EXPERIENCES - MANAGING A REGIONAL REUNION


On May 1st and 2nd, 2009 we held a regional reunion for 1962 classmates in the Pacific Northwest Region, namely Oregon, Washington and Idaho.  Others from around the country were also invited, and several attended from outside of the region, but the focus was on the Pacific Northwest.  This was a follow-up to a similar gathering in this region held back in 2002, which was hosted by Seattle area classmates.

There is really nothing magic about putting one of these together, and probably most of what I'm going to outline below is pretty obvious.  As I step through the considerations, I will be reflecting on what we did here, which seemed to work out well.  I'm not trying to insult your intelligence by stating the obvious, it just seems to make sense to lay it all out as we experienced it, and provide some hind-sight comments.  You can pluck out the nuggets that may be appropriate to your region and circumstances.

If I had to pick out two of the principal considerations, it would be on advance planning and communications.  I will be emphasizing these, and will provide attachments of several documents that we used during the course of this affair.  Please feel free to copy these and use them to your heart's content as you may see fit.

In order to assist in putting this into context, I suggest that you check out my website that includes a recap of what we did, who was there, and some insight on the venues that we used.  There are also a lot of pictures linked to it.  Click HERE to visit the website.

ATTENDANCE UNIVERSE

In Oregon, Washington and Idaho, according to Stew Lingley's roster, we have 66 classmates.  Ten of them do not have email, so I sent out a snail-mail to them with my initial broadcast.  This initial message was pretty brief (see below for a copy of this and other emails) and it went out about May of 2008, a year in advance of the event.  From this initial "show of interest" communication, in which we asked for a response, by August 2008 we had 25 yes (a couple were for stag), 16 maybe, and 25 no response.  In this mailing, we described the preliminary itinerary, and gave a really broad estimate of costs, which we guessed would be under $200 per couple, not counting motel rooms.  Assuming most of the yesses came, and half of the maybes, that would be about 28 classmates, plus 25 spouses/others, for a total of 53 people.  This was enough info to start doing some firm booking of venues and accomodations.  We expected some additional fallout, so we basically planned for 50 people.  Meanwhile, we advertised in CA, NM, NV, NM and AZ.  Two classmates and 3 people came from that area.  Our Shipmate article brought in five others, including Ray Madonna and Stew Lingley, our pres and communicator respectively.  Our total number, including last-minute fallouts of which there were a couple, was 24 classmates and total people of 42.  Now, this may or may not be representative of the response that one might expect from other regions.  We did followups with the non-respondents, which helped our numbers somewhat.

I downloaded Stew's roster from the '62 website, and sorted the spreadsheet data to select the states I wanted, and then printed out the columns I needed.  I was able to extract the email addresses in .csv format from Excel, and import them into Outlook Express so I didn't have to type them all in.  Piece of cake for you "techies."  Those with no email I got the snail-mail addresses from the roster, and sent mailings.

EARLY PLANNING AND VENUE SELECTION

This is really the first process that must take place.  Depending on the locality, this needs to be started at a minimum 12 or 14 months ahead of time, such as for us in Oregon, where we're still shooting buffalo and chasing indians.  In places like San Diego, which is holding a gathering in April of 2010, I know they had to start the booking process about 3 years ahead of time in order to obtain the reservations they needed.

The very first thing is to form a committee and select a focus for the event, and establish the dates and a tentative itinerary.  Someone came up with the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, as a possibility.  We made a trip there to check it out, and discovered that it had everything we could hope for.  It's only about 25 miles from Portland, there was a good motel about a mile from the museum complex, and many excellent restaurants and possible banquet venues.  The museum is fantastic, it has a broad appeal to non-military people, and a special appeal to us military types, particularly pilots.  While there, we found out the dates that were available, some initial information on prices and what exactly would be available to us on a group basis.  We went ahead and booked 40 rooms at the Comfort Inn Motel, with the understanding that as soon as we had firm numbers we would release rooms.  Of the 40 rooms we booked, 3 of them were set up for handicapped access.  If they're not needed, you can usually release them after the sign-up sheets arrive.  We got the military rate of $100/night.  We established a single person to work with at the motel.  We also did this at the other venues:  there were event coordinators at both the museum and at the restaurant where we had the banquet.  This is important to do, with one point of contact you can cut through a lot of wasted time and have some continuity to the planning, and establish early-on the various costs.

We had a few considerations in establishing the actual event itinerary.  Here they are:

-  Most of the people were either driving from the Seattle area or were flying in;  most would arrive on Thursday, and would be travel-weary.  No events until mid-day on Friday.

-  We are not spring chickens (roosters) any more.  Don't overdo things, and try not to cram too much into one day.  Leave some time to relax between events.

-  Be cognizant that some of us who attend are bound to be somewhat disabled - be cognizant of walker and/or wheelchair access, and no long uphill walks.

-  Split the time out between formal events and available time for ad hoc informal gatherings.  The motel where we stayed was great for this - they had a quite large room, with many tables and chairs, where they served a buffet breakfast (way more than just a continental breakfast).  This was open and available throughout the duration of the affair, and several times whole groups of folks would gather and visit before or after formal events.

-  People need time to pace themselves.  The Friday wine tour was over at about 3:30 PM, and people could relax before coming to the reception, which started at 3:30 but ran until 6:30, and people came and went.  Similarly, the guided museum tour followed the group photo-shoot at 10:30 on Saturday, and lasted about 1-1/2 hours.  Then people could pace themselves for the self-guided tour, and/or see an IMAX showing, and be at the resaurant for the banquet at 6:30 without having to rush themselves.

-  The "dinner on your own" followed the Friday reception, so people could arrange that for themselves, in groups or solo.  We gave several recommendations in their arrival packet.  Most went to a local authentic Spanish restaraunt and had either tapas or paella.  It is suggested that members of the Planning Committee inquire among the attendees to welcome them to join a group for dinner, in case they are unsure of where to go and may feel left out.

We knew for sure that we would have a reception one evening and a banquet the next.  We discussed this with the museum event coordinator, and found out we could do everything right there at the museum if we wished.  As it turned out, the cost for a catered banquet was hugely expensive unless you are hosting a couple of hundred people, so we passed on that.  The reception, though, was another story.  They had the facilities in their IMAX theater complex to host a 3-hour reception for a $225 flat fee, for the numbers (~50) that we were anticipating.  So we booked that for the desired evening.  They gave us some recommendations for catered hors d'oeuvres and for bartenders, which we later followed up on.  We also determined the costs for guided tours of the museums and for IMAX showings.

I was familiar with a restaurant/brew pub that served excellent food that was also close by the motel, so we met with the banquet manager there.  They had a room that could handle (in a pinch) up to 60 people for a buffet banquet.  With our number being about 50, we visited and checked out the place, and booked it for the desired evening.  The room was completely separated from the main restaurant, and had the facilities we needed to hook up our own sound system (I provided my own, so no cost involved) with mics and a CD player that we needed.  We were able to hang '62 class banners, and we brought both US and USNA flags that we use at our chapter alumni meetings in Portland

Visits to the McMinnville Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Historical Society provided us with brochures, guidebooks and pamphlets that we could use later as arrival packet envelope stuffers.

I got in touch with our state Director of Veterans' Affairs, Jim Willis, who agreed to speak at the banquet.

There are issues dealing with local liquor laws, liability insurance, use of licensed caterers, etc., that come up.  We found that working with the museum event coordinator for reception issues, and following her guidance and selecting vendors that she had worked with before, eliminated any of these kinds of problems.

We now had bookings for all of the pertinent events, with the understanding that the numbers would be refined as we got commitments from the attendees.  We only had to come up with one small deposit (restaurant) which one of our committee members put on his credit card.  We were now ready to establish costs and proceed with the signup process and money collection.

ESTIMATING COSTS

Some costs we knew precisely, because they were on a per/person basis, and didn't have to be paid in advance.  Other items were a flat rate, so we had to estimate the individual amounts to be assessed, based on expected attendance.

Per person items:

-  Banquet:  we selected from their buffet/banquet menu a meal that included roast beef and chicken entrees, various side dishes, beverage and dessert, for $30 per person, including gratuity.  This is probably half or less of the costs that would be incurred in a "big city" - and we didn't have to pay anything for the room.  Cocktails were no-host, with roving servers.  Wine and beer were also available no-host.  We added $5 per person as a cushion.  We of course paid for our speaker's dinner, that was $30 for the comp.

-  Museums and IMAX:  We gave a choice when signing up;  both museums plus an IMAX showing for $23/person or just both museums for $18/person.  The aviation museum was a docent-guided tour, and we had two volunteer docents guiding two groups of us.  The space museum segment was a self-guided arrangement.  We didn't need tickets for the museums - the name badge got your hand stamped.  We did get tickets in advance for those signing up for IMAX.

-  The Friday wine tasting tour was $25/person, which was collected at the time of the tour instead of in advance.  Until we got our sign-up sheets back, we didn't know what the cost would be, or how many would even be interested.  As it turned out, many of the people went on this tour.  The same thing for golf.  Nobody wanted to play golf, so this possible event was scrubbed.

-  Hors d'oeuvres were about $8 per person, for meat and cheese platters, mixed nuts, and toast points for the brie cheese.  This was sufficient for a 3:30 PM reception, since dinner was "on your own" after the reception, which ended at 6:30 PM

Flat fee items:

-  Reception:  $225 for the room.  Actually, it was a mezzanine lobby for the IMAX theater.

-  Bartender:  $250 flat fee, which covered his liquor license and other basic expenses.  He charged only $3.50 for well drinks, and had several selections of beers and wines, plus quite a bit of really good alcohol for a premium.

-  Name badges with lanyards were about $1 per person, so we estimated $50.  Badges were purchased at Staples, the lanyards through an on-line merchant, and I composed and printed the inserts for the badges, including scanned pictures from our yearbook.  (Click HERE) for an example of our namebadges.  I used a picture of the USNA Chapel for the women's badges.  I based a cost of $.25 per each for ink and paper costs.  I understand that there are scanned yearbook pictures in existence that have been used in the past for our Annapolis reunions.  Rather than reinventing the wheel, these may be available through the class reunion committee.

-  Miscellaneous costs:  There were some mailing and duplicating costs, and the costs of the manila envelopes used for the arrival packets.  These ran about another $50.

Overall, the registration and reception costs, based on 50 people, were going to be about $25/person.  We also bumped this up by $5 for a cushion, to cover the flat fee costs in case we had some cancellations (which we did).  After it was all over, we had enough money left to reimburse the 2 or 3 people who had paid in advance, but last-minute crises prohibited them from coming.  We reimbursed the committee for some out-of-pocket expenses incurred, and ultimately had $200 left over which we sent to the class of '62 fund.

We opened a bank account with WaMu (now Chase) with no fees, including free checks, that we used for all of the deposits from attendees and payment of all expenses.  After the last transaction cleared, we closed the account.

COMMUNICATION WITH CLASSMATES AND SIGN-UP

There was a sequence of emails/mailings that went out during the year or so prior to our established event date.  Keeping it on the front burner through frequent emails and follow-ups, and adding information as things progress, seems to keep the interest up, and possibly coaxes some people into coming, who aren't sure when you first ask.

-  The initial letter went out in late summer of 2008, about 9 or 10 months prior to the event.  Click HERE to see a copy of a similar letter, in which we asked for a show of interest.  Following the sending of this email/letter to classmates in the Pacific Northwest area, an email/letter also went to classmates in the Southwest region.

-  A Shipmate article (HERE) was sent to Howie Pinsky, and appeared in an issue ahead of the sign-up deadline.  Similar to the initial letter to local classmates.

-  In February 2009, 3 months ahead of the event, we sent a letter out with some updated information, to everyone in the area and to those we had heard from outside of the Pacific Northwest.  (HERE).  It had more specificity regarding the itinerary, and provided info on making reservations at the selected motel.

-  The first of March, we sent one email/mail to the "yesses" and "Maybes" (HERE) and one to the "nos." (HERE).  Attached was a sign-up sheet and a very specific general information sheet  (HERE).

-  Some strategic phone calls and personal contacts with classmates resulted in several people coming who were either on the fence, or had just not got around to scheduling their participation.  Some of our classmates (or their spouse) had some very serious health issues when the initial interest survey, or the finalized event announcement was sent out. Continued follow-up, and even some personal contacts facilitated their attendance.

-  When a sign-up sheet and a check was received in the mail, I sent individual emails back to the classmate confirming that I'd received their mailing.

TRACKING

 I set up a tracking sheet (HERE) that worked pretty well in keeping me straight on the sign-ups and the numbers who were going to attend the various functions.

ARRIVAL AND EXECUTION

The motel people agreed to hand out arrival packets to everyone as they checked in.  The Wednesday before the event I went to McMinnville (the last of several preparatory trips) and delivered these packets to our contact person there.  They were large manila envelopes with the last name prominently written on the top, in a box alphabetically.  There were a couple of people who didn't check in prior to the reception on Friday.  I took these remaining packets with me to the reception, and was able to pass them out there.  The packets contained:

-  Name badges and lanyards
-  The latest itinerary (HERE)
-  A list of attendees (HERE)
-  A map of the area showing the locations for the museum/reception, motel, and restaurant for the banquet (HERE)
-  Tickets as needed for the functions for which they had signed up.
-  A whole bunch of stuff that I got from the Chamber of Commerce, the museum, and the restaurant.  This included guides and maps to nearby places of interest, and info on the history of McMinnville, and on local recommended restaurants.  This info would mainly be helpful to people who might be extending their stay, and wanted to explore the area.

Once people had arrived, checked in and come to the reception, everything went smoothly.  I and the committee had to do some setting up of the venues (final check, banners, sound system, etc.) but that was pretty minimal.

Photographs are important - we had few enough attendees that it was not difficult to get some pretty good individual shots of the participants (see the website), and some good group shots at the museum.  With the technology we have today, putting them on a web site works nicely for people to see them.  It is important to promulgate in advance with the event announcement when/where the Group Photo will be taken for publication in SHIPMATE. Some attendees will arrive after the first event, and others will want to leave before the last event. With the group photo venue established in advance, attendees can then schedule their arrival/departure schedules accordingly, and disputes/disappointments can be avoided

FOLLOWUP

 We sent a letter to Shipmate (HERE) that reported our event, and included some pictures that could be incorporated into an article.  Preparing and uploading the website is of course an optional thing to do, but it has been well received.  Other than making final payments and closing out the bank account, there was very little to do after the fact.

FINAL THOUGHTS


First, I want to be sure to recognize the contributions to the success of our event by Tom Hitchcock, Butch Bewick, and Gene McPhail in Seattle, who was our representative in the Puget Sound area and advice-giver based on his prior experience in managing a similar gathering in 2002.

I would highly recommend other regions to mount a similar function.  It is a lot of fun, and very gratifying when everyone seems to enjoy it.  It's a lot of work, but is spread out over a pretty long period from inception to execution.

If anyone would like to have any more info, or consult with me on more specific details, please email me at larsen@jerryjan.com or call at 503 691-1889

Beat Army!

Jerry Larsen
Tualatin, Oregon