FMCA’s 99th International Convention and RV Expo received high marks from many attendees as being one of the association’s best ever.
By Robbin Gould, Editor
Photos by Lindsay Prince, Graphic Designer
It’s no surprise that Georgia is renowned for its high-quality peach crop, given its “Peach State” nickname. Parlaying that into a fitting play on words, FMCA’s recent “Peachy In Perry” convention was a sweet time for many attendees. So, what made it so? Following are some of the highlights.
The event — FMCA’s 99th International Convention & RV Expo — took place March 13 through 16 at the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter in the city of Perry. Good ol’ Southern charm ran sweet as peach juice in this middle Georgia burg.
Facts and figures. According to post-convention registration figures, 2,285 families were on hand in Perry. The number of RVs on-site came to 2,534; of these, 352 were commercial RVs. The 2019 convention marked FMCA’s 11th visit to the Georgia National Fairgrounds, giving Perry the record for hosting more FMCA conventions than any other venue. It was the third time FMCA returned to a convention site two years in a row (previously, the association convened in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 1967 and 1968, and in DuQuoin, Illinois, in 1973 and 1974). More than 700 volunteers assisted during the event.
The preponderance of “first-timer” ribbons helped to illustrate that 38 percent of folks were new to the convention experience. A good 1,500 or more filled seats in the Orientation For First-Time Attendees, presented by Gary Milner, national vice president, Midwest Area. In this informative session, he offered tips for navigating the grounds, becoming familiar with the schedule of events, and using the variety of resources available to enhance one’s convention experience.
“There was so much excitement among our first-timers,” Gary said. “Their eagerness to learn was a message heard throughout the entire convention.” In particular, he noted, members embraced the Perry event app for mobile devices, which was loaded with schedules, exhibitor listings, grounds services, and other features. “When I had them raise their hands to see who was familiar with the convention app, 90 percent of them had already downloaded it,” he said.
Scores of folks stayed after this meeting to attend the Chapter Fair. Forty-eight participating chapters were organized by FMCA geographic area; this helped members locate groups near their home base.
The Chapter Fair became a springboard for a popular event held the following evening: the inaugural FMCA Block Party. Close to four dozen chapters welcomed revelers throughout the family parking areas. Food, drink, and camaraderie in relaxed outdoor settings made the evening enjoyable. It also didn’t hurt that Mother Nature provided a picture-perfect evening.
“The block party was a smashing success,” commented Jon Walker, FMCA national president. “It was such a great event, and I am sure we will do it again sometime.”
FMCA’s Chapter Services Department estimates that the Chapter Fair and Block Party may have led to 570 new chapter memberships.
Later in the evening, some folks enjoyed a showing of The Bucket List, a comedy-drama starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman — complete with popcorn. Those who still weren’t ready to call it a night stuck around for the Energized After Hours dance party, hosted by the FMCA Energized chapter. The DJ-provided music even spurred some line dancing.
Things got hairy earlier that day when the first-ever FMCA Whisker Games commenced in the FMCA Town Center tent. Twenty-seven gents competed for top honors in one of three categories: mustache, goatee, or beard. Last-minute entries included musicians Mike Ventimiglia and musician Hal “Cash” Register, two-thirds of the Big Mike Trio, who were on hand to entertain after the contest.
A panel of three female judges inspected and tugged the contestants’ facial hair (to ensure authenticity). Though the decisions were difficult, they finally settled on one finalist in each category: Mike Rossi, mustache; George Showman, goatee; and Roland Cheramie, beard. Audience applause determined the overall winner. The first “Mr. Whiskers” prize went to . . . Roland. Congratulations!
Perry attendees had an opportunity to meet Georgia native Lauretta Hannon for the Perry version of the FMCA Supersized Book Club. In 2010 the Georgia Center for the Book named her second work, The Cracker Queen: A Memoir Of A Jagged, Joyful Life, to the “25 Books All Georgians Should Read” list.
So what is a Cracker Queen? In the book, Lauretta described her as “a strong, authentic Southern woman . . . the anti-southern belle. . . .” The Cracker Queen recounts her upbringing — distressing, harrowing, yet filled with love, humor, and colorful characters. During her presentation, Lauretta provided insights into the book, and additional stories, some of which prompted audience members to shriek with laughter. Afterward, folks lingered to share their own family tales with her.
Elsewhere during the week, pet lovers gathered to watch “dock jumping” sessions presented by Ultimate Air Dogs. One by one, canine athletes of various sizes and breeds took flight off a platform and plunged into a 40-foot-long pool to retrieve an item thrown by a handler. The dogs seemed to soar through space before making a splash; some caught their prize in midair. FMCA dogs with swimming experience were invited to try it out.
Experienced attendees know: If you like to mingle and munch on a doughnut, Coffee Hour is the place to be on convention mornings. Strings of white lights inside the FMCA Town Center tent created a warm glow as people arrived for a hot beverage and Krispy Kreme doughnuts served by cheerful Coffee Hour volunteers.
The Frustrated Maestros added to the welcoming atmosphere. Dressed in their traditional red-and-white attire, musicians and vocalists from various FMCA Frustrated Maestros chapters form an ensemble at each convention, led by Charles and Roxie Marston. Their “Peachy In Perry” shows spanned a wide variety of musical genres, as always.
The Maestros also performed an afternoon concert following the Ice Cream Social. Those who queued up for this traditional convention treat were served hand-scooped ice cream, plus toppings. It’s estimated that some 195 gallons of ice cream (vanilla and peach flavors) were dispensed. Wow!
Approximately 480 belles, Southern or otherwise, signed up for the Ladies’ Luncheon to enjoy a social hour, a light meal, entertainment by the nearby Veterans High School Brass Ensemble, and door prizes.
Actually, many flavors of music and laughs were served throughout the “Peachy In Perry” convention, especially during the day. For those who like zydeco, Jeffery Broussard & the Creole Cowboys made it hard to sit still with their traditional version of this music. The Irish trio Ah Surely! gave an early nod to St. Patrick’s Day. Blues, R&B, classic country, and more were provided by the Big Mike Trio. And Mike and Jennifer McClain & The Banjocats showed their mastery of bluegrass. Mike Fuller . . . The Magician puzzled audiences with his sleights of hand and amused them with his wit. Sir Pat-Trick performed a mix of magic, comedy, slapstick, and storytelling.
Humorist Jim Pelley said he was honored to kick off the event as keynote speaker the first convention evening, and to serve as emcee on subsequent nights. An FMCA member himself, Jim really knew his subject matter. In a good-hearted roast, he poked fun at RVing, RVers, and the convention. He shared observations in a similar vein to those of comedian Jeff Foxworthy: “You might be an RVer if . . . .”
On Friday evening, the audience heard hit after hit by a fabulous trio of acts: Cornell Gunter’s Coasters, The Platters, and The Drifters. Folks’ memories no doubt went into overdrive as they relived the music of the ‘50s and beyond. Saturday evening brought an explosion of bold, jazzy tunes from Louis Prima Jr. & The Witnesses. Brass instruments were prominent, although all melded well with the vocals. “LPJ” and his ensemble added to the vibe with their vintage clothing style, which called to mind a time when swing was king.
And now a word about the “RV Expo” portion of the event. A total of 218 companies were on hand in Perry, showcasing motorized and towable RVs; components and accessories; home products; information about RV resorts, services, and more. Once the displays opened on the first day, the aisles soon bustled with RVers eager to begin browsing. Indoors, two exhibit buildings housed more than 300 booths; outdoors were 114 RV display spaces and 15 outdoor supplier demonstration displays.
More than 100 seminars educated Perry attendees. Early birds were on hand for the sold-out RV Basics course and for the RV Driving School; the latter provided basic lessons in driving and backing one’s RV. Other seminars focused on tech topics, lifestyle lessons, make-and-take crafts, travel highlights, and FMCA-related matters.
That seemed to be the call to action throughout the week for many attendees. Early-morning exercise involved stretching and movement for flexibility. Thanks to FMCA member Andrea Monaghan, who led these sessions when the scheduled presenters were unable to be in Perry. The Discover GNFA Guided Walkabout led attendees on a foot tour around the Georgia National Fairgrounds — a great way to get one’s bearings. Those with bicycles in tow had an opportunity to cruise along with FMCA chaplain Jim Hollis, who led several morning bicycle group rides, plus a nighttime ride. Dogz on Tour, conducted by the FMCA Energized chapter, encouraged morning walkers to traverse the grounds “with the furry love of your life.” FMCA canines also had a chance to sniff and explore within a fenced dog park erected for the convention. Also included: an evening of square dancing, a morning bean bag toss tournament (congratulations to first-place finishers Kathy and Keith Hoff) for more on-your-feet activities — and, for some mental exercise, lively rounds of Card Bingo.
A Word About Volunteers
“I really have to hand it to our volunteers in Perry,” said Doug Uhlenbrock, FMCA’s director of events. “They did an incredible job across the board. Eastern Area Vice President Bill Mallory; volunteer coordinator Elaine Mills; and all of the individual chiefs, coordinators, and captains did yeoman’s work, making the operation run smoothly.” He also thanked the countless volunteers who helped park the thousands of RVs, transported people around the grounds, dispensed information, handed out doughnuts, and shouldered work in many other areas. Volunteers, your efforts are appreciated.
Up Next: Number 100
The FMCA fun never ends; it just changes location. FMCA’s 100th International Convention & RV Expo is set for August 14-17 at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds, in Minot, North Dakota. This milestone celebration has been given the theme “Minot Magic — 100 Times The Fun.” Visit FMCA.com or pages 62-64 of this magazine for details.