Finest Hour 113, Winter 2001-02
By JUDY KAMBESTAD
The 18th International Churchill Conferences
The 2001 San Diego Conference welcomed over 200 members from Britain, Canada and the United States, well down from expectations but a success throughout. Nobody who booked through September 10th appears to have canceled except for health reasons, but the hotel received zero registrations after September 11th. Martin Gilbert not only made splendid contributions of his own, but took part in the Q&A after the Gallipoli panel, standing in line to ask his questions. But when he got to speak he said he had been ticking off his list of queries as earlier questioners spoke and realized he had little left to add! Judy Kambestad, to whom we owe much, tells us how it all came to pass.
Seventeenth International Churchill Conference, Alyeska Prince Hotel, Girdwood, Alaska. September 2000: Why would we, Judy and Jerry Kambestad, be invited to a meeting with the Board of Governors? We quickly find out: Judy is asked to chair the planning committee for the 18th International Churchill Conference.
To be part of the planning committee was on our agenda; chairing it was not. But some of us southern California Churchillians had been lobbying for a conference here for several years.
The Center’s Board responded by deciding to hold the 2001 conference in San Diego. President John Plumpton and conference chairman Bill Ives visited San Diego, inspected several hotels and, after consulting with members in the area, selected the Hotel Del Coronado. After extensive negotiations with the hotel, a contract was drafted and signed. Now an “on-site” person was needed to run the show. Even though I was the appointed Planning Chairman, it quickly turned into a Judy and Jerry show along with some expert help from the SoCal Planning Committee.
Develop a budget. Find a committee. Plan and schedule the conference events. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? In November I meet with John Plumpton in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where we are attending The Lincoln Forum. The theme is to be “Churchill and the Navy”; Sir Martin Gilbert and Max Arthur will be speakers; Richard Langworth will moderate two panels on the Dardanelles and Singapore. We are to budget for 210 attenders but plan for 300. John gives me a copy of the Williamsburg Conference budget as an example. The local planning committee will report to Bill Ives, the Board member chairing this conference.
Armed with the Williamsburg data, I came to the realization that a great number of activities needed to be considered, including registration, printing, posting, tours, hotel liaison, publicity, but especially budgeting.
I also quickly realized that you can’t draft a budget without numbers, so we took a trip to the Del, the first of many lunches on Jerry. The hotel assigns a representative to each conference to handle all the details. Ours gave me a tour of our meeting rooms, a list of hotel services with prices and what is called a “function profile”: a spreadsheet by date showing the function, room, time and special requests. All changes were put into the function profile. It was the “bible” of the conference.
With Alaska’s 2000 conference program as an example, we obtained bids from various printers for the program and registration packet. A trip to the Post Office confirmed that non-profit bulk mail would save us $1500, even though some recipients received their invitations within the week, others a month later.
It was now time for a committee to plan details and finalize arrangements. Every southern California member received an invitation to assist. The first meeting was a success – great ideas were discussed as we planned the perfect event: “Churchill and the Navy” with a Southern California flair. Paul and Ellen Alkon were responsible for students and authors. Richard and Martha Applegate visited Chambers of Commerce and Tijuana, Mexico to gather information, and hosted our lunch meetings in their hilltop home overlooking San Diego. Ruth Lavine oversaw conference registration. Terry and Marlane McGarry took on the formidable tasks of corporate fundraising and media relations. Bond Nichols handled the golf and tennis arrangements. Bob Sullivan volunteered to arrange the harbor cruise. Jerry Kambestad took on the Nixon Library and the selling of Churchill Stores items. Curt and Gert Zoller, who were on the original committee, had to withdraw because of medical situations, but their early help was much appreciated. We later added Ted Kagan, who helped at the conference; and Professor Ray Benkendorf, who invited students at colleges and universities to the black tie dinner.
Bill Ives came out to meet with the committee. We developed a calendar and set deadlines: registration copy April 1st for editing, registrations mailed June 1st, and so on. I worked and reworked the complicated budget. Everything had a contract! Floral centerpieces were a contract (and if you noticed, we used the same ones throughout the conference to save money even though some flags had been snitched). The mariachi musicians at the fiesta evening were a contract. The audio-visual equipment was a contract. The coaches were a contract. I received contracts by fax using an updated machine with a new dedicated line. We forwarded contracts to Bill Ives for approval, and every change meant a rewritten contract. My files bulged, the fax machine ran out of paper, my life was an e-mail screen.
Registration packets were finally mailed by June 30th. Lesson #1 (of many): printers do not necessarily meet deadlines and it takes a long time to stuff 2300 registration packets and put them, sorted and banded, in non-profit bulk mail order‹which is not always in consecutive postal code order!
John and Ruth Plumpton’s was the first registration received. It was exciting! By mid-July we were receiving five or more a week. Lorraine Horn at the Churchill Center business office received the forms and checks, then faxed the forms to us. Jerry Kambestad designed a spreadsheet to track the numbers. Sofari sogoody, as Churchill wrote from Africa: our projections were adding up.
Meanwhile, Jerry was busy with the graphic artist and the vendor designing the sale items. The “Action This Day” post-it note took three months of mailing back and forth to Jim Muller in Alaska, who has an original framed over his desk, to be sure of the right size and color. Gail Greenly at Churchill Stores was consulted on each sale item. Ads for the printed program came in. Jerry coordinated these. We soon discovered that no two graphic artists use the same software. Some of the design was still being resolved in early October, facing a mid-month print deadline.
Terry and Marlane McGarry’s work on corporate fundraising paid off. They brought in Mark Burnett (Eco-Challenge), Duvall Hecht (Books on Tape), Altadis (Upmann cigars), J Wine Company, British Airways and the British Consulate. Their news releases were generating e-mails (my e-mail address was in the articles) requesting information. We lunched on the Queen Mary and reconfirmed arrangements for the black tie dinner there. We lunched at the Del Coronado. The committee lunched at the Applegate’s and went over every detail. Half of our block of hotel rooms were booked. We were on a roll!
Then came September 11th.
We received phone calls later that week inquiring if we were still holding the conference. Bill Ives sent a “never give in” letter (FH 112) to all the registrants, and, remarkably there were only a handful of cancellations for health reasons. But, although additional registrations came in from the local area, the number of hotel rooms reserved for the conference remained virtually the same from that date forward.
On October 31st California Governor Gray Davis announced that the Golden Gate and Bay bridges in San Francisco, the Vincent Thomas bridge in Long Beach, and the Coronado bridge (connecting San Diego to the peninsula with our hotel) had been targeted by terrorists between November 2nd and 7th, our conference dates. I received two phone calls and one cancellation, and we had a couple no-shows at the conference. Drivers on the Coronado bridge observed armed national guardsmen at each end, but it would have been easy for a terrorist with a truck full of explosives to drive to the center of the bridge, then press the button. We are such an open society….
We opened the 18th International Churchill Conference with 189 registrants, and with the walk-in registrants, students and Daughters of the British Empire we totaled 200 at the sessions and 243 at the black-tie dinner to hear Winston S. Churchill. The speakers were excellent, people enjoyed the harbor cruise, the singers closed the conference on an upbeat note and those who registered stood firm. The conference was a success and at last count, all the bridges were still standing.
If you were a Del mouse in room 7629 late on the afternoon of November 6th, you would have found the committee indulging in cheese and crackers and toasting each other with McGarrys’ Pol Roger Champagne for a job well done by a group of dedicated SoCal Churchillians.
Judy Kambestad is a Churchill Center Associate who devotedly served her fellow members by directing events in San Diego.