Family & Friends
By Don Graham, F181499
It’s reasonable to expect that after 26 years of Great Lakes Area Spring Sprees, the excitement for the event may have dulled for some longtime attendees. But that was not the case during the 27th annual G.L.A.S.S. rally, held May 27 through 31, 2004, at the Berrien County Youth Fair in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Despite the escalating cost of fuel and the great distances traveled by many, this year’s event yielded a bumper crop of avid motorhome enthusiasts. The occupants of nearly 1,100 coaches camped happily at the fairgrounds, all provided with attractive, tree-lined, grassy sites; generous parking space; and adequate electric power.
This year’s delightful Mardi Gras theme was displayed on the information bags that everyone received at registration. In addition to the rally program, the bag included a box that contained two etched, royal blue goblets and a selection of colorful beads for attendees to wear as they joined in the Mardi Gras-like merriment.
The weather was quite un-G.L.A.S.S.-like. That is to say, it was very pleasant, with plenty of sunshine and warmth, but just enough rain to let us know we were still in Michigan. Everyone enjoyed the sunny afternoons, gathering in groups to socialize and renew friendships faded by the long winter solitude. First-timers Dave and Linda Colley, F103436, of Naples, Florida, were impressed by the friendliness of everyone they met and commented on the good job done by the parking crew and the large number of vendors.
Two phenomena fascinated me this year. The first was the extraordinary number of new, multi-slideout, diesel-powered coaches that rolled in. Has everyone traded in their no-slideout, gasoline motorhomes? Motor coach industry executives must be grinning from ear to ear. The second was the proliferation of two-, three-, and four-wheel scooters; golf carts; and tiny gas-powered, battery-powered, and pedal-powered bikes. I even saw a turn-of-the-century penny-farthing bicycle. It seemed to me that the busiest vendors this year were those selling electric scooters. Everyone and their cousin were whizzing around the campground on these small vehicles. Has walking gone out of style? But I digress.
The 2004 version of G.L.A.S.S. was a superb event. It would be impossible to name every single person who contributed to its success. Certainly a magnificent job was done by rally masters Marv and Marilyn Hills, F174041, who were assisted by Dave and Penny Hough, F246114. The Hillses also were responsible for booking the entertaining stage shows each night. Frank and Barb Papke, F38427, and Greg and Laura Baker, F56027, had the complicated responsibility of registration. Cal and Doris Courtney, F158229, wore several hats again this year, looking after the indoor vendors and the treasury. Ed Byberneit, F98411, and his experienced crew did a super job with parking and security, while Doug and Sandi Nie, F170279, kept busy with the commercial coaches. Larry Schroeder, F177103, and his welcome team met all attendees, leaving a favorable first impression. Also, there was the book swap run by Bev Trevena, F126849; the golf tournament led by Bill Schueller, F85235; and the information center operated by George Abbot, F214693.
We also must emphasize that 400 volunteers (think about that!) did yeoman’s service throughout the event. All deserve recognition.
But what is it that makes G.L.A.S.S. such a hit?
Perhaps the most popular places at the rally are the indoor vendor buildings. Here the itinerant RVer can find many new accessories; replenish dwindling supplies; see all the latest gadgets; and discover the newest technical developments. There were plenty of products on display to attract guys and gals. Most vendors reported an increase in business as compared to past years. I, for one, sure spent a lot of money; I just hope my wife gets over it soon.
For many G.L.A.S.S. attendees, the seminars are the thing. Chuck Borcher, F164191, assembled a marvelous lineup of seminar speakers. I’m sorry that I didn’t sign up for the RVAA Safe Driving Course, for everyone with whom I spoke said it was extremely worthwhile, educating new owners as well as the old hands on the finer points of motorhoming. But I did get some valuable education regarding supplemental braking for towed vehicles; steering control; tire maintenance; holding tank care; GPS systems; caravan tours; and much more. Many of the seminars were conducted by the various vendors.
Certainly the food service, managed by Dave and Lois Hockman, L4015, and their capable crew, was a significant part of rally enjoyment. Everyone sat at attractively decorated, white-sheathed tables for their meals, enjoying pork chops with au gratin potatoes on Saturday night and chicken cordon bleu with all the trimmings on Sunday. Even the breakfasts, featuring bacon, sausage, and eggs, were terrific. The Hockmans were assisted this year by volunteers from many of the Great Lakes Area chapters, namely, Ed and Judy Dohm, F188289, of the GMC Great Lakers; Joe and Roseanne Gardner, F107625, of the Hoosier Cruisers; Bud and Wanda Trash, F23758, of the Midwest Coachmen; Ernie and Jan Eller, F248238, of the National RV Great Lakers; Roy and Jane Goodrich, F143227, of the Ohio Nomads; Jim and Marleen Langdon, F120108, of the Ontario Rovers; Jerry and Dee Sigler, F257933, of the PALS; and Dick and Joan Flanery, F203153, of the Tri-State Traveliers. Happy camper Joyce Agle, F98757, quipped that not only were the meals special, it gave her time to chat with other friendly travelers.
Evening entertainment contributes enormously to Spring Spree enjoyment, and this year was no exception. Leroy Van Dyke, a celebrated country performer, and his terrific backup band dazzled the audience with many of his well-known pieces, including the “Auctioneer” and “Walk On By.” The following night, Narvel Felts, one of the original rock ‘n’ rollers of the 1950s, had us tapping our toes as he reprised his famous recordings. Sunday night we were treated to the sound of the Tom Milo Big Band. If, once upon a time, you bounced to the arrangements of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, you were right in tune with Tom Milo and the vocal renditions of his wife, Fran. During the evening performances the dance floor was filled with couples gliding smoothly with the music.
After every evening performance the 50/50 raffle was conducted by Sandy Byberneit, F98411, and her gang of persistent ticket sellers. This was followed by a drawing of prizes donated by FMCA and various vendors. Some pretty desirable goodies were hauled away by happy winners each night.
The Sunday morning inspiration program featured the close harmony of The Anchormen of Fair Haven singing many of the grand old gospel songs and hymns we have sung since our youth. They were great! I even bought one of their CDs.
Howard Cowles, L18517, also was there leading the line-dancing and square-dancing groups. Those of us who were too timid to take part enjoyed the spectacle of synchronized motion from those light-footed participants.
Among other entertainment was the well-attended fashion show hosted by Connie Wilson, F277172, with Marguerite Boyce, F59326; Maree Walker, F173323; and Gail Pollock, F268168. Some attractive gals were swinging their hips and strutting their stuff while modeling some good-looking styles.
“Queen Mother” Judy Kohn, F174021, hosted the Red Hat Ladies as they dressed in their purple finery and red millinery for their annual Spring Spree Tea. A lovely Victorian beaded purse, crafted by Marie Garant, F49721, was donated as a door prize. Unfortunately, the only cloudburst of the rally occurred just as they were about to meet. Only 75 ladies made it to the tea, about half of those expected.
We must thank Best Buy RVs, C8894, and RV Alliance America, C95, for their generous ice cream socials. Just love that butter pecan ice cream! The clowns, too, were out there entertaining the crowds, dispensing candies to the kids (and the young at heart), drawing guffaws, and lifting spirits. They were Twyla “Bluebird” Grovom, F117484; Marilou “Dutches” Yost, F143277; Dianne “Stitches” Metevia, F224961; Bob “Patches” Waite, F77640; and Henry “Flakey” Gartner, F197563.
It seemed that everybody had a good time. I spoke with Tony and Martha Cosby, F185540, of Beverly Hills, Florida, who commented on how tidy and nice the grounds were. They had never been to an area rally and were very happy with their first-time experience. They really appreciated the informative rally program and the generous electrical hookup, and were pleased that the fairgrounds had its own dump station.
There was plenty to see and do during the rally. Tours included a visit to the Monaco Coach Corporation factory in Elkhart, Indiana, as well as a winery tour. Members of the Frustrated Maestros Great Lakes Area chapter entertained every day. And, of course, there were scores of shiny new motorhomes to ooh and aah over. I understand that quite a few were sold.
Representatives from the Berrien Springs Middle School welcomed us for a delicious spaghetti and meatballs dinner on Thursday evening that included cold drinks and chocolate brownies, too.
At a well-attended FMCA forum we had the opportunity to meet with national president R.G. Wilson, F21025; national senior vice president Don Moore, F154921; and Great Lakes Area vice president, Ginny McGrath, F87335. A discussion ensued regarding the concept of regional chapters forming an association, during which time we got to hear a number of interesting points of view.
The culmination of the rally occurred on Monday morning, with an impressive parade and Memorial Day ceremony at the flagpole. Marching bands from the Berrien Springs high school and middle school led the way. Bob Metevia, F224961, began the ceremony by raising the American flag to the top of the pole and then lowering it to half-staff to honor those brave men and women who so selflessly served and died for their country. Dianne Metevia recited a stirring poem she wrote to set a patriotic tone for the day when we remembered our fallen. The American and Canadian national anthems were played. A rifle salute preceded an echo rendition of taps played by two buglers. It was very touching.
If you have never been to the Great Lakes Area Spring Spree, plan now to attend in 2005 during the Memorial Day weekend. You will thoroughly enjoy yourself. Heck, you might even end up leaving with a brand-new motorhome.
Former FMCA National Secretary Remembers Ronald Reagan
By Doug Uhlenbrock
When former president Ronald Reagan died on June 5, 2004, people throughout the world mourned the loss of the United States’ 40th commander in chief. For most of us, he was a leader we knew only from a distance, through the newspapers and television. But for Mary Elizabeth Quint Preston, F51004, who served as FMCA national secretary from 1996 to 1998, Mr. Reagan’s passing was especially meaningful, since she spent eight years as a deputy special assistant to a president she believes was “one of the greatest men in the history of our country.”
“When I found out he died, I cried and cried,” she said. “I wasn’t sure I was going to go to the funeral, but my husband [Bill] said, ‘If you don’t go, you will never have any closure.'” So she boarded a plane to Washington, D.C., where she was among the thousands who paid their final respects at the National Cathedral. “I’m thankful that I did; I don’t know that I ever would have made myself feel that he was gone if I hadn’t been there.”
M.E.Q., as she was referred to by Mr. Reagan, never sought her position in the White House. In fact, she was ready to enjoy some downtime at her eastern Kentucky home. She had just returned home from Washington, D.C., after completing a two-year term as president of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), one of the world’s largest and oldest women’s volunteer service organizations. But when an old friend, Elizabeth Dole, wife of U.S. Senator Bob Dole, enlisted Mary Elizabeth to head up the volunteer activities for the 1981 presidential inauguration, she was back in the U.S. capital. When the festivities concluded and Mary Elizabeth was ready to head home to Kentucky, Mrs. Dole thanked her for the assistance. “I told them that if they needed any help to let me know,” Mary Elizabeth said.
“When I got home I received a call from Elizabeth asking me if I was sincere when I said I would help,” recalled Mary Elizabeth. “I told her yes, and then she said the president would like for me to come on board as part of his staff. I told her I would have to think about it. Later that night I got a call from President Reagan asking me to work at the White House. I thought about it, then finally agreed. At 7:30 that next morning, I was on a plane heading to Washington, D.C.”
Mary Elizabeth might not have accepted the job had it been another president asking, but she was well-acquainted with President Reagan’s message and believed she could help make a difference. “During my administration [with GFWC] there were two issues that were very important to me: strong family units and the free enterprise system,” she said. “These are the pillars of a free society. I went out of office in 1980. At the same time, Ronald Reagan was running for president, promoting the same two issues.” Of course, a phone call from the president himself helped seal the deal. “I couldn’t believe it when he called,” she said with a laugh. “If he wouldn’t have asked me, I guess I would have played bridge and gone to women’s club meetings.”
As one of five deputy special assistants to the president, Mary Elizabeth’s responsibility was to communicate with the national leadership of the service organizations, as well as members of Congress and the president. She met with President Reagan on a weekly basis to discuss ideas and develop strategies and programs to garner support for the president’s policies.
She has many fond memories of her days in the White House accomplishing tasks alongside the president. “Ronald Reagan was an exceptional person to work with,” she said. “He was very down-to-earth. He didn’t want it to appear that he was the boss.” And, although he was a busy man, she said that he always had time to share a few moments with coworkers. “Whenever he did a press appearance for one of the programs I was involved with, he would have me in the Oval Office with him,” she said. “When he’d finish, we’d be walking out and he’d say, ‘What’s your hurry?’ So we’d talk for a while and he’d tell some stories. There were five special assistants, and he called us his extended family.”
She also recalled the relationship between Mr. Reagan and his wife, Nancy. “When you talk about true love, they had it for one another,” she said. “When she would walk into the room, their eyes would light up. They didn’t have to say a thing.” And, Mary Elizabeth said, they would do anything to help the other.
One example was when Mary Elizabeth presented the Great American Families project to the president. Instead of fronting the project himself, he asked Mary Elizabeth if she would develop the program for his wife. At the time, Mrs. Reagan was not very popular with the press, and, according to Mary Elizabeth, the president believed the project would be a good opportunity for her to receive some favorable publicity, which it did. Her work with the first lady did not go unnoticed, leading to one of Mary Elizabeth’s fondest memories. “One day he [Mr. Reagan] walked into my office, put his arm around my shoulder, and said, ‘M.E.Q., you’re a wonderful lady and thank you for helping Nancy with the Great American Families project.'”
After Mr. Reagan finished his second term, Mary Elizabeth was asked by President-elect George H.W. Bush to stay on, but she decided it was time to get back to the plans she had made eight years before. Plus, she had a new interest: motorhoming.
While in Washington, Mary Elizabeth often flew back to her alma mater, the University of Kentucky, for Wildcats football games. Friends of hers had purchased a motorhome that they used for tailgating before and after the games. She thought it would be a nice way to travel, so she bought one.
She joined FMCA in 1983 and quickly became involved in a number of chapters. She was secretary-treasurer and president of the Singles International chapter, and was elected FMCA national secretary for two terms. She remains active in FMCA as national director of the Circle of Friends chapter and as a member of the Constitution and Bylaws Committee.
Mary Elizabeth and her husband, Bill, are now on their eighth motorhome, a 2003 Country Coach. When not traveling, they live in Brooksville, Florida, where Mary Elizabeth continues to do community service, striving to make life better for those who live in Hernando County. She’s dedicated her life to helping others, and she’s not inclined to stop any time soon.
Of course, she will never forget the time she spent assisting the president. The last time she spoke to Mr. Reagan was at the dedication of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, in 1991. She hadn’t planned to go, but changed her mind at the last moment thanks to another one of those surprise phone calls. “[Mr. Reagan] called and said, ‘M.E.Q., what do you mean you’re not coming to the dedication of my library? Get on a plane and get out here.'”
Just like that, she was on a plane to California, once again unable to say no to the man she admired as a leader and cared about as a friend.