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Autumn outings lead to Richmond

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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The third weekend of September found me traveling to Richmond for participation at the 52nd annual convention of the Virginia Numismatic Association, this being the first time I’d ventured forth to the venue in perhaps 20 years or so.

The beginning of the same week had found me hiking off to Okoboji to participate in the fall semi-annual meeting of the Higgins Museum, this meeting closing out my 20th year as a board member of that institution dedicated to the preservation of the National Bank Note era, focused on Iowa and adjoining states.

My travels to Richmond got under way from home at about 9:30 a.m. to catch an 11:30 a.m. United Express flight out of Appleton, with a connection at O’Hare, getting me there shortly before 4 o’clock. Arriving at gate F12 in O’Hare, with less than 45 minutes to make my connection scheduled out of gate C28, with the waiting line for the concourse E/F to C ground shuttle waiting line backed up well into the concourse, I elected to hoof it that mile or so distance, grabbing a generous size bag of popcorn for lunch from a “Nuts on Clark” kiosk along the way.

My flight to Richmond arrived there just before 4 p.m., about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, to a sultry 93 temperature reading. With my suitcase being one of the first delivered out onto the luggage carousel, followed by a quick taxi ride to the Richmond Marriott, by 4:45 p.m.  I was checked into my room. Quickly unpacking, it was about 5 when I headed down for dinner in the T-Miller’s Sports Bar dining area, given that my stomach was delivering hunger pangs, rather than opting to check out activities at the Greater Richmond Convention Center across the street, where setup had gotten under way at 3 o’clock and was scheduled to close down at 7, after which I called it a day.

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Friday got under way at 6 o’clock with a morning constitutional in conditions that were still pretty warm and humid,. I proceeded down Fifth Street to the James River, there picking up the Brown’s Island River Walk to 10th Street. After walking up 10th past the colonnaded colonial style state capitol building, I returned along Broad Street to the Marriott as dawn was breaking about 45 minutes later. Following breakfast at the T-Miller’s dining area, it was about 8:30 a.m. by the time I headed over to the convention center.

Arriving at the Hall B area where the VNA bourse was being held, I was greeted by John Phillips and Susan Cash, Susan being the go-fer partner of convention coordinator and incoming VNA President George Cash, who settled me into the surroundings. I was subsequently welcomed onto the scene by George, who had been soliciting my participation the past couple years, and Richmond Coin Club President Harvey Hinson as well. At 10 o’clock Cash, Hinson and outgoing VNA President John Koebert invited me to join them in cutting a ribbon to formally open the event to the public.

Around the floor, and among those involved with the VNA and the RCC, I encountered many new faces during the course of my two days in Richmond, but still more than a few familiar ones from the past. Early on I enjoyed an extended conversation with Claire Wall from Maryland at her table, along with an insightful one with Barry Ciocila from North Carolina. Then there were the familiar faces of Larry Briggs from Ohio, Don and Marcella Zauche from Maryland, Larry Marsh from Louisiana, Ed Robinson  and Steve Ellsworth from Virginia, and Scott Reiter of the Bowers & Merena organization from California, with each of whom pleasant discussions were enjoyed as well.

Perhaps my most enjoyable conversation, however, and one that I had been looking forward to with some anticipation since committing to attendance at this VNA event earlier in the year, was with Jerry Schmidt, who has operated Imperial Coins out of the greater Richmond area for many years. Having been a fairly regular attendee at VNA conventions from the late 1960s into the early 1980s, renewing acquaintances with him was always looked forward to, but those opportunities had fallen by the wayside after Burnett Anderson became the News’ eyes and ears in Washington, he also taking over many representational commitments for the company at various events up and down the east coast.

At lunch time on Friday I also enjoyed an extended conversation with Jim Ruehrmund, who spent 20 years from 1980 to 1999 very engaged with VNA activities before a stroke precluded his continuance, although he still regularly attends their events, is an occasional contributor to its Virginia Numismatist quarterly and a booster for the coin collecting hobby in general. In the afternoon I enjoyed sitting in on John Phillips’ informative overview exploration of “The Rich History of Virginia Tokens.”

At about 6:30 p.m. George Cash stopped by the Marriott to pick up Frank Hannah and his son, Billy, along with me, driving us to The Jefferson, a historic hotel on West Franklin Street. Mystique attributes the hotel’s Grand Staircase as having been the model for the Atlanta mansion sequences in the film “Gone With The Wind.” We enjoyed a delicious and relaxing dinner in the Lemaire dining room. My scallops appetizer, crabcake entree and Ambrosia fruit dessert were uniformly outstanding. George and Billy mostly listened, while Frank and I reminisced the evening away until after 10 p.m.

Frank is one of the VNA’s old timers, having been involved virtually from day one. A printer by trade, he was been the long-time publisher/printer of the quarterly and also centrally responsible for several Virginia cataloging undertakings appearing in print over the past 50 years.

I distinctly recall Frank from my first VNA visit, when he introduced me to crab claws, a true delicacy in my opinion. He provided the treats for those attending a Paper Money Roundtable on an evening of the convention. While those ad hoc affairs are no longer an informal feature of the conventions, one that typically attracted 15 to 20 participants as I recall, I couldn’t help but flash back to them as we visited, Frank completing the circle by sending me home with three tins of crab claws for my personal enjoyment.

When I headed out on my Saturday morning constitutional at about 6:15, in contrast to Friday, the morning air was comfortably cool and breezy. This time I walked east along Broad, jumping up to Clay Street to view the White House of the Confederacy, then heading back west along Leigh Street. Continuing on into the Jackson Ward area to view a statue recalling early 20th century black actor and dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, I then made a looping return through an area undergoing urban renewal to Broad, then east back to the Marriott. Returning to the hotel around 7, I was down to T-Miller’s for breakfast shortly after 7:30 and back to the convention center well before 9, the bourse having been open to light dealer and early bird business since 8.

Activity around the floor was perceptibly busier on Saturday than it had been on Friday, but certainly not overwhelming by any means. What had become a pretty lively atmosphere by around 11 a.m., had petered away slowly by 3 to the point that thereafter there was more visiting than business action. The general feedback I received from the 60-plus dealers occupying the perhaps 110-table bourse was, however, that while the business pace was only moderate, those who showed up were actively interested in buying or selling.

During the course of the day I enjoyed two extended conversations, one with dealer Gary Groll from Charolttesville, who specializes in Condor and related vintage copper and bronze collecting realms, exploring some educational perspectives concerning our community. The other was with Gene Essner, an acquaintance who served as deputy director of the U.S. Mint from 1982 to 1995. We exchanged some nostalgic recollections of shared experiences and reality versus perception insights as mint issues past and present are viewed from his inside perspective.

During the afternoon I briefly sat in on another of the educational activities, having been invited to briefly address the Boy Scout Coin Collecting Merit Badge workshop session. This activity was led by Jess Kilgore, VNA secretary and webmaster, with the roughly 30 in attendance appearing to have been pretty evenly split between scouts on the one hand and counselors and parents on the other. The session was scheduled for 1 to 3:30 p.m., but it must have let out a bit early, as I noted a number of scouts exploring the bourse from around 3 to 4 p.m.

The two-hour convention banquet got under way at 7 p.m. with upwards of 40 in attendance. Having been tagged as banquet speaker, I was invited to share the head table with President John Koebert, Vice President George Cash and program editor Connie Robertson from the RCC. Offering my overview of the development of our hobby community and how the ANA fits into it, my formal remarks were followed with a question and answer session. The presentation of an ANA Presidential Award concluded my appearance, it going to outgoing VNA President Koebert in recognition of his grass roots in steering his local Alexandria Coin Club and the state organization through sometimes challenging transitional times in recent years.

Being scheduled for a 9:38 a.m. Sunday United departure to Chicago, I was on my way to the airport by taxi by about 7:30 a.m. With check-in going smoothly, I had plenty of time for a relaxing breakfast at the Applebee’s food service area before passing through security. Having been accorded an automated upgrade to first class by virtue of my Mileage Plus qualification, I also enjoyed a light snack in flight, which served as lunch. With about an hour connection at O’Hare, I was back in Appleton by well before 1 p.m. and home by 2:30, after working in three quick shopping stops before heading west.

My trip to Okoboji was a bit of a different routine than usual, the outing this time out embracing the previous Sunday and Monday, rather than the typical Monday and Tuesday sequence, with the meeting being held on Monday rather than Tuesday as a concession to my other commitments. Whereas I usually embark on my travels at mid-day on Monday, this time around I headed out at mid-morning on Sunday.

Hitting the road from home at 9 a.m., my initial travels were cross-country to Tomah where I picked up I-90 at about 10:40 a.m., having logged 92 miles. Slightly more than an hour and a half, and 100 miles later, I diverted from my customary travel route at the Rochester exit, picking up US-14 to Mankato, arriving there at about 2:30 with 290 road miles behind me. Along the way I stopped for a quick lunch at the Culver’s in Owatonna.

My objective in diverting from my normal Okoboji travel routing was to pay a short visit to Dennis Heller, who was a very active participant on the coin show circuit from the late 1960s into the early 1990s. For the past few years he has been confined to a health care facility in Mankato, as he is suffering from an advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease. While communication was difficult, I’m sure he was pleased to have me stop by, as I was able to treat him to a wheelchair ride outside to take in the fall surroundings.

Back on the road by shortly after 3 p.m., traveling cross-country to Okoboji, a 104-mile drive got me there two hours later. Typically my drives between home and Okoboji log at about 365 miles and seven hours on the road; this one worked out to 394 miles in roughly eight hours.

After settling into my AmericINN room and taking a late nap, I headed out for a walk to and from dinner, hiking a good two miles south along US-71 into Arnolds Park, another small resort community adjacent to Okoboji. Having opted for Grandfather’s Pizza for dinner, it was nearing 8 p.m. when I returned to my room. The balance of the evening was spent watching the TV broadcast of the Packers managing to survive their season opening game against the Eagles by a 27-20 score.

Monday got started for me at about 6:30 a.m. when I headed out on a 45-minute long morning constitutional out Sanborn Avenue past the Higgins Museum, circling back into Okoboji on Lakeshore Drive along West Okoboji Lake, then walking north along US-71 back to the AmericINN. For breakfast, I contented myself with the continental offerings of the inn. They were to be supplemented at the beginning of the board meeting with apple turnovers provided by fellow board member Mike Scacci from Fort Dodge.

It was about 9:45 a.m. when I arrived at the Higgins Museum for the board meeting, which President Dean Oakes from Iowa City had called for 10 o’clock. The other board members are Don Jensen from Humboldt, treasurer Rick Hickman and vice president Don Mark from the Des Moines area, with all but Mark in attendance at this meeting. Also attending the meeting was curator Larry Adams, who resides in Boone during the majority of the year, excepting May to September when he is on duty at the museum.

This meeting was a short one, being barely an hour in duration. In addition to the usual housekeeping discussions, the board formally approved an expenditure covering the purchase of 14 notes from the Melamed Minnesota National Bank Note collection sale two weeks earlier. It also committed to producing another Higgins Museum National Bank Note Seminar on Aug. 11, 2011, building on the success of a similar undertaking presented in 2009, along with the Central States Numismatic Society’s inaugural stand-alone seminar successfully hosted there in 2006.

Shortly after the board meeting adjourned and the museum building was locked down for the winter, with the note collection being secured in safe deposit boxes at a local bank, those in attendance adjourned for lunch at Tweeter’s nearby. Having enjoyed an outstanding chef’s salad offering, by 12:30 p.m. I was on the road headed for home.

As I traveled across southern Minnesota on I-90, early signs of the fall season were readily in evidence, as the year’s last hay cuttings were being gathered in and the first corn harvestings were also underway. It was about 4 p.m. when I crossed the Mississippi at La Crosse, having logged 225 miles of what would be a 367-mile day of driving. About an hour later I pulled off at the Culver’s in Tomah for a quick meal, getting back on the road around 5:30 p.m. and back home by 7:15 p.m.

While the second week of September didn’t really find me feeling travel weary, it certainly didn’t leave me with much leisure time, as even the Tuesday and Wednesday that I spent around home and Iola were jammed with commitments. Those commitments included a pair of local board meetings and a scheduled ANA board teleconference session, in addition to a few other activities of a personal nature that I needed to be involved with.

Thus, by the time I returned from Richmond the opportunity to close out the month with a string of uninterrupted days on home turf was certainly a welcome prospect.

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