You Can’t Keep an Engaged Volunteer Down

Hurricane Irene’s recent landfall on the east coast and my current work in volunteer engagement reminded me of a dear friend and fellow volunteer’s extraordinary experience during Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

I was on the board of the American Marketing Association (AMA) as VP of Professional Chapters back then and had the privilege of serving with many dedicated volunteers on the Professional Chapters Council (PCC). An advisory group comprised of past chapter presidents, PCC members provided guidance and tools to help strengthen chapter leadership among AMA’s network of more than 90 chapters in the U.S. and Canada. We also visited chapters to recognize special achievements – presenting chapter excellence awards, anniversary gavels, and new chapter charters.

Who Said Getting There is Half the Fun?

Chris Bonney, a PCC member from Hampton Roads VA, was scheduled to meet with the Triad chapter in Winston-Salem NC on September 22, 1989. Here’s how he described that incredible trip. (Keep in mind, this was before the prevalence of blackberries and i-phones.)

“Neither rain nor wind nor dark of night could prevent me (although they all tried) from attending the 20th anniversary celebration of the Triad Chapter in Winston Salem. It started with my first plane being delayed nearly four hours because of complications related to an earlier accident at La Guardia airport. Accordingly, I missed the only two connections from Charlotte to Winston Salem – not to mention the baby who threw up on my lap as we circled over Charlotte …

“Having too much time and energy devoted to making this meeting, I rented a car in Charlotte and drove the 90 miles to get to the meeting, arriving an hour and a half late. I was determined not to be forever known as ‘that guy from the PCC who never showed up.’ When I arrived at the meeting room (after spending 15 minutes stuck in the elevator in the hotel’s parking garage), I found the chapter president doing the old shadow-pictures-on-the-wall hoping he could hold the group’s interest until I arrived.”

And for the return trip …

That’s what it took for this intrepid volunteer to reach his destination. Chris’s getting home was no easier as Hurricane Hugo was making its destructive way up the eastern seaboard.

“Having been assured by some [expletive] at the airport that the plane would be flying in the morning, I was crazy enough to drive through the hurricane back to Charlotte to catch my plane home. (By this time Hugo was reclassified as a tropical storm but still packing winds of 60-90 mph.) What a joke! Although Charlotte experienced nothing like the tragedy of Charleston, it was still pretty trashed – thousands of tree uprooted and broken in the highways, flooding, power lines down, billboards and signs asunder …

“With no power anywhere, the city was – according to the car radio message from the two radio stations working on emergency generators – virtually closed for business. I drove the car right up on the curb by the front door of the airport to escape the winds. By 8:30 that morning, there had been so much damage to the airport that they hadn’t even been out on the field to check the planes and runways.”

With all flights cancelled, Chris drove home. It took him more than six hours, and he eventually made it home safely. Despite all the delays in traveling, Chris reported that the chapter visit was well worth it. Trophy

I found this description of his harrowing travel experience in a special presentation I made several weeks later to recognize Chris for his dedication, determination, courage and commitment to the chapter, PCC, and the AMA.

Thanks, Chris, for what you did back then … and for the memory of it now.


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