By Mary Lawler, F119890
National Vice President, Southeast Area Vice
My husband, Russ, and I have spent the past eight years serving as full-time volunteers for FMCA. One would imagine this to be quite an undertaking, but in our case it has been an enjoyable one. I thought I’d share the story of how we got to this point. And I’ll tell you the moral of the story right up front: join an FMCA chapter, and then become involved as a volunteer. The time and effort you dedicate will be repaid many times over in the friendships that you form and the good times that you share.
We have been motorhoming since 1975, but we didn’t join FMCA until 1989. We were working in the summer with our youngest son mowing lawns and met a wonderful couple who had just bought a new Beaver motorhome. They offered to show us their new coach, but they soon discovered they were locked out as a result of a malfunctioning door lock. Luck was on their side, as they had left the driver’s side window open. With the help of a ladder, our son was able to crawl through the window. With him working on the inside and Russ on the outside, they were able to take the lock apart and open the door. While all of this was happening, we got into a conversation with the coach owners regarding the oval emblem displayed on their motorhome. Until that day, we were not aware of FMCA. Before we parted company, we had an FMCA application in our hands and an invitation to join them at their next Florida Panhandlers chapter meeting.
Since most Florida chapters don’t meet during the summer months, we were unable to attend our first chapter meeting until November. That particular rally was held in Alligator Point, Florida, about 10 miles from our home in Panacea, Florida. Needless to say, we had such fun and were so warmly welcomed that we quickly joined the chapter. We were not volunteers the first year we were members, but we became actively involved with the Florida Panhandlers chapter and started volunteering in 1990. I even served as substitute secretary a few times. We have volunteered every year since.
In 1990 we attended our first Southeast Area Rally at River Ranch, Florida. We also moved into our motorhome in 1990 and became full-timers. The next few years were busy ones as we traveled, I worked part-time, and we babysat with our grandchildren and enjoyed the comings and goings of our FMCA chapter. We met so many nice people and made some really great friends. We feel this would not have happened had we not become members of a chapter.
In March 1994 prior to the FMCA winter convention in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I had a conversation with Pat Malloy, Southeast Area Florida regional vice president. She was putting together a convention pre-rally, and Russ and I agreed to help. We made arrangements to meet Pat at Farr Park, Louisiana, where the pre-rally would take place. Before the pre-rally, we attended the Full Timers chapter rally, which was also held in Farr Park. We looked forward to Pat’s arrival at the end of that rally. This was an interesting park, because the levee was across the street from the park, and the water table was higher than the road. So, when you stepped out of your coach, you had to make sure that you looked down first, as you may be in water up to your ankles.
Pat arrived and we starting putting together things that needed to be taken care of, among them plans for the parking crew. We had 90 sites, which had been built with travel trailers in mind. What a job it was to get those motorhomes parked and still have space enough between them so the occupants could open the door of the coach to get in and out! I think I had the best job; I got to work the “street.” By the time our pre-rally group started arriving, there were two other groups arriving at the grounds. My job was to stand before the first turnoff and separate the coaches as they were coming in. We had the Converted Coach chapter in the first campground, the Singles International chapter in the area around the horse arena, and the Southeast Area in the back section. I ate a lot of dust, but that’s the day I became a “hard core” volunteer.
I continued to volunteer with our chapter at the Southeast Area rallies, and then in 1995 when Pat Malloy became national vice president, Southeast Area, Russ and I agreed to work closely with her.
The Southeast Area, which consists of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, is a large area with problems that most other areas don’t have to deal with. For one, our annual area rally is held the first full week of February in Florida, and finding a place in that state to hold the event is next to impossible. Other than the Florida State Fairgrounds, there isn’t a fairgrounds in the state that can handle a rally as large as ours. And we had to strike the Florida State Fairgrounds off of our list right away, because the facility has entered into long-term agreements with numerous entities for use of the grounds, which precludes the Southeast Area from using it. I was part of the group that looked at 25 sites prior to the move to our current rally site in Brooksville, Florida.
We were very fortunate in 1996 to have the opportunity to meet the manager at the Hernando County Airport in Brooksville. It only took a few words with him, and he knew what we needed. He was raised in Wisconsin, and his father worked at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual “Fly-In” convention in Oshkosh. At this event, they deal with airplanes, RVs, and people. We only have to deal with motorhomes, people, and the occasional airplane or helicopter that wants to visit with us while we have the rally in full force.
We in the Southeast Area did what we do best. We found grounds that could handle us, in this case, the Hernando County Airport and then we built the rest. The Southeast Area leases a portion of the airport grounds and maintains an office there that is staffed by volunteers year-round.
I have spent the past four years serving as national vice president, Southeast Area, and they have been interesting ones. I have had the opportunity to meet and work with really wonderful people. Many hours are required to maintain the rally grounds, but really great volunteers handle that and the buildings and equipment. These, again, are what we classify as “hard core” volunteers. They have the Southeast Area at heart and work to continue to keep it the very best it can be.
The additional volunteers who come in and work during the rally are fantastic. They come willingly and work the hours we request, with no questions asked. I would say that 99 percent of our volunteers are chapter members. However, we in the Southeast Area are always looking for those first-time rally attendees who are wandering around, with no direction, and really no idea what is in store for them. We grab them and put them to work. They make great volunteers, and we know that after their experience as volunteers, they will be back again.
As national vice president, Southeast Area, I also have the privilege of setting up and working at the FMCA booth at the Florida RV Supershow in Tampa each January. What a great way to meet new folks, and talk with people who have just come South and can’t wait to get involved in FMCA. We also talk with those who are in the process of buying their first motorhome, and those who have just purchased one, and tell them about the benefits of joining FMCA, including the joys of chapter membership.
Life is wonderful, folks. Join a chapter and never miss a fun-filled moment. I look forward to meeting you all down the road.