Perry, Georgia, once again proved a delightful host as RVers gathered for the association’s first international gathering of the year.
By Robbin Gould, Editor
Photos By Guy Kasselmann, Art Director
Family Motor Coach Association’s 85th Family Reunion and Motorhome Showcase, held March 14-17 at the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter in Perry, provided RVers a jump-start to spring as they assembled for fun, friendship, education, and entertainment in the heart of the Peach State.
FMCA’s first international event of 2011, dubbed “Southern Homecoming,” was the seventh gathering the association has held at the Georgia fairgrounds. According to final tallies, 2,970 RVs were assembled on the grounds, including 2,706 family vehicles and 264 commercial vehicles.
The Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter covers more than 1,100 acres and is specially designed to host meetings, conferences, and other large gatherings – including RV shows, of course.
“Perry is a venue that keeps adapting to our needs,” commented Judy Czarsty, national senior vice president/acting national president. “The management is very responsive to building and grounds issues. It is also the type of facility many other locations wish they could have — the grounds, buildings, and pretty setting.”
The first FMCA convention took place at the fairgrounds in 1996, enamoring many FMCA members with its easy-to-navigate grounds and accessible parking areas. The beautifully landscaped site features lakes, fountains, and gardens. A soaring clock tower makes a convenient landmark for attendees as they stroll the grounds and is also a great “meet me there” place to join up with friends or family.
In addition to motorhomes, of course, the family attendance count included the occupants of approximately 20 towable RVs. That’s because the “Southern Homecoming” was opened up to towables owners — an FMCA first — providing these RVers an opportunity to attend an FMCA event, possibly with motorhoming friends, and learn about the motorhome lifestyle firsthand.
Approximately 325 companies exhibited their products and services to an interested crowd during the Perry gathering. On Monday evening, March 14, the displays of Type A, B, and C motorhomes and custom coach conversions opened for the “Parade of Lights Motorhome Preview.” Nearly 230 coaches from a bevy of manufacturers were on display, representing the companies’ best and/or newest homes on wheels. For several hours, as the sun began its downward progression, Family Reunion attendees strolled through the outdoor displays, savoring the crisp, dry evening. At sundown, a fireworks display illuminated the night sky, resulting in a beautiful reflection on the lake near the outdoor exhibits and signaling an end to the evening’s festivities. Thanks to Alliance Coach, C11904, for making this extra-special treat possible.
On Tuesday morning, it was time for the supplier and component exhibitors to shine. Two cavernous buildings housing components, accessories, services, home products — and even FMCA logo merchandise — greeted shoppers for another exclusive preview. Outdoor demonstration booths opened as well. When the coach displays reopened at noon, it became “business as usual” for all exhibits for the duration of the gathering.
The “Southern Homecoming” seminar schedule included a mind-boggling 139 presentations, which encompassed 132 different technical, miscellaneous, and product-specific topics, plus make-and-take crafts sessions. Of these, 33 topics were new to an FMCA convention, and 25 sessions focused on technical subjects.
Questions were fielded by an “Ask The Experts” panel composed of “RV Doctor” Gary Bunzer, Family Motor Coaching columnist; Walter Cannon, executive director of the Recreation Vehicle Safety & Education Foundation; and Steve Roddy, technical services manager of Lazydays RV. Jim and Chris Guld of GeeksOnTour.com presented a number of computer-related sessions on such subjects as organizing photos in Picasa and an overview of Facebook. A panel of FMCA members discussed the ins and outs of full-timing for those considering the lifestyle. “Insider cleaning tips,” RVing in Europe, towing, and digital camera tips were among other seminar topics.
Fun And Games, Socials And Socializing
Lighthearted contests involving skill and/or chance punctuated the daytime hours. “Southern Homecoming” attendees gathered at the Jayco Game Zone each day for activities overseen by Al and Roberta Vormittag, FMCA’s own “Fun and Games Coordinators.” These included a bean bag toss tournament; card bingo; and “horse racing,” the latter a nod to the real thing, complete with a chance to bet $1 in hopes of picking the winning “pony.”
On Thursday morning, eight teams gathered for heated rounds of bean bag baseball. Games were played simultaneously on four “diamonds,” appropriately named Coors Field, Candlestick Park, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium. Scoring was akin to regular baseball. Team members took turns tossing bean bags at a specially decorated board, three outs to a side, hoping to have their bean bags sail through the correct cutouts to earn a hit, walk, home run, etc. Hearty shouts and applause erupted regularly when players scored.
For three afternoons, “100 Grand” pedal boat races at the lake harkened back to FMCA’s early conventions, when friendly canoe battles were waged. On Tuesday and Wednesday in Perry, four pairs of contestants, many of them FMCA’s national officers, climbed into four pedal boats. When given the “Go!” signal, they pedaled to propel their crafts around a fountain in the middle of the lake and back to the dock.
Although the fountain was not operating, Tuesday’s challenge turned soggy when rain began to fall as soon as the race began. Winners that day were Judy Czarsty and Jerry Yeatts, FMCA director of conventions/commercial services. Eight different contestants tried their luck on Wednesday, resulting in the winning team of Allen Rein, national vice president, Rocky Mountain Area, and Dave Neveaux, of Hale Expo Services, C974. Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s winners squared off in a head-to-head race on Thursday, cheered on by a small band of fans on shore. The overall winner? Team Czarsty and Yeatts. Thursday’s race was not without a bit of drama, for the still-idle fountain suddenly sprang into action as the winners circled it!
Spectators had an opportunity to place a bet each day of the race for a chance at winning 100 Grand . . . a fun-size candy bar, that is. All proceeds collected from the race were donated to the local food pantry.
The activities schedule provided other opportunities for fun and fellowship. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday beginning at 7:00 a.m., early birds made their way to Coffee Hour, where they partook of doughnuts, sugar-free cookies, coffee, and hot chocolate, all served by cheerful FMCA volunteers. Perhaps some attendees were still becoming accustomed to the Daylight Savings Time change that had occurred the weekend before, for crowds were lean as Coffee Hour began. But as the sun climbed skyward, the area became a bustling place. Members of FMCA’s Frustrated Maestros chapters, clad in their traditional red and white colors, enhanced the atmosphere with music and song. As they began each performance with “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning,” the realization hit that indeed it was another beautiful morning in Perry, with promises of a special day ahead.
The perennially popular Ice Cream Social drew a crowd on Wednesday afternoon. Members of FMCA’s Full Timers chapter dispensed ice cream sandwiches quickly and efficiently to the lines of people who moved through. The Frustrated Maestros again provided a musical accompaniment before and during these festivities.
On Thursday afternoon, members of the fairer sex gathered for the Ladies Social, many of them attired in red, purple, or pink. Some wore hats; some brought teacups. Participants enjoyed light refreshments, including scrumptious key lime pie, while enjoying an afternoon devoted just to them.
Entertaining Days And Nights
In addition to myriad other events and activities on the “Southern Homecoming” schedule, lovers of music and comedy had the opportunity to enjoy both during their Perry Family Reunion.
Willie & Company, the popular ventriloquism act composed of Peggy Miller and her precocious sidekick, Willie, gave rib-tickling performances on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Willie, the self-proclaimed star of the show, seemed to come to life, thanks to Peggy’s expert skills. This engaging act appeared courtesy of Freightliner Custom Chassis, C1905, an FMCA Five Star sponsor.
For three evenings, FMCAers gathered in Reaves Arena to enjoy performers on the big stage. On Tuesday, pianist Mac Frampton paid tribute to romantic tunes from the 1970s in a show titled “Yesterday Once More,” accompanied by vocalists Vincent Talarico and Lisa Balkwill. Wednesday night was devoted to country music delivered by superstar Lorrie Morgan. As a special treat, her son, Jessie Keith Whitley, joined her on stage to perform several selections from his debut album. Gears switched totally on Thursday evening when humorist Jeanne Robertson dispensed a huge dose of charming Southern wit. The North Carolinian had the FMCA audience howling as she recounted stories based on her life experiences, including her adventures as Miss Carolina in 1963; of life with her husband, whom she affectionately calls “Left Brain”; and her observations of human nature.
Leaving More Than Memories
“Southern Homecoming” attendees opened more than just their wallets as they contributed to charitable efforts, many benefitting the local area.
A total of 125 pairs of eyeglasses were dropped off in the Information Center for donation to the Lions’ Foundation Eye Program, which helps to provide the needy with the benefits of vision correction.
FMCA’s Professional RV Vendors Chapter set aside a special area in the indoor exhibit area where attendees dropped off canned foods and other nonperishable goods; the items collected were donated to the Perry food pantry.
FMCA members also had the opportunity to learn about Habitat for Humanity, an international ecumenical Christian housing ministry; chat with members of FMCA Chapter: Habitat for Humanity©; and make donations for future home builds. Members of the Habitat chapter participated in a home build in Plains, Georgia, following the Family Reunion, where they constructed two houses and rehabbed a third, working alongside college students who chose this service project instead of a traditional spring break.
The On-Road Quilters, a group of FMCA members who enjoy quilting and stitching and who meet at FMCA conventions to discuss their shared interests in the craft, brought a diverse collection of handcrafted items to Perry. Attendees had the opportunity to peruse their handiwork on Thursday at a “Quilts for Kids” display in the Information Center. Nearly 50 colorful quilts, blankets, and afghans featured colorful designs that many youngsters would love: Minnie and Mickey Mouse, dogs, cats, bears, tractors — even one with motorhomes in the fabric. Following the close of the Family Reunion, these items were donated to the Crossroads Quilt Guild, which provides quilts to the local children’s hospital, area police and fire departments, and shelters for battered women.
The Volunteer Spirit
An event the magnitude of an FMCA international event takes extensive planning, foresight. . . and oodles of volunteers. A total of 830 members assisted with Coffee Hour, Computer Help Desk, FMCA Store, Frustrated Maestros, games, handicapped and activity golf carts, Ice Cream Social, information, Ladies Social, parking layout, Quilts for Kids exhibit, security, seminars, trams, and welcome crew.
“Today we hear it said that people just aren’t volunteers. Well, that description sure doesn’t apply to our members!” Judy Czarsty said. “Where else but FMCA can you ask for 800-plus volunteers and get them? Tom Eller, national vice president, Southeast Area, and his wife, Lorna, and volunteer coordinators Frank and Sheila Colletti did a fantastic job.”
FMCA’s next international event, the 86th Family Reunion and Motorhome Showcase, which has been nicknamed the “Family A’Fair,” will place August 10-13, 2011, at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin. This marks the association’s second international gathering in “Mad Town” (the first one there took place in 1984). Learn about Madison in an article that appears this month beginning on page 74 of this issue . . . with much more “Family A’Fair” information coming soon.