FMCA’s 75th International Convention in March was marked by plenty of “family time,” intermingled with valuable learning opportunities and an incomparable motorhome marketplace.
By Pamela Kay
Director of Communications, Publishing
“We are Family,” the hit disco tune from 1979, could well have been the theme song for FMCA’s 75th International Convention, dubbed “Celebrating Family.” Members of the Family Motor Coach Association share a special connection and sense of community, and association members gathered March 20 through 23 in Pomona, California, to celebrate those “family ties” and enjoy the makings of an event designed to celebrate the motorhome lifestyle as well. A total of 4,267 motorhomes traveled to the Golden State for this get-together. This figure included 2,892 family coaches and 1,375 commercial coaches.
This convention marked FMCA’s fifth visit to Fairplex, home of the L.A. County Fair, a facility that lends itself well to this sizable gathering of motorhome owners. Not only does Fairplex have ample hard-surface parking space for both family and commercial coaches on its 543-acre complex, but it also has great buildings for indoor exhibits and for seminar sessions. Plus, the facility is more than just functional. Its picturesque environs encompass palm trees waving in the breeze, plazas bedecked by flowing fountains, lush landscaping, and interesting architecture. Snowcapped mountains in the distance add immeasurably to the beauty of the setting.
Fitting for a convention of folks smitten by wanderlust, Fairplex also boasts several special transportation-related attractions that attendees were able to enjoy during their visit. Those intrigued by the notion of riding the rails could visit the Fairplex Garden Railroad, which is believed to be the oldest and largest such display in the United States and features G-gauge model trains and wonderful scenery. Fairplex also hosts a life-size historical railroad display, which includes a rail station and freight house that date back to the late 1880s, as well as an example of the largest steam locomotive ever built.
Over at the Wally Parks NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) Museum, fast cars are the attraction. This facility chronicles more than 50 years of motorsports history with vintage race cars and a host of related memorabilia. Fairplex also lays claim to a major horse-racing facility, with a 5/8-mile racetrack and a huge grandstand. Other than early-morning practice runs, no ponies were running during the FMCA event, but the art-deco-style grandstand was employed for evening entertainment, and members could visit the Fairplex Park Clubhouse for some friendly off-track wagering if they chose.
The fun began as early as Sunday evening with the West Coast debut of the “One Nation Under God” flag presentation created by Woody and Jeannie Miller, F233882, and enacted by volunteers from the Executive East Pioneers chapter, with assistance from Newmar International chapter members. This presentation traces the history of the United States through the use of numerous flags that have flown over the country at one time or another. The program was first conceived by the Millers in 1990 but had never been presented in the western United States.
After this stirring patriotic presentation, the crowd headed for a fun-filled evening of square dancing and line dancing led by veteran caller and longtime FMCA member Howard Cowles, L18517, sponsored by Coach-Net, C4055, and Fan-Tastic Vent, C3077, both FMCA One Star sponsors, along with FMCA. Howard made sure everyone had a swinging good time, whether they danced or chose to sit on the sidelines and observe.
On Monday evening those who enjoy kicking up their heels joined Deb Wagner and The Girls of Swing for a big-band dance. This female jazz group hails from Los Angeles and is led by trumpeter Deb Wagner. Convention attendees were transported back to the 1930s and ’40s and enjoyed tunes made famous by big-band greats of that era.
Equally delightful entertainment followed on the next three evenings of the convention. On Tuesday night, “A Family of Entertainers Reunion” took place at the grandstand. All of the performers at one time entertained audiences at one or more of the Disney theme parks. The lineup included the music and comedy of The Rhythm Brothers, the side-splitting humor of comedian Dick Hardwick, and the fancy footwork of Arthur Duncan. All three acts were accompanied by the Johnny Vana Orchestra. This evening was made possible by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., C9158, an FMCA Five Star sponsor.
On Wednesday evening Debbie Reynolds lit up the stage as she took the audience on a trip down memory lane, reminiscing and sharing memories and music from her successful career. This evening was made possible by Monaco Coach Corporation, C2111, an FMCA Five Star sponsor.
Thursday evening capped off the convention with a performance by a man Billboard magazine has proclaimed “the all-time most successful love singer of the ‘Rock Era.'” Bobby Vinton shared many of his classic hits with the audience on this night of romance, made possible by Outdoor Resorts of America Las Vegas/Motorcoach Country Club, C10274, an FMCA Five Star sponsor.
Convention attendees enjoyed a variety of entertainment during the daytime hours as well at the Daytime Entertainment Stage, which was sponsored by Foretravel Inc., C236, an FMCA Two Star sponsor. Performers included Dave & Daphne, Punch & Judy, Bernie & Red, and Willie & Company. Willie & Company’s appearances were made possible by Freightliner Custom Chassis, C1905, an FMCA Five Star sponsor.
Having an ampersand in your act’s name wasn’t a requirement, though. Audience members were treated to performances by Calypso Compromise, the Dave McKelvy Trio, and Flakey the Magic Clown as well. Flakey, also known as Henry Gartner, F197563, spread his brand of cheer throughout the convention grounds and made special visits to the youth centers. His appearances in Pomona were sponsored by Blue Ox, C2903, an FMCA Two Star sponsor.
On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings, FMCA members gathered for the traditional coffee hour, provided courtesy of Caterpillar Inc., C4743, an FMCA Super Star sponsor. The piping-hot coffee and cocoa were welcomed on what turned out to be cooler-than-normal California spring mornings. And it was impossible to resist the melt-in-your-mouth Krispy Kreme doughtnuts. FMCA’s own Frustrated Maestros “” who hail from 10 different FMCA chapters “” provided playful renditions of familiar tunes that often prompted audience members to sing along. Caterpillar representatives added to the morning fun and fellowship by inviting folks to try their hand at a bean bag toss game. Anyone who managed to land the bag in the hole was entered in a prize drawing.
On Wednesday afternoon convention attendees gathered to partake of tasty ice cream sandwiches, courtesy of Aon Recreation Insurance, C95, an FMCA Super Star sponsor, and served up by members of FMCA’s Full-Timers chapter. Bob’s Cats, a select group of Frustrated Maestros members, provided tunes as members took a few minutes out of their busy convention schedules to simply enjoy the sunny day and the company of their fellow motorhomers.
On Thursday afternoon, ladies wearing all manner of red hats and purple clothing seemed to sprout up like spring flowers. Eventually, they converged at the Red Hat Tea and flowed together to form a sea of red and purple finery. Approximately 250 ladies gathered to celebrate the spirit of the Jenny Jones poem “Warning,” which states, “When I am an old woman . . . I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me…” While enjoying cookies and tea, with many using a favorite teacup they’d brought along, the ladies were treated to an “avant-garde” fashion show by several members of the California Pacers chapter. Chapter members strolled across the stage while modeling the latest styles for motorhoming females “” be it attire for heading to the mall or the casino, or serving as copilot, an outfit that came complete with a special passenger-side brake. The fun-filled event was sponsored by Kiley Mold Company, C7252, an FMCA One Star sponsor.
Myriad other opportunities for enjoying “family time” presented themselves during the convention, as chapters held meetings or informal gatherings of friends took place.
You’ve heard it said that the children are our future. That rings true with FMCA. The association’s future depends on today’s young people embracing the motorhome lifestyle when they reach adulthood. What better way to encourage this than by exposing them to positive RV-related experiences in their youth? Among the youngsters who have been attending FMCA conventions and have been involved in the youth program for a number of years is current FMCA TATS (Teen-Age Travelers) president Melissa Carlson, F301017. Melissa shares a report regarding the youth program at the Pomona convention that begins on page 84. Best wishes to Melissa as she finishes her high school studies and heads off to Colorado State University in the fall.
Commercial family ties
FMCA’s commercial members have been a vital part of the association’s family tree since the very beginning. This fact was in evidence in Pomona as FMCA commercial members gathered to showcase the latest motorhome models as well as all manner of items to put in, on, and under a home on wheels. In addition to supporting the FMCA convention by purchasing exhibit space, commercial members contributed by sponsoring entertainment, trams, social events, and more in Pomona. Hats off to all of the companies that participated in various ways.
The ABCs of motorhoming
Fun is a major reason for attending FMCA conventions, but in surveys, attendees rank the learning opportunities right up there in importance. An incredible flow of information occurs during these events, and convention-goers become sponges who soak up as much knowledge as they can. More than 100 different topics were addressed in Pomona by experts in various areas.
Focus on safety
Several safety education opportunities presented themselves in Pomona. Members could sign up to participate in the RV Safe Driving Course cosponsored by Aon Recreation Insurance and FMCA. Fire and life safety were covered by 30-year fire-fighting veteran Mac McCoy, C7648, in a seminar also cosponsored by Aon and FMCA. Motorhome owners could learn how to properly load and operate their motorhome by attending the “RV Weight & Tire Safety” seminar presented by the RV Safety & Education Foundation, C5999, and cosponsored by FMCA. Personal safety was the focus of several seminars presented by David and Sandy Baleria, C9296, and cosponsored by FMCA.
Representatives from Roadway Express were on hand to remind drivers not to hang out in the No-Zone (areas not visible to semi-truck drivers) and to offer tips to motorhome owners for sharing the road with the big rigs.
Members of the California Highway Patrol distributed literature and answered questions from motorhome owners about traveling California roadways. They also invited convention attendees to get behind the wheel of a 40-foot transit bus via a driving safety simulator and learn more about how the length, width, and weight of vehicles affect handling.
FMCA members who were interested in learning how motorhome owners can help to become “eyes and ears” for Homeland Security as they travel joined George Lowry, F101238, for a seminar session where they could gather information and also take part in a short training program. After the training program, members could be registered and provided a card with a toll-free telephone number they can use to report any suspicious activity they witness as they travel.
Out and about
Pomona is situated just east of one of the world’s most vibrant cities, the City of Angels, Los Angeles. Among the optional sight-seeing tours members could embark on were trips to Los Angeles and to Hollywood for glimpses of the area’s colorful past and pulsating present. Convention attendees also could board a tour bus and visit Universal Studios for a behind-the-scenes look at the magic of show business.
Two presidential libraries were on the tour menu as well “” the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum and “Air Force One” Pavilion. Those interested in a more bucolic view of Southern California were able to travel to the historic Graber Olive House, where the Graber Family has been canning olives for more than 110 years, and the Joseph Filippi Winery, with award-winning wine-making dating back several generations.
FMCA has made it a practice in recent years to find ways to give back to the communities that host its conventions. For the Pomona convention, the Child Development Center at Fairplex was chosen as the official charity. Representatives from the Foundations at Fairplex were on hand to offer bookmarks and other original artwork created by the center’s children in exchange for donations. A seminar that outlined the benefits of quality early childhood education was presented as well.
The American Red Cross set up its bloodmobile at Fairplex on Sunday, and, as evidence of the need FMCA members helped to fill, Red Cross workers indicated that blood collected during the convention would likely be used that same day.
The On-Road Quilters stitched a total of 70 quilts and blankets for the Quilts for Kids project, among them 66 quilts, three fleece blankets, and one crocheted creation. The quilts were displayed for all to see on Thursday afternoon in the FMCA Information Center and then were donated to the House of Ruth in nearby Claremont, California. The House of Ruth assists women and children who have been victimized by domestic violence.
Following the convention, members of the FMCA Chapter: Habitat for Humanity® joined with the local affiliate to work on a home build in Pomona. The group also planned to participate in a build in Belen, New Mexico.
Many FMCA members took the opportunity to drop off used eyeglasses as part of a collection that benefited the Lions’ Foundation Eye Program.
Lifeblood of FMCA
It has been said that FMCA chapters are the lifeblood of the association. It is within these small subgroups of FMCA where the sense of community and closeness often come into being. In recognition of this, a Chapter Fair was held in Pomona on Monday afternoon. A total of 60 chapters and each of the 10 FMCA areas were represented during the fair. Chapter members added to the festive atmosphere by decorating tables to depict the fun-filled nature of their particular group, and the Holiday Rambler International, Southwestern Bus Nuts, and Beaver Ambassador Club chapters received special recognition for their display efforts. A number of non-chapter members undoubtedly took the opportunity to join one or more of these groups.
Heart and soul of the family
FMCA has a long-standing tradition of volunteerism, and the Pomona convention was no exception, as approximately 900 FMCA member volunteers pulled together to work in the areas of parking, security, trams, seminars, and more. Without this support, FMCA conventions would not be possible. So, a great big FMCA thank-you goes out to all who gave of their time and talents in Pomona.
Fast track to more family fun
Although it can be sad to say one’s good-byes at the close of an FMCA convention, it’s heartening to realize that the farewells are more accurately expressed in terms of “See you down the road.” In this case, the road to the next convention will lead to Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte/Concord, North Carolina, August 14-17, 2006. So, get on the “Fast Track to Fun” and join us as we race toward a good time at FMCA’s 76th International Convention.
And, looking a bit farther down the road, if you find yourself wishing you hadn’t missed the Pomona conclave, you’ll want to make a note on your long-term planning calendar, as FMCA is set to make a return visit to Fairplex the week of February 25-28, 2008. Don’t wait until then, though, or you’ll miss many opportunities for celebrating family and enjoying fun and fellowship in the meantime.
Celebrating Our Sponsors
The “Celebrating Family” convention was made possible by the generous support of the following “Star” sponsors.
Super Star Sponsors
Aon Recreation Insurance, C95
Caterpillar Inc., C4743
Five Star Sponsors
Country Coach, C2132
Ford Motor Company, C405
Freightliner Custom Chassis, C1905
Goodyear Tire & Rubber, C9158
Monaco Coach Corp., C2111
ORA Las Vegas/ORA Motorcoach Country Club, C10274
Two Star Sponsors
Blue Ox, C2903
Coach Connect, C9772
Foretravel Inc., C236
GE Consumer Finance Corp., C4076
North Dakota State Fair, C9318
One Star Sponsors
Armor Shield, C10148
Fan-Tastic Vent Corp., C3077
Fleetwood RV, C985
Giant RV, C4009
Hale Expo Services, C974
Kiley Mold Co., C7252
RV Shop, C10771
Tracks to Adventure, C1034