For several days in late March, FMCA’s 89th Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase transformed the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter into a mini metropolis of fellowship and fun.
By Robbin Gould, Editor
Just before the onset of spring, thousands of motorhome-owning families set up camp at the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter in Perry, Georgia, and partook of many memorable moments. The occasion? FMCA’s 89th Family Reunion and Motorhome Showcase, dubbed “Passport To Perry,” held Monday-Thursday, March 17-20, 2014.
A total of 3,002 coaches gathered in Perry for the event, a figure that included 2,554 family coaches and 448 commercial coaches.
Typical of any FMCA Family Reunion, a miniature city sprang up within the confines of the facility. Members’ motorhomes were parked in designated “residential” areas. Indoors and out, motorhome exhibits and vendor booths took care of RVers’ shopping needs. Members attended “school” as they took in countless seminars. Transportation was provided by trams and handicapped activity carts. Entertainment, fun and games, social events, food? Check!
Fairgrounds operators obviously felt a familial pull to FMCA members; a marquee positioned at one of the entrances proclaimed, “Welcome Home, FMCA.” And it likely felt like home for a number of repeat attendees as well. The “Passport To Perry” gathering was the eighth Family Reunion to be staged at the Georgia National Fairgrounds; the inaugural event took place in 1996.
It was March, after all, and Mother Nature had the last word by dampening the grounds with occasional downpours while dishing up chilly temperatures on several move-in and activity days. But almost all events proceeded as scheduled. Most FMCA members appeared unfazed by the climate as they took in the countless activities, events, and exhibits outlined in the event program. Some were even spotted wearing shorts and sandals on the chilliest days! The skies cleared on Wednesday and Thursday, creating drier conditions and warmer temps.
“Once the rain stopped and the sun came out, people seemed to forget it had rained. It was a great, great rally. I hope that the next ones turn out as well,” commented Charlie Adcock, FMCA national president.
Many attendees speak favorably about the comprehensive seminar schedule presented at FMCA Family Reunions; in Perry, more than 150 learning sessions covered seemingly every topic: from Android smartphone tips to “zig zag earring” making. Technical topics included panel discussions, such as “Ask The Experts,” which featured “RV Doctor” Gary Bunzer; Walter Cannon of the Recreation Vehicle Safety & Education Foundation; and Brett Wolfe, FMCA Technical Advisory Committee chairman and FMCA.com forums moderator. Other technical discussions centered on towing, Spartan Chassis maintenance, and RV refrigeration, among many others.
Nontechnical topics included presentations about Google Maps, photo sharing with Picasa, and iPhone/iPad tips by Chris and Jim Guld of “Geeks On Tour” fame. Microwave-convection cooking, fire and life safety, living with arthritis, and an introduction to full-time RVing were just a few of the other subjects discussed. It’s likely that attendees who sat in even one of these informative sessions came away much more knowledgeable.
“I personally had quite a few members, including first-time attendees, who approached me to say how overwhelming the seminars were, and how much they appreciated having so many topics to learn about,” Charlie Adcock noted.
Each evening, Perry attendees gathered to enjoy music, song, dance, comedy, and combinations thereof. Early birds who landed at the grounds were invited to view a screening of The Tourist during “movie night” on Sunday, March 16. On Monday evening, veteran caller Jack Ingle led a session of square, round, and line dancing for novices and advanced hoofers alike.
Over the next three evenings, Reaves Arena served as the entertainment venue. On Tuesday, humorist Jeanne Robertson made an encore performance, reprising her 2011 appearance in Perry. The 6-foot-2-inch-tall Southern belle with a charming drawl to match had audience members crying with laughter at tales of her life experiences. Wednesday’s stage stars were The Texas Tenors trio, who catapulted to national fame on the NBC-TV show “America’s Got Talent” in 2009, and haven’t looked back since. Their musical mix included country, gospel, classical, and Broadway genres. Thursday’s program starred singer-songwriter Sarah Getto. An FMCA member herself, Sarah already amassed a following from appearing at several of the association’s area rallies. She again demonstrated a mastery of several instruments, along with her vocals.
During the daytime hours, FMCA’s Frustrated Maestros served up a full plate of instrumental melodies, plus solos and group songs. Their performances also included a stirring patriotic tribute to the armed forces. The red-and-white-bedecked musicians entertained early-risers during Coffee Hour each morning, and they also played on a couple of afternoons, including during the Ice Cream Social on Wednesday. We applaud the rehearsals and hard work exhibited by this group of musical members and their conductors: Charles Marston and Cynthia Colter, plus guest conductor Sharon Jackson.
Fun And Games
From the moment attendees received their welcome packets, the games began with Match-A-Number. Each attendee was issued a card bearing a four-digit number; participants slid the card into their name badges and struck out in search of another attendee with the identical number. On Thursday afternoon, all who had turned in their matching cards were eligible for a drawing in the Fleetwood RV/American Coach display. Billy Whitten, F408800, came away with the $1,000 grand prize. Thanks to Fleetwood RV/American Coach, C985, an FMCA Five Star sponsor, for their support.
The Passport Game took attendees around the grounds in a manner reminiscent of TV’s “The Amazing Race.” Upon receiving their Passport Book, also in their welcome packet, FMCAers proceeded to certain venues at specific times to have their book stamped. Those who earned the required number of points turned in their completed passport and were entered in a drawing for a Seattle Seafair Rally RV Vacation, valued at $3,195, which was given away prior to Wednesday evening’s entertainment program. John and Gail Horning, F290578, won this prize awarded by Nel Filliger of the FMCA Tour Connection, powered by Fantasy RV Tours, C5644, an FMCA Super Star Sponsor.
The Seattle trip was the second FMCA Tour Connection trip awarded. On Tuesday evening, James and Sandra Munsil, F306708, were the lucky winners of a 27-day “Autumn In New England” RV vacation for two, a $5,995 value.
“Where’s Sheldon?” Perry attendees may have uttered this phrase as they ferreted out likenesses of FMCA’s turtle mascot hidden inside and outside buildings and activity areas. Those lucky enough to retrieve these turtles redeemed them for Bonus Bucks, which could be used like cash at on-grounds concessions or at participating vendor displays.
The Best Pet Contest was a tail-wagging good time for 33 dogs, their owners, and a crowd of interested onlookers. Canine contestants included mixed breeds as well as the tiniest of chihuahuas, a cavalier King Charles spaniel, a standard poodle, a Samoyed, and even a St. Bernard (wearing a barrel, of course). A panel of judges selected winners in six categories: best dressed, best trick, friendliest, most adorable, most patriotic, and funniest. Thanks to Jane Roush, national vice president, Great Lakes Area, and her volunteers, for coordinating this event.
FMCAers showed off their abilities behind the wheel, albeit in a much smaller vehicle than a motorhome, during the Golf Cart Skills Course competition. Al Vormittag, national vice president, International Area, created the course, which included a few surprises.
Folks adept with a bean bag had two opportunities to show off their skills. The Jayco/Entegra Game Zone, inside the Information Center, was the scene of Tuesday’s Bean Bag Toss, as well as Bean Bag Baseball on Thursday. Thanks to Jayco/Entegra, C9334, an FMCA Two Star sponsor, for making these events happen.
A first-ever Family Reunion party designed for the under-60 crowd took place on Sunday evening, March 16. The shindig was attended by approximately 200 and featured live entertainment, which helped to break the ice. “They all seemed to have a great time meeting each other and dancing,” Jerry Yeatts, FMCA executive director, noted. The event was coordinated by Vicky Ferrari, FMCA national secretary.
Commercial members, indoors and out, greeted the “Passport To Perry” crowd, many of whom seemed ready to shed winter’s effects and focus on spring and summer motorhome travel. Nearly 270 companies participated in the RV show portion of the event. Coach manufacturers and dealers welcomed attendees beginning on Monday evening for the “Motorhome Preview.” Folks also had the opportunity to tour motorhome displays on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. “Sold” signs on a number of coaches seemed to indicate that the timing was right for many FMCAers to take to the road in new homes on wheels. Indoors, approximately 350 booths were filled with seemingly every type of motorhome component, accessory, home product, and RVer embellishment available. That didn’t include the other exhibitors who provided information about their company’s RV resorts, repair facilities, convention and travel bureaus, and more.
In addition to exhibitor displays, companies set up shop in the FMCA Service Center, scheduling appointments for coach-side assistance during the event.
FMCA members exhibited their generous nature by enthusiastically supporting a number of charitable activities during the “Passport To Perry” Reunion.
The Purses For A Purpose silent auction brought attendees to the Information Center to peruse more than 20 purses, baskets, and other containers, each filled with items centered around a theme: ladies’ golf, wine, etc. The bags and goodies were donated by FMCA areas, chapters, family members, commercial members, national office staffers, and contractors. Each “purse” was awarded to the highest bidder. All proceeds — $2,142 — went to the Independence Fund, a 100 percent all-volunteer nonprofit fund that assists wounded veterans. Thanks to Millie Cohen, F259701, who coordinated this effort.
Millie also organized one of two food collections. The Peanut Butter & Jelly Food Drive, as its name suggests, sought donations of these foodstuffs for a local group, Loaves & Fishes, which assists needy families. This effort resulted in 1,145 items (29,529 ounces!), plus $111 in cash donations.
FMCA’s Professional RV Vendors Chapter spearheaded the second food drive, encouraging attendees to drop off nonperishable items in the PRVVC Marketplace exhibit area. This collection netted 148 pounds of canned goods and $214, which the group donated to Perry Volunteer Outreach.
Attendees were invited to pass along their unused eyeglasses to the Lions’ Foundation Eye Program. FMCA staff reports indicate that 159 pairs were collected.
On Wednesday and Thursday, handmade quilts stitched by FMCA’s On Road Quilters were displayed in the Information Center. Following the Family Reunion, these colorful creations were donated to local charities for distribution to children in trying situations.
Following the convention, members of the FMCA Chapter: Habitat For Humanity® planned to participate in a house build hosted by the Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity Affiliate in Savannah, Georgia. Chapter members also provided information to Perry attendees about the efforts of Habitat for Humanity and accepted donations for future home builds.
Speaking of generosity, it’s important to recognize the 800-plus FMCA volunteers who donated their time — anywhere from a shift to several days — in Perry. Their assistance was needed for parking, trams, security, Information Center, coffee hour, seminars, and numerous other areas. It can’t be said often enough: an FMCA Family Reunion would not be possible without the generous assistance of so many folks. We salute you!
Until We Meet Again ….
Stay tuned for FMCA’s next international gathering: the 90th Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase — “High Desert Sunrise” — in Redmond, Oregon, August 13-16, 2014.