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Putting It Together

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When the idea for putting together a Prime Timers Worldwide (PTWW) convention in Chicago began, we had already put together a successful regional Prime Timers conference back in 2014 with me as the conference organizer. Seeing that Chicago was not very involved in the Prime Timers Worldwide scene, I felt that we could put together a convention as well as what previous host cities had done. I floated this idea to our chapter's board of directors who gave their stamp of approval. I then put together a committee consisting of Russell Bond, Joe Conklin, Ed Davis, Wayne Hall, David Lazear, Marvin Levin, and Curtis Tom. I've been a member of Chicago Prime Timers for over 11 years so I know these people very well. Some of them have also been involved in the 2014 regional conference event so that was a bonus. We put together a budget with great help from Joe with his accounting experience, and then presented this to the PTWW Board of Directors.

As it turned out, Chicago was the only city to bid for hosting the 2017 convention so it was an easy victory. We began our plan in October 2015. It helps that for the Chicago convention, we adopted a similar structure to conventions held in previous cities, basically a 4-night stay and special dinner events planned for the final 3 nights between Monday and Wednesday.

The first thing we did was find a venue. I know that the location had to be in downtown Chicago for out-of-towners to sight-see so I visited 6 hotels there and spoke with their managers. It all boiled down to price with DoubleTree by Hilton hotel offering the best deal. For that price package offered, we were given 1 conference room and access to their hospitality room and ballroom. For the events held at the hotel, the hotel would also be responsible for taking care of the food and drinks.

Once we knew the hotel costs, we tackled the price tags for other events we wanted to include, such as the dinner cruise along Lake Michigan. We spoke with a couple of companies to secure the best deal for the dinner cruise. For the T-shirts, we had worked with a local shop previously to print T-shirts for Pride with good results so we worked with that shop again for this convention. For entertainment during the banquet, we hired a singer who had previously sung for us at one of our monthly Open Socials for Chicago Prime Timers.

With all the prices in place, we created a registration form for potential attendees to complete. David was good with IT so not only did he put together a registration form, he also created an online site for Prime Timers who were interested in finding out more about the convention. For promotion, I attended two 2016 regional conferences held in Vegas and Oklahoma City, and passed out registration forms to anyone interested in attending the convention. We gave out one free registration through a raffle draw for each of those regional conferences. We also contacted every chapter to ask then to inform their members of the upcoming national convention either by email or through their newsletters.

David created a PayPal account for those attendees who wanted to use that system of payment. As the months rolled on, Russell kept track of the number of Prime Timers signing up for the convention. We set deadlines so as to be able to inform all parties (hotel, cruise company, T-shirt shop) how many people were expected to turn out for the event.

The PTWW Board was responsible for putting together 2 workshops, one for their keynote speaker and the other by Director Emeritus Michael Stone. For the 3 workshops we put together, we asked around for volunteers who might be interested in presenting a topic of interest to all Prime Timers. We ended up with speakers whom we asked as well as those who stepped forward offering their services. Two of them were from our Chicago chapter (Bill Meyers and Channa Amarasekera) while the third (Loren Olsen) came from the Iowa chapter. Audio and visual equipment for the workshops were very hands-on: I provided a screen for the projector, PTWW provided the projector, Chicago Prime Timers provided a microphone and speakers brought their own laptops.

For the most part, the months leading up to the convention went smoothly. We had a number of cancellations along the way but that was to be expected. We also asked for volunteers from our chapter to help with the minor details like helping attendees to register in when they arrived at the hotel.

The convention itself also went smoothly. The dinner cruise, masquerade ball, and banquet were well attended and the workshops even more so as we had to bring in extra chairs for those events. A minor hiccup was when a bus driver arrived late for one of the chartered buses that took the attendees from the hotel to the dinner cruise docking area. Altogether, 215 Prime Timers from 35 chapters attended the convention. While Chicago's notoriety as a crime-ridden city and its cool weather in late October may have dissuaded some potential attendees from attending, we felt that overall, the convention was a success.

I received positive feedback from some of the Prime Timers who attended the convention but I wished I had created evaluation forms for attendees to let us know what they thought of the convention and whether/how it can be improved. I want to thank my committee for helping me put together an excellent convention as well as all the speakers and volunteers who helped make it a success. Chicago looks forward to hosting another convention in the future.

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