Family & Friends
By Betty Kowalik, F94563
The Southeast Area (SEA) held its 21st annual area rally from February 6 through 9, 2002, at the Hernando County Airport in Brooksville, Florida. By the time the last motorhome rolled onto the grounds, 2,095 family member coaches were parked, with members ready to enjoy the planned festivities.
The Hawaiian theme of the rally was a huge success. Many people got into the spirit by wearing beautifully colored shirts, blouses, and leis; even a few grass skirts were spotted.
On Wednesday morning, opening day of the Aloha Rally, this reporter had the opportunity to ride along with SEA vice president Mary Lawler, F119890, in her golf cart. Off we went on a whirlwind tour as she headed to the east runway. While she was driving, she also was listening and joining in on two-way radio conversations about other happenings that were taking place around the airport, which served as the rally grounds. Many problems and questions were solved and answered on the spot as we rode along.
FMCA members are first and foremost on Mary’s mind. This became obvious when she spotted a woman in the handicapped area who was waiting for a ride to the vendor tent area. Mary stopped and immediately called for assistance for this grateful lady.
Doing my job as a reporter (of the rally’s Aloha News, anyway), I found out that Mary was up and running at 5:30 that morning and attended coffee hour at 7:00 a.m. to make sure opening day was off to a good start.
By the way, Mary never did get out to the east runway on that particular trip. A call came on the radio saying that she was needed at the coach display area, followed by another call requesting more parking signs ASAP. It was only 10:30 a.m. when I headed back to my quiet coach to work on the Aloha News.
Thursday traditionally is full of activity at the rally, as it’s the day when both the annual parade and golf tournament take place. This year, the day dawned with hard rain that continued throughout the morning and into the afternoon, finally ending around 2:30 p.m. Mary Lawler had to make a tough decision: whether or not to proceed with the 4:00 p.m. parade. Keeping an eye on the weather forecast all morning, Mary felt comfortable enough to announce at 1:30 p.m. that the parade would go on. Although the rainstorm had stopped, it left ominous clouds and cold and windy conditions in its wake. Despite the weather, the Hawaiian parade theme was still a success for participants and for those watching from the sidelines. Spectators bundled up with earmuffs, gloves, coats, hats, and the like, while jovial parade participants wore hula skirts and other Hawaiian garb.
Rain or shine, the golf tournament is always a popular event. So, early Thursday morning, 50 brave souls were ready and waiting to test their skills. The golfers started the tournament in the driving rain, hoping that it would let up. Unfortunately, the rain only got worse. Slowly the golfers dropped out, leaving only five couples to finish the tournament. A disappointed Jay Markley, F148949, who spent so much time coordinating the event, played until the end and remarked the following day that he was still drying out.
For the first time ever at an SEA rally, Hernando County radio station WWJB 1450 AM broadcast live from the rally on three days. FMCA members appeared as guests to talk on the air about motorhoming issues.
More than 90 seminars were presented, and they were well-received by rally-goers. First-timers (those who had never before attended a Southeast Area rally) were overwhelmed by the number of seminars, and also by the more than 200 vendor suppliers and the 11 coach dealers that had numerous new motorhomes on display.
On Sunday morning, the majority of coaches left the airport, their occupants bidding a fond aloha for this year. But we hope to see everyone back in Brooksville, February 5 through 8, 2003, for next year’s Southeast Area Rally.
Roger Klatt Remembered
By Sheila Donigan, F5564
Roger Klatt, F35637, was the epitome of Family Motor Coach Association. He continually stated that family mattered most to him. He often said that a husband and wife were a team and insisted that his wife, Evie, be with him in every endeavor, both in his personal life and as a member of our organization.
Roger passed away on February 28, 2002, in Lakewood, California. He served as Western Area vice president from 1990 to 1993 and as national treasurer from 1993 to 1995. He also held many chapter offices in FMCA.
Roger was born on February 6, 1925, in Melvin, Iowa, and spent his youth farming. He continued to farm and tend dairy cattle after marrying Evie in 1944.
In 1953 Roger, Evie, and their son and daughter moved to California, where Roger worked on dairies in the Palmdale area. He later gave up farming and went into construction work, first building trailers and later delving into commercial and residential construction. In 1961 he and a longtime friend formed Klatt-Peterson General Building, a contracting firm. He continued in the building trade until his retirement in 1980.
Roger had always enjoyed camping, fishing, boating, and other outdoor recreation. Traveling by camper and motorhome became his lifestyle.
After obtaining membership in FMCA in 1979, Roger and Evie were tireless volunteers in every chapter they belonged to. Their duties included hosting rallies, among them the California chapter’s annual Oktoberfest, as well as cooking meals and working security at both area rallies and FMCA international conventions. Roger wrote several chapter newsletters and served on many committees at the area and national level. His reputation as a sincere, honest person earned him distinction as being the embodiment of what FMCA is all about.
As Roger’s health started to fail, he remained active and attended as many rallies as he physically could. He loved his motorhome and traveled all over the United States.
Roger is survived by Evie (Evelyn), his wife of 57 years; daughter, Connie K. Kitchen; son, Gene R. Klatt; three grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Memorial donations may be made to the American Lung Association.
Nothing But A Barth For The Merrimans
By Pamela Selbert, F195400
Longtime FMCA member Shirley Merriman is as quiet and reserved as her husband, Lee, is exuberant. He’s an animated talker while she, for the most part, listens calmly. When I met the couple, he seemed to move a thousand miles a minute, bustling around the campground throughout the afternoon while she napped in their Barth motorhome.
But the Merrimans, F32086, who live in Bartonville, Illinois, have personalities that complement each other’s. Aside from the aforementioned difference, they seem to have much in common, not the least of which is their love for travel. Another common bond is their love for photography. Both Lee and Shirley claim to be incurable shutterbugs.
Lee, 69, grew up on a farm near Greenville, Illinois, and moved to Peoria at the age of 18 after he’d finished high school. There he went to work for Caterpillar Corporation, where he was “hired to sweep the floors,” he said with a grin. After serving in the military during the Korean War, Lee quickly moved through the ranks at Caterpillar. When he finally retired several years ago, he left as the company’s head of worldwide photography.
“I took what had been a hobby and made it my life’s work,” Lee said. “It all started when I photographed a niece’s wedding, and it turned into our ‘mom and pop’ operation.”
Though Lee no longer works for Caterpillar, the couple maintains a photography studio attached to their home. When they’re not traveling — they spend at least 100 nights a year in campgrounds as they travel to rallies and other motorhoming events — they shoot portraits. Among their favorite subjects are small animals, mainly dogs and cats.
One photography session that brings a smile to Lee’s face took place several years ago. A couple brought their two Siamese cats and big yellow Labrador retriever to be included in the family portrait. “Those cats were so hyper, they were literally bouncing off the walls,” he said with a wry grin. “They still had all their claws, and by the time we were finished, after I’d spent what seemed like hours getting them under control and posed for the pictures, my arms were dripping blood.”
Shirley, 66, remembers a woman who arrived with two small dogs decked out in Christmas outfits for a holiday portrait. The dogs had little interest in being photographed, but the owner was determined they would have their picture taken. Somehow the Merrimans managed to pose the frisky critters on a small sled, with one dog riding and the other posed to appear as if it were pushing. Both Lee and Shirley laughed heartily at the memory.
While the photography they do today is mostly for fun, Lee’s work for Caterpillar was a different story. He was on the road almost continuously, and the job took him around the world. On one occasion he flew to Japan “for just one picture.”
“Once, I was sent to Iowa to photograph a railroad engine — Number 6000 — which had just had a Caterpillar engine installed,” he said. “I lay in a field of weeds for hours waiting for the freight train to roll by — and when it did, Number 6000 was the third engine back — so I couldn’t get the picture.”
The company had wanted a photo of the engine rolling into a sunset or out of a sunrise, which further complicated the situation, he said. Coordinating those stipulations with the chance that the engine would be placed first in line at the railroad yard meant Lee had to fly to various sites around the United States during a two-week span before finally getting his shot.
After he and Shirley were married in 1966, combining families from previous marriages, she stayed home with the four children, a son and three daughters. Lee insisted they “were always our kids, never mine or hers; that’s just the way it was.” The children are now grown and raising their own families. The Merrimans have eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Traveling for fun must have seemed like a busman’s holiday to Lee, but he said that he made up his mind that every year his kids would go on vacation. The family began their travels in a 1958 15-foot Shasta trailer, covering many miles to sites such as Washington, D.C., and California on their annual two-week odysseys. “We couldn’t afford to go out to eat, so we’d just stop along the road to cook,” Shirley remembered.
They moved up to a Mallard trailer, then to a Lark “minihome,” before finding the coach of their dreams: a new 1975 22-foot Barth motorhome. It was the first of six Barth motorhomes the couple has owned. And despite the fact that the company, once the second oldest motorhome manufacturer in the country, is no longer in business, they can’t imagine traveling in anything else. Other motorhomers apparently feel the same way, as the Merrimans have frequently received phone calls with offers to purchase their coaches — several that they accepted.
Among their Barths was a 24-foot unit that they bought in 1978. They acquired another new 24-foot Barth three years later. They held onto that coach until they received a surprising phone call just as they were getting ready for their annual summer trip.
“We were packed up and ready to leave on vacation in 1983 when we got a call from a man in Indianapolis,” Lee said with a grin. “He wanted to buy a Barth, and the factory had told him I might be willing to sell mine.”
While Shirley was in the kitchen preparing food for the trip, her husband was on the telephone negotiating the sale of their coach. The caller wondered how long it would take to unpack the Barth, and Lee said it would be ready in an hour. The buyer arrived later that evening to claim his new coach.
The Merrimans next purchased a 1983 28-foot Barth, which they traveled in for eight years before the factory again gave their name to a caller, this time a chiropractor from Davenport, Iowa, who was interested in buying their motorhome.
“I agreed to show him the coach, told him the air conditioner wasn’t working, but he wanted it right then anyway,” Lee recalled. “I took his personal check, and off he went in my Barth.” Once the coach was out of sight, however, Lee became worried about the check and couldn’t sleep that night.
“I got up at 3:00 a.m. and drove to Davenport to wait for the bank to open,” he said, grinning. “But I had worried in vain — the bank promptly cashed the check, and I learned the buyer was one of the wealthiest folks in town.”
The Merrimans then bought a 1991 28-foot Barth and drove it for two years. Yet again — you guessed it — the factory gave their name to several callers in California who were interested in purchasing the coach.
“We got a call at 6:00 one morning from two women in Los Angeles who wanted it, and a call an hour later from a man in Santa Barbara,” Lee said. “I had to tell him it was already sold, but he didn’t want to take no for an answer.”
The man offered to fly his own plane to Illinois to make the purchase if the deposit the women had promised to send didn’t arrive on time. But the payment did arrive and the Barth was theirs, Lee said, adding that the women still travel in it today.
In 1993 the Merrimans bought their current 31-foot coach, and as the company is no longer in business, they suspect they may drive this Barth to the end of their motorhoming days. At least they don’t expect to receive any more surprise offers for their coach.
When asked why they wouldn’t consider any other brand of motorhomes, the Merrimans are quick to point out the aluminum-ribbed steel cage at the front of the coach, which they consider an important safety feature. They also are impressed with the coach’s heavy aluminum roof, which once went completely undamaged in a hailstorm that virtually destroyed the roof on their house. A convenient and economical feature is that the engine heats water for showers and other uses.
Lee likes the custom-made solid wood cabinetry; Shirley likes the fact that all Barth coaches are different. Customers could choose the fabric for the couch and chairs, as well as the carpeting and window treatments. The Merrimans’ coach, with an interior of coordinated shades of burgundy, has no slideouts — Barth never made them, Lee said — but still provides plenty of room. Lee added that Barth “offered good quality priced right.” Thus far, the couple has put more than 74,000 miles on the coach.
The Merrimans joined FMCA in 1978, and are proud of their low membership number. “I wanted to learn all I could about maintenance, and found the magazine very helpful,” Lee said. “The association offers so many benefits for $25 — it’s the best deal anybody’s got going.”
The two have been members of FMCA’s Barth International chapter for 18 years, and Lee is chapter president. Lee and Shirley especially enjoy FMCA’s two annual international conventions, and they said they find the coach maintenance seminars particularly helpful.
Shirley noted that Lee is also a Shriner. He often transports children in need of treatment from the Peoria area to Shriners hospitals in Chicago and Cincinnati.
As president of the Barth International chapter, Lee chooses a “sheriff” at rallies, who in turn issues citations to chapter members for silly infractions, such as getting on a tour bus late; dozing off in meetings; shaving with a name tag on, and so on, he said. Fines assessed by “the long arm of the law,” usually totaling about $400 per rally, are designated for “Lee’s kids,” the needy youngsters that he transports for treatment. Lee added that his fellow chapter members are generous with this worthy cause, and often pay 10 times their assessed fine.
Lee also is president of the Barth Rangers, an owners group that is similar to FMCA’s Barth International chapter.
Lee has been asked to hold public offices in his hometown — such as those with the zoning board, the chamber of commerce, and the Peoria Airport board — but has turned down those requests. “We’re away from home in our motorhome too much of the year for those commitments, and traveling is what we want to do,” Shirley said. “We want to be on the road.”
FMCA extends congratulations to the following chapters that are celebrating special anniversaries this month:
Saturns In Tow
Frustrated Maestros Great Lakes Area
Midwest Bus Nuts
Willie & Co. Fan Club