Family & Friends
By Jim and Joan Wood, F110743
The 14th annual FMCA Western Area rally was held January 9 through 13, 2002, at the Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival in Indio, California. Indio is located in the temperate Coachella Valley where busy Interstate 10 and State Route 86 intersect. The city’s history goes back to 1878 when the railroads moving west chose the area, then named Indian Wells, as a distribution point for the new rail line. In 1886, H.P. Huntington, president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, presented the area with a gift of date shoots, providing the agricultural start of what is now known as the “Date Capital of the United States.”
Indio graciously hosts the National Date Festival each year at the fairgrounds. The Western Area has used this location 10 out of the last 12 years for its rally. This year’s rally, themed “California Wine and Roses,” was a huge success with 1,832 coaches on site. The number of attendees topped 5,000, including a large number of day passes sold.
The rally opened on Wednesday, January 9, with morning devotions led by Rudy and Lee Grecco, F210068. The non-denominational gathering offered prayers each morning throughout the rally for America, its leaders, the military, and families affected by the September 11 tragedy.
Just after noon, motorhome dealers opened the doors of their new 2002 models to be viewed by the public. On hand was a nice selection of entry-level, mid-priced, and high-line motor coaches. After the rally we learned that sales were brisk, with 43 motorhomes in the hands of new owners.
That evening the Commerce Building was abuzz with dedicated bingo players. The crowd waited anxiously for caller Joyce Haupt, F184794, to shout out the letters and numbers. For us amateurs in the group, an electronic game board was used to display the numbers called. The night ended with a special $500 blackout game.
On Thursday morning the Frustrated Maestros donned their red-and-white outfits and entertained us while we enjoyed coffee, rolls, and camaraderie in the Commerce Auditorium. This routine continued on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings, too.
The rally kicked into full gear Thursday morning as the commercial exhibits opened in the Tajmahal Building and in a huge tent erected at the side of the building to accommodate the 200-plus vendors that displayed their wares. If you required anything that was motorhome-related, it likely could be found in one of the numerous booths. The sales personnel were knowledgeable about their products, and the laid-back atmosphere was very refreshing.
More than 40 seminars of all descriptions were offered. The technical discussions looked at the many aspects of buying, operating, and maintaining today’s motorhomes. Other programs covered topics such as health, insurance, cell phones, and global positioning systems. In addition, crafts classes focused on needlepoint, braided bead jewelry, iron-on metal studs, and fabric-designed greeting cards, just to name a few. A roundtable discussion for newsletter editors “” hosted by the authors of this article “” was well-received by those who attended. We enjoyed meeting newsletter editors from different chapters and speaking with them on a one-on-one basis.
The opening parade took place on Thursday afternoon. Under the direction of Bob Newby, F108350, national director of the Apollo Amigos chapter, the parade started at one end of the fairgrounds and wound its way through to the other end. The local Indio American Legion Post supplied the color guard and the Indio High School Band provided the upbeat, toe-tapping music. More than 20 Western Area chapters had entries in the parade competing for awards. Some of the chapters entered spectacular floats, while others sent in unusual marching units. All of the participants did their best to entertain and amuse the flag-waving parade watchers. The Theme Trophy went to the Southwestern Bus Nuts; the Indio Mayor’s Trophy was awarded to the Sierra Ramblers; and the California chapter captured the Western Motor Home Association’s (WMHA) President’s Trophy. The Apollo Amigos won the WMHA Past President’s Trophy, and the FMCA President’s Trophy was presented to the Frustrated Maestros. The parade awards were presented Friday evening before the entertainment program. FMCA national president Jeff Jeffcoat, F118344; Western Area vice president Bill Walker, F56746; and former Western Area vice president Owen Autry, F55048, presented their respective trophies. Dick Schroeder gave the award for the Theme Trophy, and the mayor of Indio, Ben Godfrey, presented the Mayor’s Trophy.
Ice cream socials were held on Friday and Saturday at the Amphitheatre stage. The Golden Spike chapter once again was responsible for passing out the ice cream to the hungry crowd. And what a crowd it was. Larry and Denise Fosler, F232635, reported that volunteers handed out 5,736 ice cream bars. As for crowd management, never more than 30 people were seen waiting in line at any time.
Music by Shammy Sounds provided the “soundtrack” as rally-goers enjoyed their cool treats on the Amphitheatre lawn. As an added attraction, Friday’s Ice Cream Social included the “Wine and Roses Hat Contest.” Cash prizes of $50, $25, and $15 brought out some clever “” and bizarre “” creations. The judges roamed the crowd, and after much discussion, settled on a group of masterpieces they considered to be the best candidates. The spectators decided the final winners by a show of applause. The first-place hat was worn by Dianne Provencio, F179433; second place was won by Teen-Age Travelers (TATS) president Deric Bloomingdale, F188602; and third place went to Noreen Schoenhauser. Our limited vocabulary cannot do justice to describe any of the creations. Participation was good and the contest was so well-received by those attending the Ice Cream Social that we are sure this competition will be back in one form or another at next year’s rally.
The rally chairperson in charge of evening entertainment, Kay Walker, wife of national vice president Bill Walker, outdid herself with the talent that appeared this year. On Friday night we were brought back to a simpler time with the impressionistic talents of Tom Mullica. With his makeup on, he appeared nearly identical to the late Red Skelton. He took us back to Skelton’s radio and TV heyday with his renditions of Clem Kaddiddlehopper and Junior, “The Mean Widdle Kid,” along with the comedian’s other memorable characters. His research was quite evident as he even performed the character of Red himself. Later we discovered that he and Red were friends.
On Saturday night Paul Lennon was first in the spotlight with his impressions and comedy routine. He quickly locked in on the theme decorations that the Apollo Amigos had set up in the auditorium. His favorite foil seemed to be a huge, stemmed wine glass that was constantly being filled. He had everyone in stitches with his constant barrage of jokes and one-liners.
Nostalgia time followed as The Lettermen brought back the music of the 1960s. It was surprising to learn that only one of the original trio remains in the group. Yet, as the group sang the hit songs from the past, the sound was nearly the same as we remembered it. Their performance was new and unusual, and during much of the show one of the singers was in the audience interacting with the crowd. After a couple of encores, The Lettermen left the stage to a standing ovation.
In an effort to give something back to the Indio area, the Western Area’s John Ostrowski, F3579, has literally put on a “happy face.” For the past seven years, John and some of his colleagues have donned grease paint, funny hats, and clown costumes during the Western Area rallies to amuse youngsters at the children’s wards of local hospitals. This year, 15 fellow RVers made the trip with him to John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital. The staff welcomed the visit and the children were mesmerized with the clowns’ antics. Even the most reluctant children were won over. Every child received a bag of treats, topped off with a Beanie Baby toy. If you have the inclination to join the group next year, John has offered to apply clown makeup to all comers. He’s sure you will consider the visit to the children’s ward a worthwhile venture once you see the huge smiles on the youngsters’ faces.
If you missed this year’s spectacular, you can join us for next year’s rally, to be held again at the Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival. The theme for next year’s rally is “A Salute To The Troops.” Our prediction is that the fairgrounds will be a sea of red, white, and blue.
On behalf of the Western Area, we hope you will fuel up your motorhome and spend a few days with us enjoying the next edition of this rally in the California desert. Take advantage of this opportunity to meet with old friends and make some new friends. And if you want a real education as to how this rally comes together, volunteer for a few hours and see the operation unfold before your eyes. We hope to see you at the fairgrounds January 8 through 12, 2003.