In late March thousands of motorhomers descended on Perry, Georgia, to participate in FMCA’s 73rd International Convention “” the association’s fourth trip to a city small in size and big on hospitality.
By Robbin Gould
A genuine Southern welcome was extended to thousands of motorhomers who sojourned in Perry, Georgia, for FMCA’s “America On The Move” convention Monday, March 21, through Thursday, March 24. This grand gathering “” the association’s 73rd International Convention “” took place at the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter, which hosted previous FMCA conventions in 1996, 1999, and 2002. The 2005 get-together attracted 6,467 motorhomes, a figure that included 5,127 family coaches and 1,340 exhibit coaches. For statisticians, this ranks as FMCA’s sixth-largest convention overall and the third-largest of the four held in Perry.
Perry is nicknamed the “Crossroads of Georgia,” because it lies at the junction of Interstate 75 and three other federal and state highways, approximately 25 miles south of Macon. Its convenient location made it a great gathering place for snowbirds and other convention-goers. That, paired with the town’s warm and gracious atmosphere and the fine fairgrounds facility, helped to set the scene for a successful convention.
The Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter hosts a variety of meetings, trade shows, livestock events, horse shows, concerts, sporting events, and fairs, most notably the Georgia National Fair each October. Encompassing more than 1,100 acres, the facility is beautifully landscaped with fountains, lakes, and gardens. The picturesque Clock Tower, situated in the midst of the major activity areas, makes a handy and memorable landmark.
“The staff and I are honored to have been the host facility for the FMCA convention for the fourth time. We always look forward to seeing our FMCA friends return,” said Michael Froehlich, executive director of the facility. “Our goal is always to extend a high degree of hospitality and customer service to our patrons. Despite the rain, we hope we accomplished this and that everyone had a memorable experience.”
Spring rains fell at the fairgrounds on several days leading up to the convention, and then again occurred on Tuesday, March 22, during the event, but FMCA members donned their rain gear and activities continued as scheduled.
Once attendees arrived and were parked, the fairgrounds were transformed into a motorhome metropolis. Even the locals marveled at the assemblage of coaches. An editorial published in The Houston Home Journal, Perry’s local newspaper, noted, “It isn’t often that you see a city increase in population by 50 percent almost overnight.”
Brown ribbon brigade
Convention-goers might have noticed brown ribbons attached to many folks’ badges; these identified individuals who were attending their first FMCA convention. According to convention records, 33 percent of motorhomers registered for the Perry convention were first-time convention attendees. Rick and Janne Farrell, F310176, numbered among them. Janne called her initial impression “mind-boggling.”
“I knew it was going to be big, but I wasn’t prepared for the size of it. You just can’t visually imagine 6,400-plus motorhomes “” all of the exhibit coaches and everything else “” all in one space. It was so incredible looking at these motorhomes, all parked so nice and neat.”
Janne also was impressed by FMCA’s friendly greeter volunteers, who were stationed at streets and intersections around the convention site, armed with signage and friendly smiles, helping to direct arriving motorhomers. “For people who have never been [to a convention before], it was really helpful,” she said.
Fun for all
The “America On The Move” convention could have been renamed “Convention-Goers On The Move.” The array of seminars, exhibits, entertainment, and socializing options kept folks as busy as they wanted to be from sunup to sundown.
On the educational front, 125 seminars and 39 meetings were held in 11 seminar rooms. Many were filled to capacity, prompting additional sessions to be added as time and space would allow. “That’s always a good indication that people are enjoying the convention,” commented Jerry Yeatts, FMCA director of conventions and commercial services.
Technical seminars included “RV Inverter/Charger Systems” and “Driving With The Allison World Transmission,” as well as discussions about particular motorhome chassis, engines, and other coach components. Among the non-technical seminars, four different microwave-convection cooking sessions were presented, as were discussions centering on “How To Maximize Your Travel Wardrobe,” “Digital Photography,” and “Heart Health “” Lifestyle Management Education & Activity.” Participants in a dozen craft seminars created such keepsakes as “Beaded Bracelet,” “Patriotic Twirlies,” and “Sassy Sue Shelf Doll.”
Special seminar speakers included Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity. He spoke about the mission and purpose of this ecumenical housing ministry, whose volunteers have helped 175,000 families worldwide build themselves safe, affordable housing. In addition, Michelle Cangelosi, director of government and community relations for the national Take Pride in America program, explained how motorhomers can participate in preserving public lands throughout the United States, which constitute approximately one-third of the country.
Exhibits, another major convention component, wowed the crowd. Convention attendees and members of the general public toured more than 830 2005-model and 2006-model motorhomes, custom coach conversions, and chassis in the outdoor exhibit areas; these rolling beauties were represented by 128 manufacturers and dealers. Additional coaches were available for test drives. Four buildings housed the wares of another 370 companies, whose offerings included components, accessories, services, and products for motorhomes and motorhomers. The outdoor exhibitors welcomed attendees for an initial look-see on Monday, March 21, and all exhibits were open for touring on the three subsequent days. As usual, the product array proved tempting. After all, who could resist a new home on wheels? For those who did manage to resist, many other items deserved consideration.
Other special events included the second-annual FMCA Chapter Fair. More than 125 FMCA chapters, some from each of the association’s 10 areas, participated in this bustling event. Curious convention-goers browsed the chapters’ table displays and chatted with chapter representatives about the advantages “” and fun “” of membership in their groups. A panel of judges selected the three best chapter displays, considering overall appearance, creativity, etc. The winners: Holiday Rambler International, first place; Coastal Tarheels, second place; Rolling Red Hatters, third place. Congratulations to these and all the chapters that participated.
A corps of smiling volunteers dispensed coffee and doughnuts “” plus hot chocolate and sugar-free cookies “” to early-risers who journeyed to the Coffee Hour Area on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings. Coffee hour goodies were furnished by Guaranty RV Center, C4161, an FMCA Super Star sponsor, and FMCA. While folks munched on their morning repast, they listened to a multitude of musical tunes set forth by the red-and-white-clad Frustrated Maestros, a group composed of members of FMCA’s nine Frustrated Maestros chapters. Folks who preferred getting a move-on in a different manner participated in stretch and strength workout sessions presented by fitness-training specialists Wayne and Dahelia Hunt, F235156.
The perennially popular Ice Cream Social satisfied sweet tooths on Wednesday afternoon, thanks to Aon Recreation Insurance (formerly RV Alliance America), C95, an FMCA Super Star sponsor. Throngs of convention attendees enjoyed a frosty bite while listening to Dixieland tunes and other old-time music provided by Bob’s Cats, a select group of Frustrated Maestros musicians.
And what fun the ladies had at the Red Hat Tea. This amusing event, sponsored by Kiley Mold Company, C7252, an FMCA One Star sponsor, and FMCA, drew hundreds of women together on Thursday for an afternoon of fun and frivolity. They came attired in purple dresses and red hats, many armed with a teacup, to enjoy light refreshments and laughter. A zany fashion show during the tea featured creative outfits modeled by female Executive Board members and spouses, and Sharon Eversmann, F240000, wife of FMCA executive director Don Eversmann. Audience members selected Sharon as having the best costume.
Sports fans had the opportunity to inspect the 38-foot fire-engine-red Lucas Oil Offshore Race Team raceboat, which was displayed near the outdoor exhibits. Team member Tony Wiese, F178480, a longtime onboard navigator and backup driver, chatted with FMCAers about the boat and his involvement with the team. In addition, 60 prizes worth almost $8,500 were given away in daily drawings. The prizes were made possible by the generous support of several of the team’s sponsors. The grand-prize winner of a set of four Alcoa Dura-Bright wheels was Jean McCorquodale, F287633, of Palm Bay, Florida.
“I wish to extend a really big thank-you to Jim Terrio, vice president, sales, of Lucas Oil, for all of his help and support with the convention,” Tony said. “Lucas provided winning FMCA members over $2,800 in Lucas products and almost $2,000 in additional prizes, for a total of almost $4,800. It was an extremely successful showing.”
Many FMCA members have made it a point to contribute time, talents, or resources to help those less fortunate. Often their generosity benefits the region where an FMCA international convention is held.
The On-Road Quilters, a group of FMCA members who share an interest in quilting, gathered in Perry for a show-and-tell session in which they traded quilting tips and presented examples of their handiwork. Many also brought a handcrafted item “” a quilt or a knitted, crocheted, or fleece blanket “” for the Quilts For Kids exhibit, which was available for viewing the last day of the convention. These quilts and blankets, which totaled 73, were donated to the Perry and Warner Robins police departments after the convention. Police officials use them to comfort at-risk children they encounter in stressful situations. (A second quilt display featuring the work of the local Crossroads Quilt Guild was on display throughout the convention.)
Answering an urgent call from the American Red Cross, motorhomers participated in a specially scheduled FMCA Blood Drive, which was conducted during the convention. According to Jackie Connors of the American Red Cross, 54 units of blood were collected from FMCA members.
Used eyeglasses were solicited from motorhomers during the convention as well. A total of 120 pairs of eyeglasses were turned in at Perry, to be donated to the Lions’ Foundation Eye Program.
Representatives of the FMCA Chapter: Habitat for Humanity® staffed a booth in the FMCA Information Center to acquaint convention-goers with Habitat for Humanity and describe home builds that FMCA members were welcome to participate in, both locally and abroad. Two builds took place after the Perry convention. According to Lynn Laymon, F245876, the chapter’s national director, 15 chapter members worked on two houses in Warner Robins; in Milledgeville, 11 members completed electrical, insulation, siding, and drywall on one house. Seven of the 26 team members were first-time Habitat builders.
“It is such a joy to make a meaningful contribution of time and talent by helping deserving families realize the thrill and dignity of having a home of their own,” Lynn said.
It also was announced in Perry that the chapter’s executive board authorized a $1,000 donation from the chapter’s working fund to Habitat’s tsunami relief efforts in South Asia.
FMCA’s younger convention-goers “” kids ages 3 to 18 “” partook of their own fun-filled events. A total of 61 children were registered for the Perry youth program. Activities were scheduled for four age groups: TOTS, ages 2 to 5; TWEENS, ages 6 to 9; PRE-TEENS, ages 10 to 12; and TATS (Teen-Age Travelers), ages 13 to 18. Youth centers for each group were filled with age-specific items such as toys, books, movies, craft supplies, and video games, and were monitored by FMCA’s youth volunteers, who also handled registration and oversaw activities. The TOTS journeyed to a local park and playground; ate lunch at one of their favorite places “” McDonald’s; and enjoyed their very own ice cream party during the Ice Cream Social. The TWEENS, PRE-TEENS, and TATS went bowling; toured the Museum of Aviation at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins; spent time at the local Starcadia Entertainment Center; and enjoyed skating, laser tag, and more at the Olympia Fun Center. They also gathered for dinner on three evenings, chowing on hot dogs, chicken meals, and pizza.
Let us entertain you
Convention attendees enjoyed a dazzling evening entertainment lineup. On Sunday evening, Howard Cowles, L18517, “the singing square dance caller,” led folks through square dancing and line dancing numbers while plenty of spectators looked on. Howard also conducted dance sessions on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. He appeared courtesy of Coach-Net, C4055, an FMCA One Star sponsor; Fan-Tastic Vent Corporation, C3077, an FMCA One Star sponsor; and FMCA.
Monday evening’s program featured the sounds of the Georgia Big Band, presented in Perry by Alpine Recreation, C9932, an FMCA Two Star sponsor, and FMCA.
On Tuesday evening, Mac Frampton and the Hollywood Hills Orchestra performed music of the silver screen and more, courtesy of Outdoor Resorts of America Las Vegas/Motorcoach Country Club, C10274, an FMCA Five Star sponsor, and FMCA.
The Wednesday evening audience witnessed an energetic performance by country-western singing star Pam Tillis, who sang her many hits, appearing courtesy of Pioneer Electronics, C9420, an FMCA Super Star sponsor, and FMCA.
Thursday night’s finale featured the distinctive four-part melodies of the ever-popular Oak Ridge Boys “” including their smash hit “Elvira.” Their performance was made possible by Monaco Coach Corporation, C2111, an FMCA Five Star sponsor, and FMCA.
The Foretravel Daytime Entertainment Stage was the scene of multiple performances during the morning and afternoon hours: Dwayne & April Boswell; “FMCA sweetheart” Alice Detrick; David Pengelly & Band; the Perry Pickers; the Perry Middle School “Panther Jazz” Band; the ShaeLaurel Family Band; and Outloud! Worship Band of Go! International. All appeared courtesy of National City, C10057, an FMCA Super Star sponsor, and FMCA.
Other daytime performances included the hilarious ventriloquism act of Willie & Company, starring Peggy Miller and 6-year-old Willie, her sassy sidekick, appearing courtesy of Freightliner Custom Chassis, C1905, an FMCA Four Star sponsor. Flakey the Magic Clown, more commonly known as Henry Gartner, F197563, provided a barrage of magic tricks and humorous quips for kids of all ages, courtesy of Blue Ox, C2903, an FMCA Two Star sponsor. Flakey also made frequent visits to the youth centers.
The volunteer connection
Volunteers have been mentioned a couple of times in this report. As at each FMCA convention, hundreds of FMCA members gave of their time to assist in one or more ways during the “America On The Move” convention. Folks worked in myriad areas: Chair Crew, Coffee Hour, Computer Help Desk, FMCA Store, Frustrated Maestros, Greeters, Handicap and Activity Trams, Information Center, Parking Layout Crew, Security, Seminars, Trams, and Youth.
“A great big thank-you to the 800-plus volunteers who helped us make the [Perry convention] a success,” said George Schipper, national vice president, Southeast Area, the host area for the convention. “Of course, without them we can’t have a convention. I really appreciate the Southeast Area volunteers, especially as they just got done working the [Southeast Area Rally] in Brooksville, Florida, with over 2,300 coaches, and then came up to do the Perry convention the next month, with over 6,400 coaches.”
Let’s do it again!
“First-timer” Janne Farrell noted that she and her husband had so much fun in Perry, they’ve already talked about attending their next FMCA convention. They’ve begun recruiting some motorhoming friends to follow suit. “We told them, ‘You have to do this at least once … it’s unbelievable.'”
FMCA’s 74th International Convention will take place at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds in Minot, North Dakota, August 15 through 18. Make plans now to attend! Register via fax, phone, mail, or online at www.fmca.com. For more information, visit the Web site or refer to page 128 of this issue.
The “America On The Move” convention was made possible by the generous support of the following “Star” sponsors.
Super Star Sponsors
Aon Recreation Insurance (formerly RV Alliance America), C95
Guaranty RV Center, C4161
Houston Home Journal
National City, C10057
Pioneer Electronics, C9420
Five Star Sponsors
Buddy Gregg Motor Homes, C3326
Country Coach Inc., C2132
Goodyear Tire & Rubber, C9158
Monaco Coach Corporation, C2111
Newmar Corporation, C4363
ORA Las Vegas/Motorcoach Country Club, C10274
Four Star Sponsors
Coach Connect, C9772
Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation, C1905
Three Star Sponsor
Ford Motor Company, C405
Two Star Sponsors
Alpine Recreation, C9932
Blue Ox, C2903
E*Trade Consumer Finance Corporation, C4076
Foretravel Inc., C236
North Dakota State Fair, C9318
One Star Sponsors
Armor Shield, C10148
Fan-Tastic Vent Corporation, C3077
Hale Expo Services, C974
Kiley Mold Company, C7252
Workhorse Custom Chassis, C8291