Having attended all but a few of the Florida United Numismatists (FUN) conventions since the event pretty much took up permanent residence in the Orlando area around 40 years ago, I must say that this annual event has generally been one that it has been much “fun” to attend. This year was certainly no exception.
This year’s event was not necessarily a typical FUN convention, however, as I read the results. As one participating dealer recounted; “Attendance was certainly absolutely phenomenal, but business was highly selective, which is pretty much what I expected given current economic conditions. Outside of bullion, the marketplace is highly selective, except at the very low and high ends. The middle 80 percent, which is where most of us deal, is actually pretty quiet, which I expect to remain the case for perhaps another two or three years.”
While I was looking forward to FUN, it was not exactly fun to be rolling out of bed on the first Wednesday of the new year at 3 o’clock in the morning to begin my journey, even with the welcome prospect of enjoying Florida climes. Hitting the road from home shortly after 4, it was about 5 when I arrived in Appleton for my 6 o’clock flight. With my connecting flight out of O’Hare operating on time, I arrived in Orlando a few minutes ahead of schedule, arriving at my Rosen Centre accommodations right around noon.
While registering at the hotel I exchanged greetings with David Lang, a member of the NGC staff whom I first became acquainted with years ago when he was active in California numismatic circles. After settling into my room, I opted to take the long walk over to Hall B of the north wing of the Orange County Convention Center rather than taking the available shuttle bus. It was sunshiny but cool, with the temperature about 30 degrees higher than the 14 degrees I had left behind in Appleton. I figured the distance at about one mile and thought I could use the exercise.
With dealer setup not scheduled to get under way until 2 o’clock, I stopped by the FUN show office where I found Jeanne Shepherd tending to her traditional gatekeeper duties. While in the room I had the opportunity to chat a bit with FUN President Bob Hurst, secretary and convention coordinator Cindy Wibker and board member Tony Bonaro, who was sorting through and arranging FUN show production properties. While awaiting the opening of the bourse to dealer setup I also spent some extended time visiting with a trio of Wisconsin dealers, Gary Rosencrans from Wisconsin Rapids, Joe Pankratz from Appleton and Andrew Kimmel from the Milwaukee area.
By 2 p.m. the assembly area at the head of the escalators leading down to the bourse area was pretty well packed. While the area cleared out fairly quickly, the line at the dealer registration/photo ID station, staffed by FUN treasurer and past president and ICTA industry affairs director Carrie Best, remained backed up for the next two hours. Among those I had the opportunity to visit with briefly during that time were former ANA governor and silver dollar authority Michael Fey from New Jersey and Tony Swicer from Lake Worth, FUN vice president and designated chairman of the convention, along with countless others from the southeast, along the eastern seaboard and throughout the Midwest. The time was nearing 4 o’clock before the line dissipated to near nothing and I quickly claimed a registration voucher from FUN Topics editor Jim Best, who was holding forth at one of the dealer registration posts.
After checking in with exhibits chairperson Fran Lockwood from Indiana, who handles that chore for both Central States and FUN, I walked back to the Rosen Centre to pick up materials for placing the exhibit I had brought along. It was originally developed for the Cincinnati Central States Numismatic Society convention this past spring and subsequently placed at Michigan State Numismatic Society convention in Dearborn over Thanksgiving weekend. I then turned right around and headed back to the convention center. With the task of setting the exhibit up accomplished, I hiked back to the Rosen, arriving there at about 6:30 p.m., having dispatched my typical daily four-mile constitutional on an installment basis.
After relaxing and unwinding a bit in my room, at about 8 o’clock I headed down to the Cafe Gauguin off the lobby to treat myself to their buffet offerings for dinner.
It was about 6 o’clock Thursday morning when I got my day started with about an hour long wandering walk around the well lit convention center area. By 7:30 I was heading back down to the Cafe Gauguin for breakfast, where I was joined by Howard Daniel from Virginia’s delta country. Daniel was at FUN manning a table jointly promoting Numismatics International and the International Bank Note Society – really just plugging the benefits of hobby involvement. Our visit embraced a range of topics from the state of those organizations to his focused interest on the numismatics of Vietnam and Southeast Asia, with a sprinkling of insights into his military service career thrown in.
Deciding to start availing myself of the shuttle bus service to the convention center, at the loading area I met up with Ray Dillard and his assistant, daughter Sherrie Krug, who had driven down from Michigan to be on hand at FUN rolling elongated souvenirs for attendees, as he has been doing for many years. Also there awaiting arrival of the bus was Kim Kiick, senior ANA staff administrative manager in Colorado Springs. The shuttle arrived at the convention center about 9, a half hour after the bourse and exhibit areas had opened to those with dealer and early bird badges, so activity in the registration area was relatively quiet and unhurried.
Typically for a FUN convention, the bourse area was buzzing with activity as it had been from 2 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday when setup and the early wheeling-dealing was under way. I spent much of the next hour in the lobby area, however, awaiting the ribbon cutting ceremony that at 10 a.m. would open the bourse of the 55th annual FUN convention to the public. That resulted in more visiting with hobby acquaintances with whom I cross paths from time to time during the course of a year, including Don Mark and Jim Jackson from Iowa, Duane Douglas from Mexico and Gary Fillers from Tennessee.
I was allowed to break into the opening ceremonies to present an ANA Presidential Award. It went to Fred Lake, who has been very active in FUN and numismatic literature arenas for many years. In addition to having been a FUN board member for the past 12 years, the St. Petersburg resident for the past 15 years also has been serving as the organization’s ever present convention photographer. An active member of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society, he also deals in numismatic literature under the identity Lake Books.
The rush of attendance following the ribbon cutting advanced the tempo of activity on the bourse another notch or two. Within the hour traffic in the aisles was generally elbow to elbow; there was little outbound flow until very late in the afternoon.
In was nearing 11:30 a.m. when I headed to the Educational Seminar room, where FUN education director Randy Campbell introduced me to lead off a 17-program educational series spread over three days. My topic was titled “ANA Progress Report,” providing the audience with an overview, from my perspective as president, of how the organization has been addressing the issues with which it has been confronted. It commanded an attendance of no more than 25, with a short question and answer session following. This was certainly in marked contrast to packed to overflowing audiences and challenging questioning I recall having materialized for similar sessions three and four years ago when grand visions for the ANA were being pulled out of the air.
After catching a light snack from the exhibit floor food service area following my educational presentation, I spent the afternoon wandering the aisles of the bourse and absorbing the offerings of the exhibit area. Of course, many casual conversations and some in depth explorations unfolded along the way, many of which related to the ANA or the state of the hobby community and marketplace.
While the bourse and exhibit areas were not scheduled to close down until 7 p.m., I took leave of the convention center at about 6, again availing myself of the shuttle to return to the Rosen, by which time activity had thinned perceptibly. It was about 7 p.m. when I headed to dinner, opting for the Everglades restaurant off the lobby. The food was good, but I thought a bit on the expensive side given the rather blah ambience, which as a solo diner I absorbed in great detail. As Joel Edler was bunking in with me for the night to spend some time at FUN, having opted for an overnight break from a nearby January condo rental he and his wife were enjoying for a winter break, we finished the evening off watching the telecast of Alabama beating Texas for the BCS championship.
On Friday morning I got the day started at about 5:30, putting in an hour long constitutional walking up and down International Drive. At about 7 a.m. Joel and I headed down for breakfast at the Cafe Gauguin. It was shortly after 8 when I caught the shuttle to the convention center. When the bourse and exhibit areas opened to dealers, exhibitors and early birds at 8:30 a.m., I observed that there was not an influx of dealers rushing to open their tables for the day, although a reasonable level of activity was in evidence by the time the area opened to public attendance at 10.
Much of my morning was spent in and around the exhibit area, during the course of which I enjoyed an extended visit with Chip Cutcliff, John Phipps and Greg Ison at the Georgia Numismatic Association table. By late morning the bourse was again a buzz of activity; looking down most any aisle the traffic was solid to overflowing. At noontime I joined up with ANA executive director Larry Shepherd and treasurer Austin Sheheen from Camden, S.C., and we adjourned to an extended lunch over at the Rosen, discussing ANA financial perspective issues.
At 3 o’clock the ANA board convened for an executive session meeting, with all members excepting Chet Krause in attendance. At about 4:30 p.m. the meeting transitioned to an open session, with perhaps 15 or so in the audience; the board deliberated and voted on several matters in the open session, inviting input from those members in attendance, with the session extending out from an intended 6 o’clock close to about 7. Following the meeting board member Scott Rottinghaus, Shepherd and I opted for a leisurely dinner in the Everglades, which did not break up until nearly 11.
Notwithstanding my late retirement the night before, by 5:30 on Saturday morning I was awake and out putting in another hour long constitutional. Conditions were more mindful of Wisconsin than Florida; I headed outside into very windy and rather frigid conditions, with light moisture in the air falling in virtually crystallized form. I’d say the temperature was just south of 30 degrees; as it turned out the low 40s temperature encountered upon arrival at mid-day on Wednesday was the warmest it would get during the course of my stay in Orlando.
Following breakfast, it was 8 a.m. or so when I caught a shuttle to the convention center, where the assembly of dealers awaiting the 8:30 opening of bourse was modest at best, with the floor again opening to no rush of dealers opening their tables for the day, as had also been the case on Friday. Once again, however, by the time late morning arrived the atmosphere around the floor broadcast a vibrant air. Contributing to Saturday’s early attendance was the arrival of several local club contingents from around the state who arrived on chartered busses.
At 11 o’clock I sat in on an ANA Representative Program meeting organized by board member and committee liaison Walter Ostromecki from California, who along with vice president Tom Hallenbeck from Colorado Springs facilitated the session. The perhaps 25 district and club representatives’ discussions focused primarily on building interaction and outreach up and down the line through the program from ANA headquarters involvement to identifying and serving the needs of local clubs and individual members and prospective members. The very lively discussions stretched out over a full two hours, after which I spent the balance of the afternoon visiting around a convention floor that had grown rather quiet by 3 o’clock or so.
It was around 6 o’clock when I boarded a shuttle back to the Rosen to relax in my room for a bit before heading to the Signature 2 room for dinner at the invitation of FUN president Hurst, who at 7 was hosting a small group of roughly 50 board members, convention crew and special guests. Among those I enjoyed sharing a table and conversation over the next two hours were Floridians Fred Lake, Randy and Penny Campbell and Bob Russell. From up north were Fran and Ray Lockwood from Indiana, and Ray Dillard and one of his grandsons from Michigan. The grandson had flown down to accompany grandpa on the drive home in response to a family misfortune; word had been received that the home of a granddaughter, Sherri Krug’s daughter, had been destroyed by fire.
On Sunday morning I caught transportation to the airport at about 6 o’clock. By 7 a.m. I had completed check-in, passed through security and arrived at the departure area satellite. Crossing paths with dealer Mary Sauvain from Colorado Springs in the food court area, we shared our breakfast selections and conversation for about an hour before moving on to our respective boarding areas. With my flight departing on the money at 9 and the connection out of O’Hare at just before noon, I was able to spend the afternoon relaxing at home and witnessing the Packers succumb to the Arizona Cardinals on Wild Card Weekend.
For me, like most of those who attended this year’s FUN convention, weather was really the only disappointment. Yes, business could certainly have been less spotty, especially given the outstanding attendance turnout, from what I observed and heard on a pretty broad basis. Regardless, I’m certain most will be looking forward to taking in FUN again next year, when the convention takes a one year forced hiatus in Tampa.
(Cliff Mishler of Iola, Wis., is a long-time numismatist and hobby leader.)