If you call up Ithaca Harley-Davidson and ask to speak to “Ma,” they will know exactly whom you’re referring to. That’s Catherine Sorgi, and the shop wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for her.
When Catherine first started dating John Sorgi, she was wary of his love of motorcycles. At first, she thought riding was “crazy.” But she pushed her apprehensions aside for her man.
“He had one, so I had to ride or else he’d get someone else,” Catherine said.
In 1946, Catherine and John married. Between raising four children and running a successful dairy farm, they found time to open up a small motorcycle shop in their double garage in Newfield. In 1963, they sold the dairy farm and opened up the bike shop full time. Business slowly picked up, and John Jr. and Jean decided to help out.
When John Sr. passed away in February 1995, Catherine, John Jr. and Jean formed a corporation with Catherine as president, John as owner and manager, and Jean as finance manager. The business continued to grow, and in September 2000, they moved to their present location on Route 13.
Catherine wants to remain active in the business, so she comes in for a few hours a day to do the banking, answer phones, run errands and do other “gopher work,” as she calls it. But she’s not complaining.
“It keeps me busy. I think that’s why I’m living to such a ripe old age. I’m not sitting home waiting to die,” Catherine said.
At 84 years old, Catherine’s in great shape, minus a limp from a hip injury (which is not from a motorcycle accident, she’s quick to add). And she’s still got her sense of humor, which is apparent as daughter Jean walks into the office slightly favoring one leg.
“What’re you limping from, kid? You’re just jealous because you can’t be crippled like me,” Catherine says.
That sense of humor has kept everyone laughing through the years, according to John Jr. The atmosphere at the shop was always jovial thanks to Catherine and John Sr.’s teasing and ribbing. John Sr. would always accuse her of falling asleep when he took her riding, but Catherine adamantly denied it. John claimed that he knew that she was asleep because her head would fall forward and bang into his helmet!
The positive energy that the Sorgis maintain in their shop is part of the reason that people keep coming back to Ithaca Harley-Davidson. John says customers come from miles away for routine services because they like the business so much.
John noticed how the clientele has changed over the years. It has evolved from strictly hardcore bikers to doctors, lawyers, professors, and even a Catholic priest. When the priest first arrived, John had no idea who he was. Later, John called and asked to speak to Jim. The man was quiet for a moment before saying, “You mean Father?”
“So I had to go and tell the rest of the shop, ‘You’d better watch your language when this guy comes in!’” John said with a laugh, adding, “You just never know who’s going to show up on a Harley.”
Catherine proves that. Although she admits she hasn’t ridden since her husband passed away, she still gets to come to a motorcycle shop every day for work. Not a bad gig. But she’s humble about it.
“My life isn’t very exciting,” she said.
Many would disagree.
photograph and story by Stacy Majewicz