Although Mother Nature dampened FMCA’s Motor “Home On The Range” extravaganza, the city’s warm welcome helped to counteract her mischief.
By Robbin Gould
Editor, Family Motor Coaching
The site was Hutchinson, a city affectionately known as “Hutch” to the 43,000 residents who call it home in south-central Kansas. The event was FMCA’s 68th Premier International Motorhome Extravaganza, which took place October 1, 2, and 3, 2002. A total of 4,716 motorhomes gathered for this gala event at the Kansas State Fairgrounds, a number that consisted of 3,667 family coaches and 1,049 commercial coaches. In terms of size, the Hutchinson extravaganza was just one convention shy of ranking in FMCA’s “top 15.”
As FMCA members recount convention tales through the years, the Motor “Home On The Range” extravaganza, as this event also was called, will be remembered for two things: rain that was music to farmers and ducks, and a community that overflowed with goodwill and generosity.
When it rains …
The weather was the talk of the motorhome town that materialized at the fairgrounds in mere days prior to the event. According to weather trackers at KWBW Radio in Hutchinson, the high temperature on Monday, Sept. 30, was 91 degrees, with winds of 20 to 30 mph most of the day. On Tuesday, October 1, the temperature reached 90 degrees. Then beginning on Wednesday, October 2, the Motor “Home On The Range” convention theme could easily have been changed to “Motorhomes In The Rain.” KWBW Radio figures indicate that more than 5 inches of rain fell from Tuesday through Thursday.
To local farmers, the heavy precipitation was a godsend, as the area had been devoid of rain for much of the summer. The recently planted winter wheat crop no doubt benefited from the healthy downpour. Unfortunately, however, some FMCA members with coaches parked in grassy areas found their coaches mired in mud. Tow trucks, coordinated through Kansas State Fairgrounds personnel and FMCA, worked to extricate the vehicles starting on Wednesday and continuing into the weekend. The Hutchinson Police Department closed part of a major thoroughfare adjacent to the fairgrounds to enable motorhomes to be towed safely onto the street.
Jerry Yeatts, FMCA’s director of conventions and commercial services, acknowledged the efforts of fairgrounds personnel. “Having spent weeks in preparing for the Kansas State Fair and then preparing for the FMCA event, many of the employees were physically exhausted,” he said. “When the rains came, so did the dedication of the Kansas State Fair staff in making a difficult situation tolerable. Under the coordination of Ellis Faulkner and Larry Ankerholz, fairgrounds personnel and people from the community brought in tractors and tow trucks to assist the family members.” Although the State of Kansas was called upon to request possible assistance from the National Guard, he added, the help from the local community — including farmers who volunteered their services — proved to be sufficient.
Special mention goes to Pankratz Implement Company, a local John Deere dealer. Owner Darrell Pankratz and his employees devoted Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, October 3, 4, and 5, to pulling out more than 300 motorhomes with the company’s tractors. “We saw that there was a problem, and decided to go help,” he said. “The weather was unfortunate, and this was our way of saying, ‘Come back; we’re glad you’re here.'” Although a number of FMCA members offered to pay for the service, Mr. Pankratz refused. Instead he asked that they make a donation to a local charity. In October 2001 his then-12-year-old son, Reed, had been diagnosed with a life-threatening bone marrow disease. The Hutchinson community rallied around the family, including organizing a bone marrow drive and raising the money required for the related testing. Reed underwent transplant surgery in January, and is doing well. As of Saturday, October 5, FMCA members had contributed more than $2,000 on the Pankratz family’s behalf. (Others can send donations to the Cancer Council of Reno County, 1303 E. 27th Ave., Hutchinson, KS 67502; or to the Hospice of Reno County, 3 Compound Drive, Hutchinson, KS 67502).
Some members accepted the fairgrounds’ invitation to remain parked on the grounds through Monday, October 7, until conditions improved. Steve and Gail Ault, F106024, used the extended stay to their advantage. “Rather than hustling out and getting stuck, we had two grand days touring Kansas by car, checking out the Flint Hills, Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, Yoder, and even an antique store auction,” Mr. Ault said.
Hospitality “rained” supreme
The outpouring of help from the community to assist convention attendees “stuck in Hutch” was just one example of the warmth and friendliness that greeted FMCA members. Others included “Welcome FMCA” messages on marquees, signs, and banners all over town; daily front-page newspaper coverage; numerous special offers from area businesses; and countless friendly encounters with local residents.
“We have never been anywhere where we have received a warmer reception,” Iris Schmidt, F60829, said. She and her husband, Wally, were greeted at the grocery store, in the bank, and even while attending a Full Timers chapter rally a couple of weeks prior to the convention. “People in three cars even stopped and welcomed us and said they were glad we were there. It reminded me of Minot,” she said, referring to the amicable North Dakota city that has twice hosted FMCA international conventions.
FMCA national president Jeff Jefcoat, F118344, was similarly impressed by the residents of Hutchinson and beyond. “This was my third or fourth trip there, and the people were outstanding — they have been that way from the beginning,” he said.
Jim Ammenheuser, F157201, national vice president, South Central Area, began working with Kansas officials and Hutchinson residents prior to the 1999 Six-State Rally, as that event also took place at the Kansas State Fairgrounds. “Coordinating with the officials and people of Kansas over the past four years, from the governor to the local residents of Hutchinson, has been a great experience. The enthusiasm of the people was heartwarming as arrangements for the 1999 Six-State Rally were made, and continued throughout the arrangements and production of the 68th International Extravaganza,” he commented. “The hospitality of the Kansas people was spectacular; we were wanted and welcomed.”
Come rain or come shine
Although the weather posed some challenges, most convention events continued as planned. Some were moved indoors or cancelled as necessary.
The ice cream social, presented by RV Alliance America, C95, an FMCA Super Star sponsor, went on as scheduled on Wednesday afternoon. Right at the event’s designated starting time, the rain fell in a frenzy, drenching those in attendance. Many braved the elements, however, with ponchos, rain hats, “waders,” and more.
Morning coffee hour was served up each day, rain or shine. This longtime convention custom was made possible in Hutchinson by Buddy Gregg Motor Homes Inc., C3326, and Country Coach Inc., C2132, together an FMCA Super Star sponsor. FMCA volunteers were on hand to dispense the coffee and hot chocolate and to distribute doughnuts. Convention-goers gathered to meet up with friends; grab a USA Today newspaper provided by Guaranty RV Centers, C4161, an FMCA Two Star sponsor; pick up a “Hutchinson Herald” convention newsletter, sponsored by Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau, an FMCA Two Star sponsor; and listen to morning announcements.
First-time convention volunteer Marvin McMillan, F258263, along with other members of FMCA’s Kansas Twisters chapter, was busy supplying beverages — and quips — on Thursday morning. “Need some coffee there, sir? Refills are cheap.” He said he lives about 40 minutes away and “could almost drive to work.”
Meanwhile, Robert Plourde, F181333, of Winslow, Maine, was partaking of coffee and doughnuts with his wife, Rita. Asked about their parking site, he said, “We have water all around us,” but he added that they had decided to get out and make plans for the day, regardless, which included touring the indoor exhibits. “Looking around, it doesn’t make sense to sit inside,” he said.
On Monday, Sept. 30, the coach displays were flooded with sunshine during the Motorhome Preview, as FMCA members strolled among the motorhomes, coach conversions, and chassis on display in the outdoor exhibit area. The outdoor exhibits remained open each day of the convention.
Indoors, exhibitors displayed their wares in four buildings starting on Tuesday, October 1.
Three other special exhibit-area events took place on convention afternoons. On Tuesday, Outdoor Demonstration Day featured product demonstrations and popcorn in a specially designated area near the exhibit buildings. Motorhome and Chassis Day took place on Wednesday in the motorhome display area and was sponsored by Ford Motor Company, C405, an FMCA Three Star sponsor. On Thursday afternoon, cookies and punch were available in each exhibit building as part of Supplier/Component Exhibitors Day.
Daytime entertainers moved their shows inside or under cover when the rain threatened to cancel their performances. Willie and Company — the act composed of ventriloquist Peggy Miller and her sidekick, Willie — amused the crowd when they performed for the audience in the wet bleachers at the Farm Bureau Arena on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. This popular FMCA act was presented courtesy of Jayco Inc., C9334, an FMCA Four Star sponsor.
The humorous Oxnard Twins, with their bluegrass sound, and Richard Renner, the Vodvill Klown, wended their way through the indoor exhibits on Wednesday and Thursday. These gentlemen were presented courtesy of Liberty Coach Inc., C733, and Liberty Coach of Florida, C9408, together an FMCA Five Star sponsor. Keyboardist/singer Steve Milo, F223684; roving Rich Pearl and his Musical Comedy Game Show; and the Frustrated Maestros, composed of musically minded members from FMCA’s nine Frustrated Maestros chapters, also were sponsored by Liberty Coach.
Howard Cowles, L18517, FMCA’s “singing square dance caller” for more than 35 years, once again provided square dancing and line dancing instruction. He appeared courtesy of Coach Net, C4055, an FMCA One Star sponsor, and FMCA. And who could forget the ubiquitous Flakey the Magic Clown, also known as Henry Gartner, F197563. He performed courtesy of Blue Ox/Automatic Equipment Mfg. Co., C2903, an FMCA One Star sponsor.
On Monday, Sept. 30, the Sherman Gunn Big Band Explosion provided lively dance music courtesy of Airstream Inc., C847, an FMCA One Star sponsor.
Audiences were treated to memorable musical performances each evening of the convention. On Tuesday, country recording star Tracy Byrd began his performance by singing an a cappella version of “The Star Spangled Banner” to a hushed audience. He then proceeded to perform many of his hits, including “Ten Rounds With Jose Cuervo,” which topped the country charts at the time of the convention. Mr. Byrd was presented by Monaco Coach Corporation C2111, an FMCA Five Star sponsor.
On subsequent evenings, the entertainment programs were moved indoors from the grandstand. On Wednesday evening, the Keith Longbotham Band provided a delightful evening filled with country/bluegrass numbers, plus pop, gospel, and patriotic tunes. The group performed courtesy of National RV, C3451, an FMCA Five Star sponsor.
On Thursday evening, Dave & Daphne delivered a high-energy act filled with country tunes from countless performers. Dave & Daphne appeared courtesy of Ganis Credit Corporation, C4076, an FMCA Five Star sponsor. The duo also sang each day of the convention during the morning devotions led by the Coaches For Christ chapter.
FMCA’s Governing Board convened in Hutchinson for a rare two-day session, rather than the one-day meeting customarily held each year. Much of their time focused on discussion of the Proposed Constitution of FMCA and the Proposed Bylaws. The Governing Board voted to move the Proposed Constitution to the approval stage. This document now awaits approval by the general membership. (Refer to the November 2002 issue of FMC, page 266.)
The Governing Board also approved the 2003 budget and held the election of national officers.
FMCA’s youth program was smaller than usual in Hutchinson, with just 24 children registered for the convention. As a result, the annual election of TATS officers — FMCA youths ages 13 to 18, also known as the “Teen-Age Travelers” — was postponed until the Buffalo convention next July.
The joys of learning
More than 130 seminar sessions covering 103 seminar topics were presented during the Hutchinson extravaganza. These included technical topics such as “RV Batteries,” “Towing Roundtable,” and “Basics of Refrigeration,” as well as sessions devoted to specific chassis and engines. Miscellaneous subjects included “Microwave-Convection Cooking Made Easy” and “Search For Your Ancestors.” Craft-oriented members signed up for their choice of 14 make-and-take projects, including “Pressed Flower Greeting Cards” and “Kansas Keepsake,” the latter a potpourri doll hand-stitched from a flour sack made in Kansas.
A plethora of seminars gave FMCAers insight into various aspects of chapter life. National treasurer Connie Pool conducted a “Treasurer’s Forum” for chapter treasurers, while national secretary June Davis provided organizational tips in the “Chapter Secretary Roundtable.” Herb Currie, F144858S, and Bill Stone, F37842, spoke about the “Chapter Newsletter.” And executive director Don Eversmann described the benefits of joining a chapter, how to find a chapter, and how to start a chapter in the “Chapter Membership” seminar.
A particularly well-attended seminar was “Communicating With Your Computer On The Road,” which was presented by Peter Bradish, F203498. More than 400 attendees gathered for this discussion of the ins and outs of computers, including how to use e-mail and perform other computer functions while traveling. Mr. Bradish and other members of FMCA’s Bits and Bytes chapter also manned the “Computer Help Desk” each day, where they assisted convention attendees who had computer concerns.
Safety-minded RVers appreciated the “Fire & Life Safety” discussion by Mac McCoy, which was cosponsored by RV Alliance America, C95, and FMCA. Topics included the causes of RV fires and the types of fire extinguishers and detectors available. A live fire demonstration provided attendees the opportunity to fight an actual fire using various fire extinguishers. “RV Weight And Tire Safety,” presented by the RV Safety Education Foundation, C5999, discussed two important areas all coach owners should be familiar with to safely operate their motorhomes. The “RV Safe Driving Course,” cosponsored by RV Alliance America and FMCA, continued the safety theme by allowing members to sharpen their driving skills and learn new defensive driving techniques.
Health and wellness seminars included daily sessions of “Group Fitness,” led by fitness educators Wayne and Dahelia Hunt, F235156. The Hunts also presented three “TravelFit” seminars — one that focused on back pain, one on knee pain, and one on shoulder pain. Other health-related discussions covered prostate cancer; osteoarthritis; automatic external defibrillators and the lay rescuer; alternative medical and nutritional supplements; and the relationship between diabetes and heart disease.
Hearts of gold
FMCA members have long been known for their generosity, giving back to the communities they visit and supporting many charitable endeavors. This giving spirit was illustrated in Hutchinson in several ways.
Just prior to the convention, 98 members of the FMCA Chapter: Habitat for Humanity®, including seven national Executive Committee members and spouses, participated in the construction of a home in Great Bend, Kansas. Habitat chapter members Don and Wanda Fischer, L110294, donated the funds for this building project. The house was completed in 17 days. During the on-site dedication ceremony on Sept. 27, keys to the home were handed to Mike and Evelyn Newsome, a young couple with two children under age 2. The Newsomes had worked side-by-side with the Habitat builders during the project. A re-dedication ceremony took place at the Hutchinson extravaganza on Tuesday evening. Habitat for Humanity is an ecumenical housing ministry dedicated to eliminating substandard housing throughout the world. According to Linda Walden, F245876, since FMCA’s Habitat chapter was chartered three years ago, approximately 500 chapter volunteers have contributed 32,000 hours to Habitat house builds in 22 communities.
Several other FMCA chapters raised funds for Habitat for Humanity in Hutchinson, among them Singles International ($500), Holiday Rambler International ($500), and the Full Timers ($225). In addition, Thursday morning’s “Fun and Fitness Walk,” which was moved indoors due to rain, raised proceeds that were divided among the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, the RV Care-A-Vanners, and Habitat for Humanity International.
Another local organization benefited from FMCA members’ generosity. The Roamin’ Nobles, an FMCA chapter consisting of Shriners, raised $1,060 for Hutchinson’s First Call For Help, an information and referral program that helps to link people to the health and human services they need in the community.
As at past conventions, a large contingent of quilting enthusiasts showed their giving spirit. FMCA members brought quilts and blankets they had made to Tuesday’s “On Road Quilters” seminar, where they discussed their crafting techniques in a show-and-tell session. The blankets were knitted, crocheted, or made from polar fleece. All quilts and blankets were donated to the Evening Star Quilt Guild in Hutchinson to be distributed to children in trying circumstances. According to Sharon Eversmann, F240000, who led the craft discussion, 80 quilts and 26 blankets were collected.
Fifty of the quilts and blankets ultimately were given to the Open Door Pregnancy Care Center in Hutchinson. “These blankets will be a blessing to our girls and their babies, and right before winter,” commented Theresa Salmans, center director. “The first one went out within minutes of arriving at the center. It was given to a young lady who was having problems in her pregnancy and was about to have a C-section 2-1/2 months early …. The quilt she received was a Precious Moments little girl with a white ruffle around it for her new arrival — yes, a girl.”
“I wish we could hear the stories of every quilt we made and gave,” Mrs. Eversmann said. “Our members have been so generous.”
FMCA members also donated used eyeglasses during the convention as a way of supporting the Lions’ Foundation Eye Program, which enables needy people to enjoy better vision.
National office staff
The following FMCA staff members were assigned duties in Hutchinson: Don Eversmann, executive director; Jerry Yeatts, director of conventions and commercial services; Loretta Buob, director of chapter services; and Lana Makin, director of administrative services.
Other staff members included Ranita Jones, Maureen Mullarkey, Mary Anne Crowley, Helen Molloy, Chris Lusk, Debbie Calhoun, Maria Bjonnes, Shawna Grubbs, Jim Brightly, Joan Staggenborg, Ayanna Luney, Mike Flora, Beth Schellenberger, Jay Clawson, Joyce Hausman, Dan Wulfeck, Margaret Keen, Mary Zeuch, and Robbin Gould, the writer of this report.
The following staff members were on hand in Hutchinson to provide support for the two-day Governing Board meeting and various committee meetings: Penny Gortemiller, Becky Abegglen, Dianna Mitts, and Tina Henry.
The spirit of volunteerism
At each FMCA international convention, hundreds of family members volunteer to work in myriad areas, including security, information, registration, parking, greeting, seminars, etc. For many, such as Bob and Nelda Sedlacek, F125545, it’s become part of their convention experience; as before, they served in Hutchinson as security volunteers along with fellow members of the Beaver Ambassadors chapter. The Sedlaceks have volunteered at nearly a dozen events. Why? Bob: “The socializing and camaraderie with the Beaver Ambassadors.” Nelda: “We work so we can play.”
South Central Area vice president Jim Ammenheuser said, “I’m proud of the South Central Area chapters and members for their volunteerism, as they jumped at the chance to work two consecutive years at international conventions and also volunteered for a Six-State Rally in Claremore, Oklahoma, immediately following the Hutchinson convention. Several other chapters also filled out the volunteer corps needed to staff a convention. The volunteer requirements have increased over the years, and our members have stepped up to handle these requirements. My hat is off to these volunteers.”