By Connie Pool, F140306, National President
While planning the events for FMCA’s 80th International Convention, held in St. Paul, Minnesota, this past July, the subject came up of celebrating FMCA’s 45th anniversary “” July 20, 2008. We decided we would serve anniversary cake to attendees on the last day of the convention.
Every time I am reminded of a significant event in FMCA’s history, it makes me think about visiting FMCA’s birthplace in Hinckley, Maine. My husband, Corbett, and I have been FMCA members since January 1991, but for some unknown reason we had never been able to make that trip.
Over the years we had heard so much about Hinckley and the Good Will–Hinckley school, where motorhome owners gathered to view an eclipse in July 1963. As many of you know, those in attendance enjoyed that get-together so much, they decided to form the Family Motor Coach Association. Corbett and I wanted to see where it all began, and specifically to see the FMCA monument on the school grounds. Over the years we had purchased bricks during Good Will-Hinckley’s fundraising campaigns, and we wanted to see how all the bricks and granite blocks were placed around the monument.
After the summer convention in Brunswick, Maine, in July 2000, we had a day or so extra in our travel schedule, so we thought a quick trip over to Hinckley would work in nicely. We mentioned our plans to folks parked around us and were given rough directions. (You need to remember, this was before the day most of us had GPS systems.)
As we crossed over into New Hampshire, I realized we had made a wrong turn somewhere. We decided not to turn around, though, since we were sure we would have another opportunity to visit at a later date.
“Later” arrived for us in July 2008. We planned to attend the Northeast Area Rally, August 7 to 10 in Essex Junction, Vermont, and there was plenty of time between the end of the St. Paul convention and the area rally for us to make a trip to Hinckley. Sam Allen, Northeast Area vice president, and his wife, Pat, liked the idea. Sam contacted Bill and Ellie Skolfield, longtime members of the Maine Wheels chapter, about scheduling a rally during the week before the Northeast Area Rally. Bill contacted chapter president Duane Wakefield, and the rally was set.
Bill and Ellie hosted the two-day chapter rally and invited us to come in early and stay a few days longer at Good Will–Hinckley to celebrate FMCA’s 45th anniversary. This time we had the GPS system plugged in and were armed with detailed directions from Bill to ensure we would not make a wrong turn. A sign near the school reads, “FMCA Monument 1/4-mile ahead.” The monument is quite visible to people who drive U.S. 201 north of Fairfield, Maine.
Because the anniversary rally was just before the Northeast Area Rally, only 14 coaches were in attendance. The schedule included a picnic at the site of the original gathering atop the highest hill on the school grounds, where the 26 motor coaching families had gathered to view the eclipse in 1963. But when Bill and I checked out the site the day before the scheduled picnic, the air was full of deerflies, so we decided to move lunch to the visitors center instead.
The chapter gathered across the road at the monument for picture-taking and to inspect the work done by the contractor to expand the area for the bricks and granite blocks bought by FMCA members. A decision has been made to no longer offer the bricks but to continue to offer the two sizes of granite blocks. Some of the bricks were cracked and had to be replaced. The contractor indicated that bricks are not the best for this type of display but he would protect the current bricks with a support border.
The highlight of the rally was the evening program presented by Maine Wheels members Gary Adams and Bill Gowen about the history of FMCA’s relationship with Good Will-Hinckley. Gary has copies of many of the original documents covering the early years of FMCA, and Bill showed a video of the monument dedication in 1994.
It was interesting to learn that the folks who gathered on July 20, 1963, at Hinckley had many of the same concerns FMCA members have today. They wanted the association to provide information about places to visit, as well as information about parts and coach repair, receiving quantity discounts, and securing common insurance policies. They also discussed issues concerning high taxes and tolls for their vehicles. One thing that was very apparent throughout the presentation was that our great association would not have come about except for the hard work and vision of Bob Richter, L1, FMCA’s first president.
After dinner, a challenge was made by an anonymous member in attendance to match a $250 donation to the school. By the next morning, the challenge had been exceeded by $115. Not to be outdone, the anonymous donor matched the extra amount raised. The generosity of FMCA members is overwhelming, and school officials were very grateful.
The next day, we were given a tour of the residential school. Good Will–Hinckley has more than 40 buildings, some dating back to the late 1800s. It is like a small village, with cottages where the students live and larger buildings for classrooms, auditorium, gymnasium, cafeteria, chapel, museum, administrative offices, and maintenance facilities, covering 2,450 acres. Each cottage has a couple who live there with their families and four to six students. Another staff member is assigned to fill in for the couple when they need to be away from the cottage.
We were invited to one of the girls’ cottages for dinner. Since the regular school term was not in session, the cottage we visited had only two 15-year-old girls living there. One girl was helping with an alumni event taking place on campus, so we had dinner with Gina, the other house resident, and the staff member filling in for the couple who were on vacation. Gina was excited to have us visit and showed us around the cottage. She was very proud to show us her very tidy and neatly decorated room. There was a schedule posted on the dining room wall listing the person responsible for each day’s chores. Since Gina was the only one present for the evening meal, she had multiple duties of setting the table, serving, clearing, and cleaning. Naturally, we pitched in and helped relieve her of some of the chores. It was a most enjoyable and fascinating evening, learning about life at Hinckley and Gina’s dreams of the future.
The Good Will–Hinckley residential school provides hope for kids facing complex academic, social, behavioral, and emotional challenges. Unfortunately, like any other nonprofit school that survives on donations, the school is limited in the number of students it can serve. The school currently houses approximately 65 to 70 children, but it has the staff and facilities to easily support twice that number.
Each year the Maine Wheels chapter holds a rally at the school in late spring to do minor landscaping around the monument. The chapter members provide monetary support to the Good Will–Hinckley school each time they visit, and they give handmade quilts and afghans to the graduating seniors every year.
Duane Wakefield, Maine Wheels chapter president, said a quilt or an afghan doesn’t seem to be something a teenager might want, but when a teenager doesn’t have much to call his or her own, such a thing becomes special. While we were at the visitors center one day, a student who was helping in the office wanted to know whether she could have one of the quilts left over from those made this past spring for the graduating class. She wanted to dress up her room with something nice and thought one of the quilts would really be great. Of course, they agreed to give her one. The look on her face when she walked out with a brightly colored afghan made us all proud to be a part of this.
Near the maintenance building on the school grounds are six 20-amp electrical hookups available for motorhomes. That area also has space for 20 or more motorhomes for dry camping. The Maine Wheels chapter has had as many as 50 coaches parked around the campus for a rally. The school has a meeting room in the visitors center that can be reserved. The school doesn’t charge a camping fee, but it is appropriate for anyone accepting their hospitality to give a donation to the school. The staff at Hinckley enjoy meeting FMCA members and showing off the campus.
Our visit to Good Will-Hinckley will always be one of our best memories, and I am so glad we finally had the time to visit FMCA’s birthplace. The monument itself is very impressive, and it’s much better to see in person than in a picture. As an added benefit, you get to meet such wonderful and dedicated people at the Good Will-Hinckley school.