Albert Lea has an RV city

Published 2:20 pm Thursday, June 18, 2009

A community of about 600 people — many who’ve known their neighbors for years — has moved mainly into the Freeborn County Fairgrounds June 17-21.

More than 239 recreational vehicles had arrived by noon Wednesday for the Midwest Rally for the Family Motor Coach Association, and 276 RVs are expected. That number is about half the normal amount, said Linus Koopmeiners, who worked at the registration building. He said this is due to the economy and the price of traveling. The average is two people per coach for just under 600 people.

“It’s a way of promoting the RV industry and the lifestyle of the RV,” said JackVan Hoorbeke, a member of the Lincoln Landers chapter of Illinois.

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An important part of that lifestyle is the RV community. Van Hoorbeke said his favorite part of owning an RV is the people he gets to meet at conventions and his neighbors at such rallies. “That’s the whole idea of a motor home: the socializing,” he said.

The FMCA hosts two national rallies and nine area rallies each year. FMCA chapters host one small weekend gathering a month from May to October.

Van Hoorbeke said he and his wife Ola take their 1995 Monaco Windsor to Naples, Fla. for three months in the winter.

“An RV is basically just a small apartment,” Van Hoorbeke said. “You have all the amenities that you have in any household. Some motor homes have washers and driers. We have the refrigerator, TV, microwave, bathroom – it’s just really an apartment on wheels.”

Some of those apartments on wheels had to be towed out of the fairgrounds on Wednesday after the area received more than a inch of rain on Tuesday. Because of the wet conditions at the fairgrounds, some RVs were moved to the Hammer Field parking lot and the Albert Lea High School parking lot.

Many of the FMCA members are retired couples. Van Hoorbeke and other FMCA members agreed that the best part of such rallies are the relationships that form.

On Wednesday afternoon, members of the Nebraska-based Heartland Travelers chapter Bill and Betty Land, Ron and Norma Munson, and Beverly Eccles played Mexican Train in a screen tent between the Munson’s 2000 Pinnacle Coach and the Fairlane Community Building, where the group will volunteer to serve breakfast each day.

Ron said the group has fun serving breakfast because they have the opportunity to meet all the people who come.

“It’s certainly more fun to come and volunteer and do something than to just come as an attendee,” Betty said.

She added volunteering adds a sense of purpose to the rally. The group volunteers about two hours a day to serve breakfast.

The Lands live full-time out of their RV, and they joked that their home on wheels allows them to move if they don’t like their neighbors. The couple owns property in Nemaha, Neb., and Betty said they’ll travel to their see their children’s homes in different parts of the country.

“They call, and we say, ‘Hi.’ They say, ‘Where are you?’” Betty said.

An event like the Midwest Family Motor Coach Rally is not an easy event to plan. About 230 FMCA members attending the rally also volunteer to help make the event possible.

“It boggles the mind sometimes. There’s so many little ins and outs and pitfalls that you can run into,” Van Hoorbeke said of the amount of planning required for the rally.

Van Hoorbeke worked with the 36 radios being used by different volunteer leaders. The radios were shipped to Albert Lea from Oklahoma for the rally, he said.

Van Hoorbeke, worked to repair and charge the radios in a room in the southwest corner of the grandstand building. Another Lincoln Lander Keith Lynn worked to make and organize signs for the seminars, workshops and for other various purposes. For example, a sign saying “Women’s Tea” was made to go outside the building where the event will occur.

Since Monday afternoon, Lynn has used a machine and special tape to make about 30 signs, and he said he’s used more than 100 feet of the four inch tape alone. Some of the signs had been made at past events, and Lynn said all the signs will be stored to be used at future events. He estimated they use more than 50 signs at the rally.

Rochester resident Dave Winters said the Midwest Rally is a great event for under $100 for FMCA members. Winters and his wife Karen belong to the Badger chapter out of Wisconsin, which is a large chapter with about 250 members.

The public can attend the rally for $5 and watch the entertainment, but they cannot attend seminars.

Van Hoorbeke pointed out that the FMCA members aren’t restricted to their RVs. Many people also tow cars with their RVs, and many of the people explored Albert Lea. Van Hoorbeke said Ola and Lynn’s wife Fran shopped at Northbridge Mall Tuesday. Many people like to go out to eat, and a group took a cruise on the Pelican Breeze Monday night, he said.

“It is not roughing it. Don’t let anyone tell you that it is. But it is fun. You tool into a town and find the local campground and just visit, then come home and sleep in your own bed,” said Al Talbott, FMCA Midwest area president.