In late March, FMCA members attending the California Dreamin’ convention enjoyed good times and made-to-order weather in Pomona.
By Robbin Gould
Thousands of motorhomers gathered in the heart of Southern California on March 21, 22, and 23 to take part in FMCA’s 69th International Convention. The venue for this grand event was Fairplex, located in the city of Pomona, 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The California Dreamin’ convention, as it was called, was the fourth FMCA international convention to be held at Fairplex, which also hosted FMCA events in 1993, 1997, and 2000.
Despite a faltering economy, rising fuel prices, and escalating tensions in the Middle East, it was “business as usual” for the FMCA members who assembled in Pomona. The official motorhome count for this convention was 3,982 “” 2,778 family coaches and 1,204 commercial coaches.
“I have nothing but compliments for everything in Pomona “” the entertainment, the volunteers, the attitude of the people, the weather, the comments from the mayor,” said Jeff Jefcoat, F118344, FMCA national president.
Torrential rains had fallen a week before the convention, which helped to nudge spring into bloom. By the time the convention commenced, the Pomona area was awash in color. Lush green hues covered lawns and mountainsides; multicolored blooms brightened flowers and trees; and a sapphire-blue sky glittered above. In addition, soft breezes and daytime temperatures averaging in the mid-70s made for a most enjoyable stay. The cleansing showers also increased visibility, allowing convention-goers great views of the snowclad peaks nearby.
Fairplex is a 487-acre facility that hosts more than 300 events each year, including the annual L.A. County Fair. The latter is billed as the largest county fair in North America and welcomes approximately 1.3 million visitors each year. Fairplex is graced by scenic highlights, such as rock walls, fountains, and foliage, as well as a motorsports museum and train displays that were open for attendees’ perusal. In addition, the facility boasts large expanses of level, hard surfaces, which were used during the California Dreamin’ convention for family coach parking and for outdoor exhibits. Plenty of buildings were available to house the indoor exhibits, seminars, and the FMCA Information Center. The grandstand accommodated convention-goers who gathered for evening entertainment.
Upon arriving at Fairplex, FMCAers received a hearty welcome from FMCA greeter volunteers. These greeters numbered among the approximately 700 convention volunteers, most of them from FMCA’s Western Area, the host area for the Pomona convention. The greeters stood at various access points near the Fairplex grounds, directional signs in hand, helping new arrivals to navigate their coaches toward the proper convention entrance.
Jeff Jefcoat noted that the Pomona convention volunteers “did an outstanding job, as always. We could never have FMCA functions without them.” In addition to acting as greeters, volunteers assisted in myriad other areas: coffee hour, computer help desk, Frustrated Maestros musical entertainment, handicapped area, information, merchandise, parking layout crew, security, seminars, and trams.
“The Western Area volunteers rolled into Pomona, ready to assist in all areas of work,” noted Tony Vincent, F161584, Western Area vice president. “Many of them have made the trip to Pomona many times before. Thanks, volunteers. You are the heart of the Western Motor Home Association.”
What to do next?
The scheduled activities during the Pomona gathering were delightfully diverse. These included health and fitness sessions, square dancing and line dancing instruction, a fashion show, an ice cream social, morning coffee hour, technical and non-technical seminars, and a motorhome exhibition beyond compare. Add to that a ladies’ “Red Hat Society” tea; a quilt exhibition; local entertainers and evening showstoppers; fireworks; a clown; comedians; and special activities for youngsters, and the list still wouldn’t be complete. Many chapters also arranged meetings and socials during the convention, and gatherings for each FMCA area were held as well.
Convention attendees chose from 144 seminar sessions, which covered 115 topics. Technically oriented folks gathered for presentations on supplemental braking, satellite TV systems, diesel engines, chassis maintenance, RV batteries, generators, inverter/charger systems, tires, toilets, and towing, among others. Folks with travel on their minds learned about motorhoming to Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Buffalo (site of FMCA’s convention this July); RV barge cruises and caravans; and even traveling along California’s roadways. Convention-goers also availed themselves of numerous association-related seminars, including a president’s forum, a treasurer’s forum, and a chapter secretary roundtable, as well as discussions that focused on chapter membership, FMCA member benefits, and legislative advisory matters. Craft seminars provided instruction on 15 make-and-take crafts, such as angel tissue box covers, beaded eyeglass holder necklaces, decoupage wood trays, and spring wreaths.
Once again, the RV Safe Driving Course, cosponsored by RV Alliance America (RVAA), C95, an FMCA Super Star sponsor, and FMCA, proved popular. This six-hour classroom seminar, which is divided into two three-hour sessions, helps RVers to improve their driving skills. The Fire and Life Safety seminar, also cosponsored by RVAA and FMCA, provided a firsthand look at fire prevention, types of fires, and fire extinguisher use. Additional useful instruction was provided in the RV Weight and Tire Safety seminar, cosponsored by the Recreation Vehicle Safety Education Foundation, C5999, and FMCA, wherein attendees learned about motorhome load limits, as well as tire maintenance and safety.
One of the hallmarks of an FMCA convention is its unparalleled motorhome show “” a marketplace featuring the newest motorhomes and related products and services available today. In Pomona, 325 supplier exhibitors showcased all manner of RV components; accessories; related products and services; and even gift items and clothing. Outdoors, an additional 95 manufacturers and dealers rolled out the red carpet before hundreds of type A, type B, and type C motorhomes and chassis. Convention attendees received their first look at the outdoor exhibits on Thursday afternoon, March 20, the eve of the convention, during the “Motorhome Exhibit Preview.” When the convention officially began on Friday morning, March 21, all indoor and outdoor exhibits opened for business.
R.G. Wilson, F21025, FMCA senior vice president and Convention Committee chairman, noted that the excellent weather was enjoyed by exhibitors as well as attendees.
The lineup of entertainers included convention regulars as well as a few new, local faces. However, one longtime favorite was noticeably absent: Howard Cowles, L18517, the “singing square dance caller.” Howard was forced to cancel his appearance just prior to the convention because of a family medical emergency. Fortunately, Jack Ingle, F251132, an experienced square dance caller in his own right, graciously agreed to fill in, leading folks around the floor for square-dancing and line-dancing numbers. These dance sessions were sponsored by Coach-Net, C4055, an FMCA One Star sponsor, and FMCA. Howard expressed his gratitude to Jack and noted that he plans to resume his calling duties this July in Buffalo, New York, for FMCA’s 70th International Convention.
Many other entertainers performed at the Ford Daytime Entertainment Stage, located adjacent to the Coffee Hour Area. These included lovable “Willie” and his human companion, ventriloquist Peggy Miller, of Willie & Company. Peggy breathes life into Willie, who becomes a precocious 5-year-old. He helps her sing, tell jokes, and banter with audience members, both on and off stage. Time and again, folks start talking directly to Willie! Willie & Company appeared courtesy of Jayco Inc., C9334, an FMCA Four Star sponsor.
When not performing on stage or in the children’s activity centers, Flakey the Magic Clown (also known as Henry Gartner, F197563) cruised the convention grounds on his fancy scooter, sometimes accompanied by Patches, his pet rabbit. He made balloon animals, performed magic tricks, and passed out decorative pins that resembled his balloon creations. Flakey appeared courtesy of Blue Ox, C2903, an FMCA One Star sponsor.
A 1923 Model T coach conversion was the star of Zeke & Luke’s Dream Camper Show. Guitarist Rod Cathcart and bassist Bob Barkwill regaled their audiences with tales of old-time RVing, and sang original tunes related to the RV lifestyle. In addition, the Frustrated Maestros, composed of musical members from FMCA’s nine Frustrated Maestros chapters, entertained on Friday and Saturday mornings. Attired in their official colors of red and white, the Maestros performed an eclectic variety of melodies, including vocal solos and stirring patriotic numbers, which seemed particularly well-received at this convention. Other daytime acts included the Pete Jacobs Quintet; Punch and Judy, a singing duo; the Los Angeles Police Concert Band; the Dave McKelvy Harmonica Trio; the All-American Boys Chorus; Bob’s Cats, a select group of Frustrated Maestros musicians; and the Crown City Dixieland Band. All of these performers were brought to the stage courtesy of Liberty Coach Inc., C733/Liberty Coach Of Florida, C9408, together an FMCA Five Star sponsor.
“Stunning” might best describe the performances each evening. On Thursday night, prior to the official start of the convention, the Pete Jacobs Wartime Radio Revue transported audience members back in time by performing hit songs from the 1930s and 1940s, interspersed with “news” and commercials from that era; they appeared courtesy of FMCA and Ford Motor Company, C405, an FMCA Three Star sponsor.
On Friday evening, The Young Americans, a group of 30 students from the California Pacific College of the Performing Arts, delivered a high-energy performance featuring choreographed musical medleys. They appeared courtesy of FMCA and Girard Awnings, C6970, an FMCA Super Star sponsor.
The entertainment on Saturday evening was particularly dazzling. Songstress/actress Suzanne Somers presented a Las Vegas-style cabaret act, appearing courtesy of FMCA and Monaco Coach Corporation, C2111, an FMCA Five Star sponsor. To many, Suzanne is best remembered as the lovable but confused Chrissy Snow in the 1970s television show “Three’s Company.” However, as convention-goers witnessed, she is a talented singer as well. During her performance she called Charlie Bonaventure, F87229, up on stage. After “interviewing” him about his wife, children, etc., she invited him to join her in a rendition of “I Don’t Know Why I Love You Like I Do.” To many folks’ surprise “” including Ms. Somers’ “” Charlie jumped right in for the musical duet. Little did Suzanne know that he had once led a dance band! Charlie received a Thighmaster exercise apparatus for his efforts (Suzanne is the spokeswoman for this product). Charlie tried it out on stage, much to the amusement of the audience.
But Saturday’s performance was far from over. Suzanne finished her concert with a stirring rendition of “God Bless America,” which led into a spectacular 27-minute fireworks display. The sky-high bursts of color were accompanied by narration, music, and vibrant patriotic images projected from a specially built frame in front of the grandstand. This extravaganza was provided compliments of Pyro Spectaculars by Souza, an internationally renowned presenter of pyrotechnics shows. Jim Souza has created and produced some of the world’s most famous and glorious fireworks displays, lighting up the skies at two Summer Olympics; the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah; several Super Bowl half-time and post-game shows; and the Statue of Liberty Centennial celebration. FMCA members were among the first to view this particular fireworks show, as it is being developed by the company for the Fourth of July.
The theme on Sunday night was “a laugh a second,” the motto of comedian Royce Elliott, who appeared courtesy of FMCA and Girard Awnings. He was a familiar face to audience members who attended FMCA’s 1998 Las Cruces, New Mexico, convention. Royce is known for his clean humor, which is peppered with one-liners, amusing anecdotes, and occasional lighthearted barbs at audience members. He lived up to his self-proclaimed reputation as “America’s funniest clean comedian.”
TATS, PRE-TEENS, TWEENS, and TOTS
While the adults were enjoying seminars, entertainment, and myriad other activities, the younger set gathered for their own fun. A total of 52 children were registered for the convention. This included 13 TATS (ages 13 to 18), 16 PRE-TEENS (ages 10 to 12), nine TWEENS (ages 6 to 9), and 14 TOTS (ages 2 to 5) who participated in activities.
Each morning, the Coffee Hour Area became a bustling arena filled with convention attendees who enjoyed an informal breakfast courtesy of Guaranty RV Centers, C4161, an FMCA Super Star sponsor. Coffee Hour volunteers served coffee, hot chocolate, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and sugar-free cookies. Early arrivals procured copies of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin newspaper, which were distributed by representatives of Ganis Credit Corporation, an E*Trade Bank Company, C4076, an FMCA Two Star sponsor. In addition, teenagers participating in FMCA’s TATS program handed out FMCA’s daily newsletter, “California Dreamin’ News.” The Frustrated Maestros provided a musical accompaniment to coffee hour on Friday and Saturday; on Sunday, the Crown City Dixieland Band did the honors.
Jeff Jefcoat delivered announcements during coffee hour on Friday morning and welcomed everyone, including first-time attendees, to the California Dreamin’ convention. In light of the war that had just broken out in Iraq, Jeff asked for a moment of silence to remember the friends and loved ones who were overseas. Afterward, he introduced members of the Executive Committee and their spouses, and FMCA’s executive director, Don Eversmann, F240000. Jeff then pronounced this convention officially open, and added lightheartedly, “I command everyone to have a good time!”
On Saturday afternoon, FMCAers gathered at the Coffee Hour Area for another popular convention event: the Ice Cream Social. Ice cream lovers, big and small, queued up to receive the frozen treats that were speedily dispensed by volunteers. This perennially popular convention event was presented compliments of RV Alliance America.
More than 200 FMCA women gathered for FMCA’s own version of a “Red Hat Society Tea.” Coordinated by the Executive Committee wives, this social hour was patterned after the Red Hat Society, an informal organization for women that celebrates aging with style and humor. Women who gather for Red Hat Society events don red hats and purple dresses. The society’s name was inspired by the humorous poem “Warning,” penned by Jenny Joseph, which proclaims, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me . . . but maybe I ought to practice a little now? … “
Convention-goers arrived at the tea wearing red hats and purple attire, both elegant and whimsical, and many brought their own teacups. The ladies partook of iced tea, lemonade, and cookies. Jeri Wilson, F21025, read “Warning” and another humorous poem by Jenny Joseph, titled “All The Time.” Prizes were given out for the most elegant hat and outfit; the most creative hat; the silliest hat; and the smallest hat (this award went to the daughter of one FMCA member who arrived wearing a 1-1/2-inch hat-shaped pin atop her head; it was red, of course).
A small donation was collected from each participant at the tea to help defray expenses. As a result, an extra $100 was taken in and subsequently was donated to the House of Ruth, a battered women’s shelter located in nearby Claremont, California. “A little bit from everybody goes a long way,” noted Diana Gowen, F93847, one of the organizers of the tea.
FMCAers give back
Other special convention events also demonstrated the kindness of FMCA members. The “Fun & Fitness Walk” took place on Sunday morning. Walkers strode through the outdoor exhibit area and then traversed some of Fairplex’s scenic gardens. In addition to providing FMCAers the chance to stretch their legs, the event raised money for Habitat for Humanity, an ecumenical Christian ministry dedicated to eliminating poverty housing worldwide. Proceeds from the walk were split equally between a local Habitat affiliate; the RV Care-A-Vanners; and Habitat for Humanity International. (Following the convention, a group of FMCA members from the FMCA Chapter: Habitat for Humanity® traveled to Ventura, California, to participate in a Habitat build of five houses in that community.)
The On Road Quilters, a group of FMCA members who enjoy quilting and related skills, met for a show-and-tell session during the convention. Many of the women brought handcrafted quilts or blankets to share. After the convention, these were donated to the Pomona Valley Council of Churches Shelter, which planned to distribute them to children who are experiencing uncertainty in their lives. According to Sharon Eversmann, F240000, 40 quilts and five crocheted or fleece blankets were donated to the effort.
FMCA members had the opportunity to give the gift of life via a blood drive sponsored by the La Verne Chamber of Commerce and coordinated through the American Red Cross. In a two-day period, FMCA members gave a total of 69 units of blood.
Finally, many convention attendees donated their used eyeglasses to the Lions’ Foundation Eye Program, which assists in providing vision correction to those in need. A total of 111 pairs of glasses were donated to the cause.
The need for speed
Tony Wiese, F178480, an offshore speedboat racer, provided convention attendees with an extra “display” to scrutinize near the outdoor exhibit area: his racing team’s 38-foot Scarab GM Vortec-powered Lucas Oil race boat. Although sidelined for now with a back injury, Tony enthusiastically shared his love for the sport of powerboat racing with FMCAers, including his views that motorhoming is a perfect complement for fans who attend boat racing events. (A related story about Tony’s involvement in American Power Boat Association Offshore boat racing appears in the “Family & Friends” section of this issue.)
Dreamin’ of the next convention
After witnessing his first FMCA convention, John Bowler, of Class A RV News, summed up the California Dreamin’ gathering: “Motorhome veterans were able to see the latest in industry products and trends and novices could get a thorough introduction to what motorhoming was all about in a short period of time … and have fun doing it. We can recommend attendance at an FMCA convention without reservation.”
And, yes, motorhomers can set their sights on the next convention: FMCA’s 70th International Convention, which will be held July 18, 19, and 20 at the Erie County Fairgrounds in Buffalo, New York.