encounters with an up-and-coming singer performing in Shreveport, La., by the name of Elvis Presley. As the family recounting goes, Fran was something of a groupie who hung around with the King's entourage. Once, he signed his name to her forearm. Another time, unable to get her attention, Presley pulled a burning cigarette out of her mouth, rubbed it out under his shoe and gave Fran a playful slap across the cheek.
Those Elvis stories were good for a lot of free drinks over the years.
She married and divorced her first husband, James Brewer. She later began dating a champion Texas heavyweight boxer, Dave "Ziggy" Zyglewicz. He holds a footnote in boxing history for a 1969 title bout at the Sam Houston Coliseum in Houston against a young heavyweight champ named Joe Frazier. The fight lasted 96 seconds before Ziggy went down for good in a first-round knockout.
The couple, who have been estranged for years while remaining friends, moved to upstate New York and got into the bar business after their marriage in 1971.
She got out of the business and relocated to Arkansas to be near her family in 2003.
"She was very successful in the bar business, but finally got tired, gave everything away to her kids and anyone else who needed help," her sister said.
Even as she battled cancer, she and a grandson, Toby Cyr Wade, operated joints called Rebel Yell and Wade's Place in Arkansas.
There will be a celebration of Fran's life beginning at 5 p.m. on Jan. 7 at Ziggy's bar on Route 9 in Latham.
Just don't expect any motorcycles in the trees or bare-chested women dancing on the bar that night.
"Around here, the real bikers are gone," Mather said. "That whole era has passed. There will never be a Mother's again."

Reach Grondahl at 454-5623 or at

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