Our Dream Came True

The 1990 Annual Gathering

by Art Mattson, OCM Historian

In the summer of 1990, nearly 1600 Mensans and guests attended “California Dreaming.”

It was American Mensa’s Annual Gathering (AG), and was quickly hailed as one of the best ever. It was hosted and put on by Orange County Mensa at the Anaheim Marriott hotel. The sterling efforts of a great many of our members made it all possible.

I was the AG Chair and Joe Perel was Vice Chair, listed in the program as Right Hand Man. He liked that. Joe and I, together with Russ Bakke, Lindy Burke and Judy Semler, made up the Executive Committee. They were veteran leaders in Orange County Mensa who had varying constituencies. I enlisted them to make periodic reviews as to how the AG was developing, and to keep me on track if I strayed. I didn’t.

They say an army runs on its stomach, and Mensans have adopted that slogan. To feed our army of Mensans, we did two major things. We created the best Hospitality Suite Mensa had ever seen (it’s still regarded as a standard), and we sold six mouth-watering themed meals.

For the Hospitality Suite, we negotiated for the use of a 5,000 square foot ballroom. We put Co-Chairs Russ Bakke (beverages) and Cookie Bakke (food, food, food) in charge and got the hell out of their way. For five days, they provided mass quantities of very tasty snacks and thirst-quenching drinks in great variety.

Cookie conducted cooking parties for months in several members’ homes, and filled many freezers in anticipation of the great event. Russ backed a five-ton truck into the hotel’s loading dock, filled with beer, wine and soft drinks as well as various food stuffs. Joe Perel arranged for the free use of the truck, and of hot dog and popcorn machines which were very popular.

Having fed everyone, we needed to give them something to do. Our Program Chair, Steve Pastis, put together a fabulous array of speakers and activities. Veteran AG goers said it was Mensa’s best ever. There have been some pretty good programs since then, but Steve certainly raised the standard high.

Among our speakers were Harry Shearer who was starring with the Simpsons (in their first year), Walter Koenig (Chekhov of Star Trek), William Christopher (Father Mulcahy from M*A*S*H), the always entertaining Dr. Demento, Larry Wilson (comedian and magician) and Mell Lazarus (comic strips).

Our Farewell Brunch on Sunday was themed as a Picnic in the Park. Mell Lazarus regaled us with many stories about his creations in the comic strips, “Momma” and “Miss Peach.” We all got to know Momma really well. Mell drew several of his comic characters as part of his talk, and then donated them to our date auction.

We danced, starting with a square dance Thursday night. On Friday night, our DJ played for four hours and stayed overtime for another 60 minutes in the wee hours. The dance floor was full. We must have danced ourselves out because an excellent live band, “Fantasy,” played to a nearly empty dance floor Saturday night. Or could it have been that…..

EVERYBODY was at Max Geffner’s CASINO on Saturday night. Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, even a big Wheel commanded our attention. Max raised several hundred dollars for our MERF scholarship fund by selling extra chips to gamblers who had gone broke.

“Jeopardy!” held four testing sessions for 75 members each. Bob Tutelman (San Diego) and Jon Evans (GLAAM) each subsequently appeared on the show. “The Joker’s Wild” game show held three testing sessions for 60 members each.

On Saturday afternoon, 77 couples renewed their wedding vows. Many of the women wore wedding dresses. A rabbi, a minister, a priest and representatives of the Church of the $10 Tax Deduction presided. It made the news. A day earlier, I had proposed to Angie privately and she said “YES!” Russ Bakke announced the engagement to the dinner crowd that evening. Cookie tried to persuade us to get married the next day with everyone else. We held out for a traditional wedding with family and friends.

Allen Doum ran a Treasure Hunt, Teri Lacher ran the Mensa Boutique, and Bill Neal ran a successful blood drive. There was a Coffeehouse where poets, comics and musicians entertained in a casual atmosphere. There was a Chili Cook-off, two game rooms, the MERF auction, a Bridge Tournament, two movie rooms, and the Joke-Off.
On Sunday morning, over $5,000 in prizes were distributed to volunteers and program participants.

Our Treasurer, Jim Peebles, spent the entire weekend keeping track of the comings and goings of the money. In the end, we netted over $19,000, mostly due to the influx of last-minute attendees. According to the rules, we could keep only $3,000 for OCM. American Mensa also got $3,000. The balance, over $13,000, went to MERF.

Lisa Scaglione served as Assistant Treasurer specifically to keep track of and pay all the bills for Hospitality. Barry Stone handled Registration, Alice Volkert did Publicity, and Helen Geerlings was Art Director.

After the AG concluded, there was OCM’s Date Auction. In two hours, over $8,000 was raised. OCM added a couple of grand and established a $10,000 scholarship endowment with MERF, which pays for our annual OCM Scholarship.

 Reprinted from the September, 2014, Oracle

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