A total of 5,854 motorhomes gathered at the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter for FMCA’s “Southern Sensation” convention, which goes down in the record books as FMCA’s sixth-largest gathering to date.
By Pamela Kay
Director of Communications, Publishing
“Welcome home, FMCA” read the sign at the entrance to the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter in mid-March. That sign embodied the welcome that FMCA members who attended the “Southern Sensation” convention in Perry, Georgia, March 19, 20, and 21 received from the fairgrounds staff and from city officials and local residents. It was one of many “Welcome FMCA” signs that dotted the city of Perry and surrounding communities.
Given the fact that the Georgia National Fairgrounds has “all the right stuff” when it comes to meeting FMCA’s current convention needs, and the fact that a visit to Perry always includes a dose of Southern hospitality, FMCA members were indeed made to feel right at home during their stay at the fairgrounds.
The “Southern Sensation” convention attracted a total of 5,854 motorhomes, including 4,572 family coaches and 1,282 commercial coaches. This ranks as the sixth-largest FMCA convention to date. The fourth- and fifth-largest FMCA conventions also took place in Perry, in March 1996 and March 1999, respectively. So, obviously, Perry is a place motorhome owners like to visit.
“Perry dubbed itself the RV capital of the world following the FMCA convention held in 1996,” said Jerry Yeatts, FMCA director of conventions and commercial services. “We have had some larger events since that time, but the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter is still high on our list of excellent facilities to host an FMCA event.”
Having arrived at the fairgrounds well before the official start of the event, this writer was able to witness the remarkable transformation that takes place as an FMCA convention unfolds. Even though I’ve been assigned duties at more than 20 FMCA conventions to date, I have yet to lose the sense of awe and wonder at the way vacant buildings and sprawling plots of land blossom seemingly overnight into the most amazing “neighborhood” to be found. In this neighborhood, all of the residents have at least one thing in common — their love of traveling via motorhome — and FMCA conventions are grand celebrations of this way of life.
As motorhomes rolled into their parking spaces at the fairgrounds, their occupants soon emerged. Handshakes and hugs were exchanged as FMCA members greeted old friends and introduced themselves to new ones. It didn’t take long before lawn chairs were pulled out and groups formed under awnings to socialize.
FMCA members ushered in the official arrival of spring during the convention, and sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures predominated during the event. An overnight rain on Wednesday did dampen things and managed to chase the coffee hour festivities indoors on Thursday morning, but skies quickly cleared so that convention attendees could shed their rain gear and enjoy the rest of the day.
Early-bird activities. On Sunday evening, March 17, convention attendees joined veteran square dance caller Howard Cowles, F18517, for some good old-fashioned square dancing, as well as line dancing and couple’s dances such as the Texas two-step and the polka. In addition to the folks kicking up their heels on the dance floor, quite a few people came just to watch and enjoy the festive atmosphere. Sunday evening wasn’t the only opportunity for dancing, however. Convention attendees were able to avail themselves of dance sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings as well. Howard’s performances in Perry were made possible by Born Free Motor Coach Inc., C1171, an FMCA One Star sponsor.
On Monday morning, convention attendees flocked to the FMCA Information Center to sign up for crafts, tours, and the ever-popular RV Safe Driving Course, all of which got under way later that day.
Monday afternoon proved to be a delightful time for a stroll through the outdoor display area, as motorhome manufacturers put out the welcome mat and invited convention attendees to enjoy the “Motorhome Preview.” The outdoor display area bustled with activity from 3:30 to 7:30 as convention attendees toured the many display coaches and enjoyed entertainment at an outdoor venue that was dubbed the “Southern Sensation Daytime Entertainment Stage,” sponsored by Coach Net, C4055, an FMCA Two Star sponsor. Monday afternoon’s entertainment consisted of performances by the Houston County High School Jazz Ensemble and the Wings of Harmony Chorus, part of Sweet Adelines International.
As the sun slipped closer to the horizon, the lakes that dot the fairgrounds revealed reflections of sun-dappled motorhomes, and the multicolored lights of the concession stands added a festive touch to the evening.
For many convention attendees, the evening didn’t end there. Their next stop was Reaves Arena, where they were able to “dance the night away” to big-band, swing, and old-time rock ‘n’ roll tunes provided by the Dick Goodwin Quintet, courtesy of FMCA and Airstream Inc., C847, an FMCA One Star sponsor.
Sensational motorhome show. Sensational is a superb way to describe the motorhome show that takes place at each FMCA convention, and the Perry gathering was no exception. The lakefront property at the Georgia National Fairgrounds was bedecked by approximately a thousand different motorhomes in all sizes and price ranges — a motorhome shopper’s dream come true. As previously noted, convention attendees were treated to a “sneak peek” in the motorhome display area on Monday afternoon. But it didn’t end there — it just got better. Starting on Tuesday morning, motorhome aficionados also had the opportunity to peruse booth after booth filled with the latest motorhome accessories, components, and home products.
Sensational tours. Convention attendees enjoyed ample opportunities to explore local attractions and soak up some of the beauty and history of the South by embarking on outings organized by Ramblin’ Rose Tours starting on Monday, March 18. In addition to joining a walking tour of Perry, convention attendees could step back into the Old South at Hendersonville Village, a collection of 19th-century homes and cottages; explore some of middle Georgia’s most grand old homes and a beautiful cathedral in nearby Macon; learn more about the United States’ Civil War history with a visit to the Andersonville prisoner of war camp; and stand in awe of Stone Mountain, a masterwork of nature often referred to as the “eighth wonder of the world.” This represents only a few of the fun-filled and educational tour possibilities that were presented.
Sensational learning opportunities. Talk about possibilities … “Southern Sensation” convention attendees could avail themselves of 157 seminars covering nearly 120 different topics. The educational opportunities began on Monday afternoon and continued through Thursday. Eleven different seminar rooms were used for these sessions, in addition to a couple of outdoor venues. Additional information about the seminar program in Perry appears beginning on page 94.
A sensational time for FMCA youth. A total of 51 youth registered to take part in the youth activities program in Perry. The group included 24 TATS, or Teenage Travelers (ages 13-18), 14 PRE-TEENS (ages 10-12), six TWEENS (ages 6-9), and seven TOTS (ages 2-5). Registration for activities began on Monday, March 18, and that evening the children kicked things off with a get-acquainted pizza party.
During the week the kids participated in fun-filled activities such as bowling, roller skating, miniature golf, and a trip to the Museum of Aviation at Robins Air Force Base. Flakey the Magic Clown made frequent visits to the youth centers to entertain the youngsters. The kids also were able to play board games and video games and to enjoy crafts in the youth centers. Special thanks from this writer to the youngsters who cheerfully — despite the early hour — helped to hand out newsletters at coffee hour each morning, especially TATS president Deric Bloomingdale, F188602, and first vice president Melissa Carlson, F301017, for organizing the group. The names of the kids who helped are listed in the acknowledgements section at the end of this article.
Sensational days. As each new day dawned, convention attendees gathered for the traditional morning coffee hour. They chatted with their fellow convention attendees while feasting on melt-in-your-mouth Krispy Kreme doughnuts topped off by plenty of hot coffee and cocoa and listening to the toe-tapping sounds provided by FMCA’s own Frustrated Maestros. For all you trivia buffs: approximately 1,500 dozen doughnuts were consumed during the convention. Morning coffee hour in Perry was sponsored by FMCA Ten Star Sponsor Buddy Gregg Motor Homes Inc., C3326, and Millennium Luxury Coach, C9009.
Another popular convention tradition — and one that also involves the fabulous combination of good friends and food — is the ice cream social, sponsored by RV Alliance America, C95. Members of FMCA’s Full Timers chapter, decked out in their white hats and aprons — efficiently served up the tasty ice cream bars to an appreciative crowd on Wednesday afternoon.
Liberty Coach Inc., C733, an FMCA Five Star sponsor, made it possible for FMCA members to enjoy a variety of wonderful entertainment during the daytime hours. Several of the acts are well-known and well-loved by FMCA audiences.
Peggy Miller of Willie & Company exhibited her ventriloquism talents, treating audience members to delightful conversations with her sassy, saucy doll Willie and other members of his family “tree.” Flakey the Magic Clown, also known as Henry Gartner, F197563, presented his magic show for kids of all ages. Henry’s performances in Perry were sponsored by Blue Ox, C2903, an FMCA One Star sponsor. FMCA sweetheart Alice Detrick shared her vocal talents by performing a variety of tunes, including a number of her original songs.
Also performing during the daytime hours were the Sons of Tennessee (more about them later), and 4n1, a quartet from the Wings of Harmony Chorus.
Sensational nights. The Perry gathering was FMCA’s first convention since the September 11 attacks on America. The patriotic spirit that has swept the nation was in evidence during the convention in terms of the number of American flags that were seen flying high atop the motorhomes in the family parking areas. Tuesday evening’s entertainment program, sponsored by FMCA and National RV Inc., C3451, an FMCA Five Star Sponsor, was dubbed a “Patriotic Salute to America.”
The evening featured an appearance by the Sons of Tennessee, a family trio who performs their Western-style musical show while astride their beautiful palomino horses. George Runquist and his sons, Jorgen and Zach, treated audience members to a variety of patriotic tunes in keeping with the theme of the evening.
The evening also included a stirring patriotic pageant called Flags Over America, during which members of FMCA’s Executive East Pioneers chapter shared the history of the United States by presenting 36 different flags that have flown over the land at one time or another. Dressed in period costumes, chapter members displayed each flag as the corresponding story was told. Flags Over America is produced and directed by FMCA members Woody and Jeannie Miller, F233882. Turn to page 68 of this issue of the magazine to learn more about how Woody and Jeannie came to create this special program and share it with various organizations across the United States.
On Wednesday, the Duke Ellington Orchestra jazzed up the evening with such favorites as “Satin Doll,” “The Mooche,” “Take The ‘A’ Train,” and “Mood Indigo.” Next, Mary Wilson of The Supremes led audience members on a trip down memory lane by performing a variety of tunes from her days as a member of this spectacularly successful singing trio, among them “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” and “Someday We’ll Be Together.” This spectacular evening was made possible by FMCA and Monaco Coach Corporation, C2111, an FMCA Five Star Sponsor.
On Thursday evening the Palmetto Mastersingers, an all-male choral group based in Columbia, South Carolina, treated audience members to a variety of patriotic, spiritual, and show tune/comedic music to close out the convention. The group’s rousing performance was made possible by FMCA and Ganis Credit Corporation, C4076, an FMCA Five Star sponsor.
Building the future. Habitat for Humanity was designated the official charity for the Perry convention, and more than $4,000 was raised to benefit this Georgia-based non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating poverty housing. Linda Lee Walden, F245876, shares more information about the Habitat activities that took place in Perry in her story on page 92. Ms. Walden is vice president-build coordinator for FMCA Chapter: Habitat for Humanity® and a volunteer at Habitat for Humanity International headquarters.
In general, FMCA members couldn’t have asked for a more sensational place to call home for a few days than Perry — or more sensational neighbors than their fellow members at the fairgrounds, as well as people in the local area who welcomed FMCA with open arms and helped to make the convention a true “Southern Sensation.”
National office staff. The following FMCA staff members were on site at the Perry convention: Don Eversmann, executive director; Jerry Yeatts, director of conventions and commercial services; Loretta Buob, director of chapter services; and the writer of this report, Pamela Kay, director of communications, publishing.
Other staff members included Ranita Jones, commercial sales manager; Maureen Mullarkey, commercial services supervisor; Mary Anne Crowley, convention activities supervisor; Helen Molloy, convention activities assistant; Debbie Calhoun, administrative assistant to the director of conventions and commercial services; Chris Lusk, commercial sales, customer service, and government affairs representative; Maria Bjonnes, commercial services assistant; Shari Diego, commercial services assistant; Shawna Grubbs, commercial sales assistant; Guy Kasselmann, art director; Jim Brightly, technical editor, FMC magazine; Shawna Van Gilder, editorial assistant, FMC magazine; Mike Flora, information systems manager; Beth Schellenberger, FMCA Webmaster; Jay Clawson, graphic Web designer; Joyce Hausman, administrative assistant; Shannon Dudney, accounts receivable coordinator; Dan Wulfeck, pressman; Becky Abegglen, chapter services administrative assistant; Tina Henry, area coordinator; and Sandy Reese, member services.
A multitude of companies and individuals played a role in the success of the “Southern Sensation” convention. FMCA owes a debt of gratitude to many, and the names of those who deserve recognition follow. We’ve done our best to compile a complete and accurate list, but we ask for your indulgence if we’ve left anyone out. To those listed and to others who assisted, as our friends in the South would say, “Thanks, y’all.”