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Jeff Dean:
A friend of the marque

(7/31/2011)

While he was studying architecture at Yale in 1963, Jeff Dean noticed numerous black motorcycles going into and coming out of an alley across Chapel Street from the Yale Art Gallery.  He had no idea what they were, but he thought they were unusually handsome.  One day, he walked up the alley and talked to a mechanic working at a place called Libby's Sales and Service.*  The man was working on one of the black motorcycles.  Dean asked, "What are these?" and in a German accent the man told him all about BMWs, their quality, and why they are special.  Dean relates, "I couldn't afford one, but I started buyingBMW owner's manuals for the various models for $1.50 each.  At that time they were printed in three languages, and I would read and cuddle them."  It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair.

Jeff Dean was born in Madison, Wisconsin, in March 1940.  After high school, he earned a BA from Lawrence University in Appleton, and then studied architecture at the Yale School of Architecture.  Having been infected by the unaffordable BMW bug, Jeff bought a 150cc Vespa GL, which, on one occasion, he rode from New Haven to Manhattan and back.  He recalls, "New York City police were using Vespas at the time.  I saw a scooter cop giving a guy a ticket, and I thought that was cool so I stopped and took his picture."  He adds, “I used the Vespa to commute to a part-time job as a reporter for The Waterbury Republican."  About his time at Yale, Dean adds, "I decided I was never going to be the second coming of Frank Lloyd Wright, so I left and returned to Wisconsin where I got a job as a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.”

Later, Dean took a job with the Madison City Planning Department, and over time progressed to the position of Principal Planner.  Now gainfully employed, Dean bought his first BMW, a year-old 1967 R60/2 (pictured above right).  He laughs, "The guy I bought it from told me I had to put oil in the gas.  One day it quit running, and I learned I had gummed up the valves.  What did I know?  It made sense because it is what I had done with my Vespa." 

Dean noted other BMWs around Madison, so he printed a flyer announcing the date of a get-together and put them under the seat straps of BMWs he saw parked around town.  He recalls, "On the evening of the meeting, twelve people showed up.  I couldn't believe the response.  There was evident common interest, and we formed the Madison BMW Club."  Organizing became one of Dean's fortes, and in 1972 he became one of five men who met in Chicago on a 13-below-zero winter day to form the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America (BMW MOA). Pictured above left are the founders of the BMW MOA, from left to right: Vern Hansen, Dean, John Moore, Charlie Smith, Frank Diederich.  Later, with John Harper (pictured with Dean above right), he co-founded the Vintage BMW Motorcycle Owners, Ltd. 

The year prior to buying his first R60/2, Jeff married Jill Weber (pictured left), who would later become the editor of Wisconsin Trails Magazine and eventually earned a degree in law at the University of Wisconsin and became a partner in a local law firm.  Jill is supportive of Jeff's intense involvement in motorcycling, but did not share his enthusiasm for actually operating one.  Dean relates, "Jill took a motorcycle rider course in 1989, and I took the class with her.  One day, in a pouring rain, she climbed off her bike and walked off the range.  That was it for her.  However, I enjoyed the course so much that I thought I would like to become a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) instructor."  Jeff earned his instructor license the following year. In 1994 became an MSF Chief Instructor, which was later renamed Rider Coach Trainer.  On a voluntary basis, he created the BMW MOA Foundation’s rider training program and directed the Experienced Rider Course workshops at BMW MOA international rallies for 14 years, from 1991 through 2005.

In 1970, Dean acquired his first collectible BMW, a 600cc 1951 BMW R67 (pictured right).  He recalls, "It was the first year for that model.  It was so cool, and I wish I still had it."  The R67, however, was sold; the first in a long process of buying and selling that would make Dean the owner of more than 60 BMWs over the next four decades.  Today, he owns 15, both vintage and modern machines.  During this time he has ridden more than 350,000 miles on his Bavarian bikes, and about his preferences explains, "I had a series of K Models in the 1980s, but I have settled in today as a dedicated boxer guy."  He confesses, "I also had a Yamaha SR500 street bike and a Yamaha 250 dirt bike for a while, but they didn't last long."  Jeff's collectible BMWs are not just show bikes, because he rides them all.  He has a 1973 R75/5 with more than 100,000 miles on it.

In 1972, Dean joined the staff of the Wisconsin Historical Society where he was hired to launch the state's historic preservation program.  It would become his lifelong profession, and by 1997, when he retired, Dean's one-man job had grown into a department of 22 people under his direction.  As retirement approached, hto e and Jill purchased land in saguaro “forest” adjacent to the Sweetwater Nature Preserve near Tucson, Arizona.  It is an ideal place for Jill pursue her love of nature, and for Jeff to build what he describes as his "man cave," a separate building dedicated to storing and maintaining his collection of BMWs (pictured above and above right).  One bike, an R60/2, was displayed at the AMA’s Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum. He owns a very rare 1954 BMW R68, restored by Tim Stafford, of San Diego, that won a major award at California’s Quail Gathering last May (pictured below right), and he was the founder of the vintage BMW motorcycle display that takes place each year at the BMW MOA international rally. 

Jill (with jeff left) also is a collector, but her vehicle of choice is quite different: the canoe.  At one time, Jill and Jeff owned 27 historical wooden canoes, but have since donated them to the creation of the Wisconsin Canoe Heritage Museum, in Spooner, Wisconsin, the only canoe history museum in the US.  Famous historic brands there include, among others, Gerrish, Rushton, Morris, Old Town, Vaillancourt, Seliga, and Walter Walker.

About a decade ago, Dean created his own web site, which he modestly bills as "The Dean of BMW Motorcycle Web Sites."  It is an amusing play on words, but really not that far from the truth.  The site is rich in content and graphics about BMW motorcycles and BMW motorcycle history.  Arguably, it is one of the best and most extensive private web sites dedicated to the brand.  It also promotes the BMW MOA Foundation, and includes a respectful nod to Jeff's continuing interests in architecture and historic preservation. 

During his 40-year devotion to BMW motorcycles, Jeff has served on the board of the BMW MOA, and is also a member of the BMW Riders Association.  He was vice president of the BMW MOA from 1995 to 1997, and president from 1997 to 1999.  In Tucson, he is an active member of the South East Arizona Touring club (SEAT), a BMW MOA-affiliated club.  In recognition of Dean's dedication to the BMW motorcycle brand, his service to rider education and organized motorcycling, and his efforts toward historical preservation, BMW RA former president Robert Hellman proposed Jeff Dean for the prestigious "Friend of the Marque Award," bestowed by the International Council of BMW Clubs.  It is the highest honor a BMW motorcycle enthusiast can receive, and one that many in the BMW community agree Jeff Dean has rightfully earned.

To visit Jeff’s site, click here.  To learn more about the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America, click here.  To learn more about the BMW Riders Association, click here.  To learn more about the Vintage BMW Motorcycle Owners, click here.  For more about the Friend of the Marque Award, click here.  To learn more about the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, click here.  To learn more about the Wisconsin Canoe Heritage Museum, click here.
 

* Libby's is still in business in New Haven, but no longer sells BMW.  For more information, click here.