In a quest for adventure, knowledge, fun, and fellowship, several thousand families trekked to Minot, North Dakota, in August for the association’s 74th International Convention.
By Pamela Kay
Director of Communications, Publishing
In the spirit of Lewis and Clark and their explorations 200 years prior, several thousand families embarked on a voyage of discovery and headed to North Dakota in mid-August for FMCA’s “Dakota Expedition” convention. Once there, they circled the wagons and set up camp at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds in Minot for the better part of a week. The official dates of the convention were August 15 through 18, 2005.
The FMCA travelers experienced the sense of freedom and adventure that members of the Corps of Discovery undoubtedly felt as they mapped out uncharted territory and visited new places, but the modern-day motorhomes families used to make the journey to North Dakota this past August contained luxuries the explorers of years past could never have imagined. A total of 4,038 motorhomes gathered for the convention, a figure that includes 3,025 family coaches and 1,013 commercial coaches.
Fields of sunflowers nodding in the breeze, amber waves of grain, and friendly area residents greeted convention attendees who gathered for FMCA’s big summer event. Set in a tree-framed valley astride the meandering Souris River, Minot has a population of approximately 36,000, and the arrival of another 10,000-plus people in the “Magic City” created quite a stir. Convention attendees encountered billboards emblazoned with the words “Welcome FMCA,” colorful “Welcome Back” posters in restaurants and stores, and, best of all, the warmth of the people who call Minot and its bucolic surrounds home.
“The community was wonderful,” commented Jerry Yeatts, FMCA director of conventions and commercial services. “The businesses were very supportive, and Minot residents shared their hospitality with visiting motorhome owners.”
The summer 2005 event marked FMCA’s third convention at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds. The first took place in June 1990 and the second in August 1995. Since that time the fairgrounds has added significant space to the building now known as the North Dakota State Fair Center. Quite a few FMCA activities were housed in this 250,000-square-foot structure, including the supplier and component exhibits, several seminars, the FMCA Information Center, and restaurants and food concessions. Various other buildings and nearly every square foot of outdoor space at the fairgrounds was used in some capacity by FMCA, along with neighboring property used for coach parking.
Weather or not
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery made camp in North Dakota during the winter of 1804-1805, and they witnessed the less hospitable aspects of the area’s climate. FMCA members, on the other hand, enjoyed daytime temperatures that hovered close to 80 degrees, capped off by sunshine and broad blue skies for much of their visit. Were it not for the nearly 1 inch of rain that fell overnight on Tuesday, August 16 “” ironically, the only significant precipitation the city had for the month of August “” and the issues this created, convention-goers would have been treated to picture-perfect convention weather. Weather aside, FMCA members went about enjoying the activities and, fortunately, the daytime hours remained dry for the most part. The threat of rain did prompt a decision to move the evening entertainment indoors on Thursday, but other than that, events proceeded as scheduled.
Lewis and Clark set out with the mission of surveying and mapping the untamed wilderness. FMCA members, on the other hand, were presented with maps and a guide in the form of their convention program. It was up to them to use this information and plan their time so as to maximize their discoveries and adventure. With so much happening from dawn to dusk at an FMCA convention, this is never an easy task. The Minot convention proved to be no exception.
The grain harvest was in full swing in North Dakota when FMCA members arrived. Meanwhile at the fairgrounds, a different kind of crop sprang up “” a bumper crop of new motorhomes set forth for inspection. Nearly 1,000 vehicles “” a mixture of 2005 and 2006 models “” were either open for perusal or for a spin around the block. Several manufacturers took the opportunity to unveil new floor plans and new models during the event. The North Dakota State Fair Center housed an RV trading post that was beyond compare; convention attendees browsed through booth after booth filled with all of the items a motorhome explorer might need for a journey “” RV accessories, components, and supplies, as well as travel clothing and home products.
The search for knowledge
FMCA members were aided in their ongoing quest to expand their knowledge about the motorhome lifestyle by more than 100 seminar sessions that took place during the convention. Thirteen different spaces of varying sizes were set aside as seminar, craft, and meeting rooms. Technical topics always draw large crowds, and that held true in Minot as well. Sessions designed to assist motorhome owners in maintaining and operating their homes on wheels included the basics of diesel engines, refrigerators, and RV satellites, as well as seminars related to RV batteries, tires, inverters, and generators. Chassis- and engine-specific maintenance seminars were offered as well.
A long list of varied topics intended to enhance life on wheels was covered also “” from personal safety to Medicare benefits and from microwave cooking to photography. In addition, 15 different craft projects were demonstrated during the convention, with several repeats to help accommodate interested attendees, who came away with fun souvenirs of their time at the convention and new skills they can take with them as they travel.
Groups of FMCA members set out from the fairgrounds each day of the convention on organized sight-seeing tours intended to acquaint them with the culture, heritage, and attractions of the local area. These outings took them into downtown Minot itself and as far afield as the state capital, Bismarck, located 110 miles south of the convention site. Convention attendees were able to walk in the footsteps of the famed explorers by visiting the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn and touring the reconstructed quarters of Fort Mandan, where the Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1804-1805 and where Sakakawea joined the explorers.
Entertainment “” from sunup to sundown
Convention-goers started their day with morning coffee hour, courtesy of Guaranty RV, C4161, an FMCA Super Star sponsor, and FMCA, and wake-’em-up tunes provided by FMCA’s own Frustrated Maestros. In addition, several other FMCA favorites “” Willie & Company, Dave & Daphne, Bernie & Red, and Flakey the Magic Clown (also known as Henry Gartner, F197563) “” performed at the Foretravel Daytime Entertainment Stage. Willie & Company performed courtesy of Freightliner Custom Chassis, C1905, an FMCA Five Star sponsor. Flakey the Magic Clown appeared courtesy of Blue Ox, C2903, an FMCA Two Star sponsor. Convention attendees also were treated to performances by a number of local groups.
Dancing and music filled the evening hours. Early-bird arrivals joined veteran caller Howard Cowles, L18517, for some square dancing and line dancing fun on Sunday evening, August 14, at the Livestock Expo Building. Howard has been leading the do-si-dos and promenades at FMCA conventions for more than 35 years, and he led two sessions during the daytime hours as well. His appearances in Minot were sponsored by Coach-Net, C4055, an FMCA One Star sponsor; Fan-Tastic Vent Corporation, C3077, an FMCA One Star Sponsor; and FMCA.
The dancing shoes didn’t have time to gather dust, for on Monday evening, August 15, Myron Sommerfeld and His Music filled the Livestock Expo building with big band sounds suitable for “cutting a rug.” This evening was sponsored by Alpine Recreation, C9932, an FMCA Two Star sponsor, and FMCA.
On Tuesday evening at the Caterpillar Grandstand, the talented trio that makes up the group New Odyssey amazed and amused the FMCA audience. This fun-filled evening was made possible by Country Coach, C2132, an FMCA Five Star sponsor, and FMCA.
Country music superstar Roy Clark and his fabulous band performed Wednesday evening at the Caterpillar Grandstand, courtesy of Monaco Coach Corporation, C2111, an FMCA Five Star sponsor, and FMCA.
As alluded to previously, the trip back to the 1960s on Thursday evening, led by the legendary singing group The Lettermen, was moved inside to the All-Seasons Arena. This evening of romance was made possible by Outdoor Resorts of America Las Vegas/Motorcoach Country Club, C10274, an FMCA Five Star sponsor, and FMCA.
In addition to morning coffee hour, FMCA members gathered for other social events during the convention. On Wednesday afternoon the traditional ice cream social, sponsored by Aon Recreation Insurance (formerly RV Alliance America), C95, took place. Thursday brought a newer yet equally fun convention event “” for the female set anyway “” when several hundred ladies dressed in their red-hat-and-purple-dress finery gathered in Heritage Hall for a Red Hat tea. The event was sponsored by Kiley Mold Company, C7252, an FMCA One Star sponsor. The ladies enjoyed the traditional reading of the Jenny Joseph poem “Warning,” which has inspired the Red Hat Society movement across the United States, topped off with refreshments and, of course, good company. The group also donated $315 to the Anne Carlsen Center for Children, which was designated as the official convention charity (more about this later).
Numerous chapters took advantage of the opportunity to hold business meetings and socials during the convention, and various impromptu gatherings took place as well.
A newsworthy event
The FMCA convention captured the attention of the local news media, and reporters and photographers from the Minot Daily News and from local television stations kept area residents and convention attendees informed about convention happenings. On Monday, August 15, the news media even reported on an unusual marriage proposal that took place during the convention. Don Tallman, L1956, hired a local pilot to fly over the fairgrounds with a banner that read: “Carolyn: will you marry me? Don.” Don had met Carolyn Bearden, L2890, two years prior at FMCA’s convention in Buffalo, New York, so Don noted that a convention seemed a fitting place to extend the offer of marriage. A very surprised Carolyn “” surrounded by friends and reporters who’d been given advance word of the high-flying proposal “” answered “Yes.”
Kids discover convention fun, too
KXMC-TV in Minot shared a news story that focused on activities for the younger set at FMCA conventions “” the kids and grandkids “” and their enjoyment of motorhome travel. The TV crew joined the kids at a local water park, where they interviewed some of them. The water park was only one of the places that the youth program took the children during the convention. They also visited the zoo, a skating rink, and a mini golf course, and they held an election of officers and enjoyed a pizza party. TATS (Teen-Age Travelers) president Melissa Carlson, F301017, shares a report about their activities that appears on page 78 of this issue.
Special thanks from this writer go out to John and Jerri Morrow, F64569, of the Youth Activities Committee and to Melissa and the group of TATS who took on the task of passing out daily newsletters at coffee hour each morning. They included Robert Drake, David Hartley, Cassie Harbek, Phillip Marlowe, and Calvin Solomon.
In addition to social activities, FMCA conventions also are a time for taking care of business. The annual Governing Board meeting took place on Monday, August 15. Among other business, the board conducted an election of national officers. Elected to serve for the newly adopted two-year term were Don Moore, F154921, national president; Connie Pool, F140306, senior vice president; Jim Kern, F63208, treasurer; and Ginger Painter, F23514, secretary. The Governing Board also approved the annual FMCA budget for 2006.
The annual membership meeting took place on Thursday morning, August 18. During the meeting an installation ceremony for the newly elected national officers and the area vice presidents took place. Chet and Alva Stewart, L23883, were rewarded with a pair of FMCA gold watches for their efforts in recruiting 100 new members to FMCA.
As previously noted, a number of chapters held business meetings during the convention. Each of FMCA’s 10 areas held an area gathering on Wednesday, August 17, to meet with members from the area and fill them in on area and FMCA happenings.
The Anne Carlsen Center for Children was named the official charity for the Minot convention. Representatives from the center staffed an interactive information booth at the North Dakota State Fair Center. Prior to evening entertainment on Wednesday, children from the center presented a brief but inspiring musical performance using adaptive equipment. Children at the center are encouraged to explore their talents and abilities, and the FMCA audience was able to enjoy a sampling of what children with disabilities can do. “We’ve had quite a few events with the kids since I came to the Anne Carlsen Center four years ago,” commented Doris Cooper, marketing and communication coordinator, “but seeing the audience members give the kids a standing ovation that night was the crí¨me de la crí¨me. We were overwhelmed by the response of FMCA members during the convention.” FMCA members donated more than $8,300 to the center as a result of the convention.
Among the contributions to the center were a $500 donation from the Elk International chapter and a donation of $315 from the attendees of the Red Hat Tea. Popular cooking show host Graham Kerr, F340227, better known as “The Galloping Gourmet,” and his wife, Treena, donated 40 percent of the proceeds from the sale of their books during the convention to the center, which resulted in a $1,599.66 contribution, along with another 50 percent to the American Diabetes Association.
FMCA members’ gifts to the community didn’t end there. A group of FMCA members known as the “On-Road Quilters” stitched 99 quilts and 45 fleece, knitted, or crocheted blankets with the idea of leaving them behind to be shared with children in North Dakota. Sixty of the quilts were sent to children at the Anne Carlsen Center, and the remainder were donated to the Minot Prairie Quilt Guild as part of their ongoing project. In addition, the On-Road Quilters left behind 14 stuffed animals that they had lovingly wrapped in small blankets.
A group of motorhome owners from the FMCA Chapter: Habitat for Humanity® stayed on in the area for two weeks after the convention to work alongside folks from the local Habitat group who are building a house in downtown Minot with an area family who needed a hand up.
The ultimate discovery
Perhaps the greatest discovery of all to be made while traveling was summed up by an observation from FMCA TATS president Melissa Carlson during her television interview in Minot. She noted “” with insight seemingly beyond her 17 years “” that it’s not the places you go when you travel that matter; it’s the people you meet.
Lives were touched and new discoveries were made as a result of FMCA’s visit to Minot “” both on the part of the people who call this area home and the motorhome owners who joined their small, friendly community for a short while.