By Judy Czarsty, F79148
National Senior Vice President/Acting National President
As I sit in my motorhome and reflect on recent events, I can’t help letting my mind drift back to the summer of 2009. Charlie Schrenkel had just been elected FMCA’s national president, and I had been elected national senior vice president. We were overjoyed at the honor of being selected to lead FMCA.
Charlie and I spent many hours talking about FMCA and our shared vision to increase membership and bring in new sources of revenue. He always talked about how I should be prepared just in case I had to take the reins at FMCA for some reason. Little did we know then that Charlie would become ill and this would happen.
Charlie resigned from his position as FMCA president in November and is now focusing his time and energy on health and family, the most important things in all of our lives. He is being treated for his illness and plans to continue in his role as immediate past national president of FMCA. We pray he will soon be able to resume days spent driving his motorhome to be with FMCA friends and make more of the memories he spoke of so eloquently in his “President’s Message” columns.
Speaking of memories, many of our good old days centered around FMCA conventions. Have you ever thought about how many conventions you have been to? How many different places you visited that you would have never seen had you not had a motorhome? How many friendships you would never have made if you had not had a motorhome? How many of these three things are tied with being a member of FMCA?
Looking back over the more than 40 conventions my husband, Steve, and I have attended, I recall so many people, and so much fun. Among all those memories is a special one “” our first convention, in July 1986. It was the 23rd annual summer convention, held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. We had no idea what we were getting into, but we knew we had to go.
We were in our first Type A motorhome and had just joined FMCA. We had one of those black ovals with “F79148″ in the middle, and Steve was eager to get involved. We decided to make it a real family vacation and take my parents along with us, as well as our son, Steven. My parents had been members of FMCA for several years but had never gone to a convention; my dad just enjoyed reading the magazine.
Steve plotted our route from Virginia to Kentucky, and he and Dad talked about the best way to go “” back roads or interstate. We were still city people; so, of course, the only way to go was the interstates. I had never been to Kentucky and wanted to see Mammoth Cave for sure. I was the biggest pain, because I kept asking, “Did you put Mammoth Cave in the plans?” “Which day?” “How far will it be?” and so on. I planned our meals and put them together in packets with directions for cooking. This was back before anyone told me about that wonderful acronym, INCOTT (“I’m not cooking on this trip”).
The day came to leave and there was little fanfare. It was just another day. But little did we know how much this trip would change our lives. We took family with us, but an even bigger family was waiting for us in Kentucky.
We planned to go to Mammoth Cave first. We have Luray Caverns in Virginia, so I thought it would be something like that. But it was bigger and better! It was sweltering outside, but I had a sweater on in the cave. Steven was 10, and you can imagine the energy he had. We climbed all around the cave looking at the different formations. We had no concept of time. It was really back to nature for us.
Finally, we climbed out of the cave and realized we were going to be late getting to the Horse Park. We piled into the motorhome, and while Steve drove I started preparing dinner and even lit the stove. Yes, I now know how dangerous that was. But then we were newbies and didn’t think about what could happen. Fortunately, we made it to the Kentucky Horse Park without incident, and that was the last time I cooked with an open flame driving down the road.
When we drove up to the Horse Park, there were motorhomes everywhere! We gawked like country bumpkins. We thought we arrived on time, but we found out that FMCA time is not regular time. Everyone got there early. The parking crew members were very nice, and we felt like kings as we were tucked in alongside all those huge motorhomes. Our coach was only 27 feet long, but we didn’t feel intimidated. We looked at all the many kinds of rigs around us: Pace Arrow, Winnebago, Supreme, Argosy, Blue Bird, Komfort, Apollo, FMC, GMC, and on and on. But I couldn’t find another Champion.
We got up the next morning and everything was in full swing. Coffee and doughnuts were offered at a Blue Bird bus, and the people handing out the goodies were just as nice as could be. Later we learned about how volunteers put on the convention and the Blue Bird owners made this morning wake-up their contribution. There were children around, and Steven naturally gravitated to them and came running back excited about some program for kids. Of course, we signed him up for the program, and we didn’t see him for most of the convention, because he was having too much fun.
It is hard to pinpoint the best part of this experience, but what changed our lives happened in Lexington. We met George Levine from the Capitol chapter. He came up and introduced himself and said that we needed to join the chapter. What’s a chapter? Well, he explained not what a chapter was but instead all the things that they did “” they went to local festivals, like the Scottish games, or spent weekends in places like Gettysburg; had campfires with s’mores and fried pies, sing-alongs, and stories of the good old days; visited military installations and air shows; and went to places I had never heard of. It sounded like Christmas, and we had to belong!
That was our first convention experience. But it doesn’t matter if this is your first or 10th or 40th. There is something exciting about getting together with people who share the same lifestyle. People who are looking to learn new things, who want to shop and buy their specialty items right on the spot, and who want to meet and share their stories about their first convention and “” who knows “” even take newbies under their wing and make a new friend.
Now it is 25 years later and we are still excited about going to conventions. Things have changed over time, and the recently adopted “family reunion” name better reflects what an international FMCA gathering really is. But, there are still more seminars to go to than time available, there are way more exhibitors to visit, and there are ample ways to spend our son’s inheritance. I can still pack on the pounds with daily coffee and doughnuts and goodies from the food vendors. But most of all, I can still add memories of meeting old friends and making new.
In 2011 you have the opportunity to make “good old days” memories. Some exciting things will happen in Perry, Georgia, March 14 through 17. There won’t be another dunk tank where many of the national officers get wet, as they did in Oregon last summer, but there will be something happening around the lake that you won’t want to miss. We have new seminars and opportunities to join chapters. We will even have a group of skeet shooters getting together and perhaps forming a chapter.
One exciting bit of news about the Perry family reunion is that we’ll be able to invite our friends who own other types of self-contained RVs to join us there. Given the ample parking space at the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter, the FMC Board of Directors decided this would be a great place to test the idea of having owners of towable self-contained RVs come and directly experience and explore the motorhome lifestyle. The hope is that some of these folks will see the advantages of motorhome travel, witness the great fun we FMCA members have, and take steps to purchase a motorhome and join FMCA. And what better place to become indoctrinated about motorhoming and even to buy a motorhome than at an FMCA family reunion?
A special area with zipper-style parking will be established to accommodate the self-contained towable RVs. FMCA members who wish to park with friends who don’t yet own a motorhome will be able to join them in this lot. These FMCA guests will pay the non-member rate but will receive a one-year subscription to Family Motor Coaching magazine as part of that fee “” a way of staying in touch with them and continuing to share information about the motorhome lifestyle after the event ends. So, invite your friends to join us in Perry.
What will you do in the summer? Have you ever been to Madison, Wisconsin? How about the Wisconsin Dells, or the House on the Rock, or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin? Those are only a few of the attractions close by Madison’s Alliant Energy Center, which will host our August 10 through 13, 2011, family reunion. This facility is compact, and you will spend your time in just two buildings. One building is so large that it will hold all the seminars plus the indoor exhibitors. The second building, the coliseum, is less than a football field away (that’s how Clemson Tiger fans think). It will hold the 1,000-seat technical seminars and the evening entertainment. In front of this building will be all the glistening show coaches on display “” there are more and more of them at each reunion. Parking will be available around the grounds.
If you are lucky, you may be parked at Lake Farm Park. FMCA will take over the entire county park! Picture your motorhome parked in a huge county park with grass, trees, pavilions, some grills, walking and bicycling paths, and a gigantic lake where you can enjoy fishing and boating. Your dog can romp in the grass and your cat can sit in the window of your motorhome watching for birds. Look around and see all the friends you may be with or those that are only a “Hello, my name is” away.
The Alliant Energy Center is just a short (less than 2 miles) bus ride away from the tranquility of your parking. Of course, tram buses will run continuously all day and into the night so that you can get home to take care of your cherished pet, visit with your neighbors, make new friends, and relax before going back to enjoy the evening entertainment.
If Perry or Madison will be your first chance to attend an FMCA reunion, or even your 10th, I hope you don’t miss the opportunity to begin another chapter in your motorhoming life. Who knows? You might find yourself sitting down next to someone and hearing about their good old days as you begin making some of your own.