Motorhomers navigated through the Land of 10,000 Lakes to enjoy four days of learning, shopping, fellowship, and fun during FMCA’s 8oth International Convention.
By Doug Uhlenbrock, Associate Editor
Back in July 1980, Family Motor Coach Association put down stakes at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul for its 17th Annual Summer Convention, the “Twin Cities Jamboree.” Twenty-eight years and 57 conventions later, FMCA returned to the same venue for its “Navigate To The North Star State” gathering, held July 14 through 17, 2008. The coach count for this year’s convention totaled 3,078, more than double the number that showed up for the previous gathering, leaving many people to wonder why it took FMCA so long to come back.
For most of the 2,437 families in attendance, which included 551 first-time convention-goers, this was their first stay at the fairgrounds, and they were not disappointed. The 320-acre facility, which began operating in 1885, provided a near-perfect setting for a convention, with a vast array of buildings to house exhibits, seminars, entertainment, meetings, and logistics; plenty of flat, grassy areas to camp, with mature trees and landscaping throughout to give the grounds a park-like feeling; and wide streets and sidewalks for quick and easy commutes to and from the activity areas.
Even the weather cooperated. Although temperatures climbed into the 90s each afternoon, severe storms predicted throughout the convention never materialized. The only precipitation was a brief, cooling shower on Thursday afternoon.
Let’s Get It Started
Once folks were parked, they didn’t have to wait long for the good times to begin. On Sunday evening, many attendees promenaded over to the Education Building to take part in or watch the square dancing and line dancing sessions led by FMCA member Jack Ingle, sponsored by Aon Recreation Insurance, C95, an FMCA Three Star sponsor.
Many attendees took advantage of the Motorhome Preview on Monday afternoon to get their first look at the 2008 and 2009 model-year motorhomes on display. That evening, stage hypnotist Lorri Michals had the Grandstand crowd roaring with laughter when she put a group of volunteers under her spell, then instructed them to do zany things. Lorri had one young man frantically searching for his belly button, which he was told was missing. We sure hope he retrieved it before leaving the fairgrounds.
Beginning on Tuesday morning and continuing throughout the convention, many attendees started their days with coffee, hot chocolate, and doughnuts during the traditional Coffee Hour, sponsored by Roadmaster Inc., C2952, an FMCA Five Star sponsor. While enjoying their morning treats, convention-goers could catch up on the current events with a copy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, compliments of Fleetwood RV, C985, an FMCA Super Star sponsor, or enjoy the musical entertainment provided by FMCA’s own Frustrated Maestros. The ensemble, which includes members from FMCA’s 10 Frustrated Maestros chapters, had folks clapping their hands and singing along to old favorites. During the group’s final appearance on Thursday, everyone was standing as the band performed a number of patriotic songs that brought many in the audience to tears.
Class Is In Session
Where does one start when planning one’s days at an FMCA convention? For many people, it’s the seminars. These instructional sessions are consistently rated as one of the primary reasons members attend a convention, and once again FMCA’s seminar planning team did not disappoint, providing more than 100 informative learning opportunities. Attendees took full advantage of the classes to learn about chassis and systems maintenance; power generation and electrical systems; motorhome tires; and satellite TV, to name just a few of the technical topics. The seminar lineup also included other informative subjects, such as FMCA member benefits, travel destinations, computers and software, health and wellness, driving safety, and RV history.
Where can motorhomers go to see the newest coach models, check out some of the latest advances in RV technology, and buy items they need or want to make their traveling experience more enjoyable, all in one place? That would be an FMCA convention, of course, and the St. Paul gathering was no exception.
Attendees visiting the outdoor display area were greeted by manufacturer and dealer representatives who were happy to provide tours of and dispense information about the Type A, B, and C motorhomes and custom coach conversions on-site for inspection. Among the highlights, Country Coach showed off its new Veranda Type A diesel pusher, which features an innovative curbside retractable deck; Fleetwood premiered its Power Bridge Chassis and some of the motorhomes built on the new platform; and Winnebago Industries unveiled its Type C, double-slideout Outlook 30D floor plan, which includes a spacious living and dining area in the rear yet still has plenty of sleeping space. Even the king of “The Twist,” Chubby Checker, made an appearance at the Brake Alert display on Wednesday to greet attendees. A variety of demo units were prepped and ready for folks interested in taking a test drive.
In the indoor exhibit buildings and outdoor demo area, convention-goers could peruse or purchase all types of RV-related products. Whether you were looking for a new awning, storage accessories, campground or resort information, or towing equipment, you could find these products and more offered by the FMCA commercial member exhibitors on hand. Of special note was the display set up by Cummins Onan RV Generators , which has its headquarters in Minneapolis. Besides showing off the latest RV generators and Cummins engines, the company brought several antique generators from its museum. The company also arranged factory tours for folks interested in seeing how generators are produced, which appeared to draw much interest from convention-goers.
Many FMCA commercial members also provided a fleet of service technicians to resolve problems, install new equipment, or do emergency work on attendees’ coaches. Commercial members also sponsor many of the activities and conveniences members come to expect when attending a convention. FMCA thanks all of the commercial members who made the trip to St. Paul for their continued support of the organization and their commitment to providing attendees with a true motorhome showcase.
Folks who needed a break from all the looking and learning found a shady place to rest and unwind while enjoying terrific acts at the daytime entertainment stage. Familiar faces such as Flakey The Magic Clown, sponsored by Blue Ox, C2903, an FMCA One Star sponsor, and Willie & Company, sponsored by Freightliner Custom Chassis, C1905, an FMCA Five Star sponsor, had kids and adults alike in stitches during their performances. Other daytime entertainment included The Medicine Show Music Company; Tim Sigler; Jason Huneke; Tim Patrick; the Kalogerson Variety Band; and Stoney Savanna.
The high temperatures all but guaranteed that the Ice Cream Social on Wednesday would be a popular event, and folks swarmed the Coffee Hour area from every direction to get their frozen treats. Thanks to Miller Insurance Agency, C3045, an FMCA Two Star sponsor, for supporting this event, as well as members from the Full Timers chapter for their assistance in distributing the ice cream. Also, we can’t forget to give a pat on the back to Bob’s Cats, a select group of Frustrated Maestros, who kept the atmosphere festive while folks enjoyed their ice cream.
Later that day, classic car enthusiasts were treated to a small slice of heaven when the Minnesota Street Rod Association displayed some of the beautifully restored vehicles that are part of its “Back To The 50s” event presented each June at the fairgrounds.
On Thursday, women in red hats and purple dresses (pink and lavender for those under 50) could be seen throughout the fairgrounds in preparation for the Red Hat Tea, sponsored by Kiley Mold Company, C7252, an FMCA One Star sponsor. This gathering, FMCA’s version of the Red Hat Society, brings women together to socialize over light refreshments. A small group of Frustrated Maestros provided special entertainment during this activity.
Those who wished to see a little bit more of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area boarded buses for guided tours of the area, including a visit to Stillwater, the birthplace of Minnesota; a Mississippi riverboat cruise; and an excursion to some of the ne’er-do-well hangouts from St. Paul’s notorious past.
In addition to Monday’s performance by Lorri Michals, the “Navigate To The North Star State” convention featured three more nights of outstanding entertainment beginning on Tuesday with the Brett Family Singers, who appeared at the Grandstand. This five-member family act performed a variety of classic favorites from the 1930s to the present, as well as country and patriotic songs. On Wednesday, the Grammy Award-winning Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had the Lee & Rose Warner Coliseum audience cheering to a selection of their country-rock hits, including the group’s best-known single, “Mr. Bojangles,” thanks to Signature Resorts, C11470, an FMCA Five Star sponsor. Thursday, folks gathered early in the coliseum concourse to help celebrate FMCA’s 45th birthday with complimentary birthday cake before heading inside to listen to the top 10 hits and other music made famous by Gary Puckett, courtesy of Cummins Onan RV Generators, C87, an FMCA Super Star sponsor.
Don’t Forget The Kids
While the adults were busy enjoying grown-up activities, their children and grandchildren were having their own fun as part of FMCA’s Youth Program. The youth centers for the various age groups were located in the 4-H Building and welcomed 122 kids who signed up to participate in various activities. The younger children played with toys and watched videos, while many of the older kids experienced off-site adventures. Highlights of the youth program at the St. Paul convention are shared in story that begins on page 90.
FMCA also makes an effort to give back to the communities in which it holds its conventions. This year, the On-Road Quilters, a group of FMCA members who gather at the association’s conventions to discuss quilting and share their creations with one another, made a total of 58 quilts, 25 fleece blankets, and five knitted or crocheted blankets. The items were displayed in the Quilts For Kids exhibit in the Information Center on Thursday, then donated to the Family Service Center, a shelter for homeless families in Minnesota’s Ramsey County.
Attendees also donated 156 pairs of used eyeglasses as part of the collection to benefit the Lions’ Foundation Eye Program.
Following the convention, a group from FMCA Chapter: Habitat For Humanity® traveled to North Mankato, Minnesota, to participate in a Habitat for Humanity build. The team, which included 13 chapter members and seven coaches, volunteered their services from July 21 through August 1, helping to frame in one house and lay insulation and install drywall in the other. Team leaders Tom and Marion Braum, F178198, said the chapter signed up 10 new family members during the convention, and that three of them participated in the North Mankato build.
Making It All Possible
he “Navigate To The North Star State” convention could not have been as successful as it was without the help of more than 800 volunteers, many of whom showed up early, stayed late, and worked long hours to assure a safe, organized event. Thanks to all those who volunteered their time and talents to make the St. Paul convention a terrific gathering.
FMCA’s 81st International Convention will return to the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter in Perry, March 16, 17, 18, and 19, 2009. This will be the association’s sixth visit to this site, located just off Interstate 75. It’s a fantastic venue to host the thousands of motorhomes expected to converge at the “Crossroads of Georgia.” Preparations are already under way for this convention, so look for registration information in the November 2008 issue of Family Motor Coaching and related preview stories in upcoming issues.