By Greg Prehodka
In November 2011 I moved from NJ to Nazareth, Pa, and joined two MG clubs and one British car club near my new home. At all of them, the folks in charge asked me something like “If you have any ideas for things we can do, let us know.” Well, that got me thinking that maybe I could share some of my previous experiences from the NJ MG car club with them (and other clubs) on running MG club meetings, and maybe it would provide them some new ideas. It might also lead to my getting involved with their clubs in some way. I’ve had MGs since 1967 (and other British cars), and over the years have been involved in many different aspects concerning the cars, the people, the activities, and the clubs and organizations. Local clubs, national clubs, racing, technical, etc. For about five years, I ran the monthly meetings of the MG Car Club – Central Jersey Centre, before moving to Pa in November 2011. I’m a retired engineer, and just thought I’d reflect on my experiences and learning from those five years in particular. Although every club evolves into its own culture, and what its members want – and are willing to do – maybe my reflections might be useful to others. So, here goes!
“Are we having FUN?” That’s the way I approach my MG involvement! But just what is “MG FUN”?. That depends! Of course it is driving our MGs. But it is also sharing our MG love with fellow MG enthusiasts in numerous ways. For me it also includes the technical aspects of MG, working on our MGs, and sharing our knowledge and experiences with each other. It is club meetings, social events, ralleys, races, and so much more. We each define “MG FUN” as to what appeals to us, but with our common bond of MG cars. I joined the MG Car Club – Central Jersey Center about seven years ago, as a way to meet and get involved with MG enthusiasts where I lived, and to share in our common bonds. I went to a few of their “Monthly meetings”, and left disappointed! They held a short business meeting, and then everyone went home. Duh – NO FUN! Why even go! They would only get about 20 folks out to a meeting, although they had well over a hundred members. Something was wrong with this picture! They were not having FUN! So, when I got their dues notice for membership renewal, at the bottom it asked for volunteers to help with the club’s activities. Humm, that made me think – what could I help with? So I penned in something like “I’ll help run the monthly meetings”. I had many years of automotive and MG background, and thought I might be able to make the monthly meetings interesting and FUN! Well, what club ever turns down a volunteer! They said I could take over running the monthly meetings. The gauntlet was thrown down – my challenge was to improve the meetings! I was on my own in uncharted waters! But I needed a plan. I felt that several things should be changed or added, to make the meetings something the members would “Want to come to”. Heck, they had about 140 members! I wanted to add substance to the meetings and a social spin. My personal philosophy – make it more social and interesting, with a focus on our common bonds and interests. I consider that “MG FUN”! I would not encroach on the club officers, who still had their roles at the meeting. Prez, treasurer, secretary, etc still had their duties. I just organized and planned the meetings. I also wanted to find out “What the members wanted – and what they could/would help contribute to the meetings”. So to start with, I explained to the club officers what I’d like to try, and requested a budget for food and drinks for the meetings. They generously allowed me $1,200 for a year for 11 meetings, (although I never ended up spending that much, and the increase in attendance and membership more than justified this expenditure). I made up a survey and mailed it out to all the club members, asking them several key questions concerning the meetings and what “they would like”, and what “they could contribute or suggest”. Results were very interesting and all over the chart! Holy Cow, what was I to do! But at least now I had something to start with! The membership was very diverse in many respects. Racers, mechanics, drivers, show folks, party folks, and just hang around MG folks. So I began looking for a variety of “Program Presentations” that would please most of the folks most of the time. I would vary the monthly meeting programs and would make changes as I received feedback from members. I also got a number of leads from my survey, and as I became familiar with the members, I would lean on them to do “their fair share” in some respect. Sometimes “volunteers need to be encouraged” – you know! I would repeat my survey in years to follow, and always included asking for feedback on the activities which we were doing. I shared and discussed my survey results with the club officers and trustees to gather a consensus of where we were headed and what we should do. Not only did feedback from the surveys help improve the meetings, suggestions from the surveys also helped improve the club in its other functions too! And I was always thankful to anyone who helped. Food wise, I just kept it simple. Snacks and canned/bottled soft drinks that could be carried over to the next meeting if all were not consumed. Chips, cookies, candy bars, soda, juice, water, etc. I would buy this stuff either on sale or in bulk boxes (at COSTCO) and bring it to the meetings with me. Hot coffee for the colder months too. We met at a VFW hall, and had a good sized meeting room there for our meetings, which worked well for us. My plan seemed to work as attendance at the monthly meetings began to rise. So, here is what our monthly meetings evolved into.
- Business meeting first. Then have one or two significant “Presentations”. Typically, each one ½ hour to one hour long. A speaker, presenter, business, video, or something of interesting to the membership. Always followed by a Q & A time. Maybe even throw in a “Tech Tip” if there was time. I arranged for the speakers, and outlined for them what I would like them to talk about, the time they could have, told them about our members (so they would understand the audience), etc. This worked well. And if they had a business of some kind, I always let them hand out their business literature, although I made it clear their talk was not to be a “sales pitch”. I had to balance the evening’s schedule to fit our time slot of 7:30-10:00.
- I put out a variety of “Snacks and Drinks” for everyone. All personal size packages, and single serving size cans or bottles of soft drinks. Those not consumed, were carried over to the next meeting. I sort of kept a rolling inventory of this stuff at my house, and would replenish whatever they consumed. Chips, cookies, candy, soft drinks, etc.
- All members were required to wear a “Name Badge” (old what’s his name…). I think I did this more for myself, than for anyone else. I’m terrible on remembering names. I always brought blank, stick on, paper name badges and a marker, to meetings for those without name badges. At some point, the club started re-issuing club name badges. I found this was helpful with the social aspect, and getting folks to mingle. Now I knew everyone’s name!
- I suggested that we change the meeting start time from 8:00PM to 7:30 with suggestions of coming even earlier (7:00) to see your MG buddies before the meeting started. They agreed. Meetings usually ran until about 10:00PM. So meetings ran 2-3 hours. This made it worth the trip to attend. Not everyone lived next door. All members attending the meetings were also most helpful in setting up (chairs & tables) and cleaning up at meeting’s end.
- In the middle of the meeting, we always had a scheduled “break time” for snacks, drinks, and chat. Usually around 20 minutes. Socializing was a significant consideration in meeting planning. Come early, breaks, green table, etc.
- I made up the meeting agenda in advance of the meeting, but would also bring it in on a paper flip chart to guide the meeting. Having an agenda controlled the meetings and let everyone know what to expect. This worked well. We followed the meeting agenda as the evening progressed, which keep everyone on schedule. Sometimes speakers wouldn’t know when to stop, and I’d have to cut them off (we had to be out by 10PM). Often my planning would extend out to three or four months in advance, as I’d be lining up speakers. Other times I was in a panic to get a speaker or activity – but I always got something!
- I encouraged members to bring spouses, significant others, children, and friends to the meetings with them, and we welcomed everyone. With time we got more spouses coming.
- I maintained a “Display Poster Board” of upcoming activities and items of interest that I would bring with me for display. I would update it monthly with anything that might be of interest to members, from magazine articles, web sites, newsletters, events, humor, etc. For better or worse, I probably get too many MG and car magazines, and I have contacts with lots of car organizations – especially MG and vintage racing. I shared my information with everyone via this display board. Members always found it interesting.
- At many meetings we included a talk from one of our (140+) member in what I called “Introducing Our Members”, where one member would talk about their “car life”. This worked out really well, as we learned much more about each other, and heard some great personal car stories! I would tape record these talks and then write them up for the club’s newsletter. I developed guidelines for members on giving their Members Talk (in appendix). As well as just being interesting, this helped to create closer bonds between members as we got to know each other better, and realized we were all a little “MG and car crazy”. It made us more like family.
- In nicer weather, folks came early and hung out in parking lot with their cars (MGs) until the meeting started. I would put snacks and drinks outside for them.
- I started a “Free Raffle” at the end of the meetings. Some items for it bought by the club (by me from my meeting budget), and some donated by the members. Members were encouraged to bring in one item for the raffle, once a year, the month of their birthday, and most did, but it was not required. One of the reasons for doing this was to keep most folks there until the end of the meeting. It was received well, and worked well. Hey – who can argue with “Free”!
- I also started a “Green Table” which had success on several levels. This was just a table that I covered with a green table cloth. Members were then encourage to bring in “Anything” they were willing to “give away for FREE” that others might like to have. Car stuff encouraged, but anything OK. Lots of stuff showed up on the green table! Car parts, tools, vegetables, hardware, books, videos, stuff from places of work, etc. Only One Rule – if no-one wants your stuff after two meetings, you take it back home or dispose of it. I think some members came to meetings just to see what they could get for free – but so what! People also brought in car magazines they had read already, and were willing to pass on to others to enjoy. This way most everyone ended up with more car magazines than they subscribed to – at no additional cost! Not only did this help get unwanted stuff into the hands of those who could use it (doing our green thing), but interestingly the green table also evolved into a “social gathering place”. Folks came early to see what would show up, and they would hang out around the tables, looking at this odd collection of everything, and chat about it with their buddies. For some, it became their reason for coming early to meetings to get the “Pick of the Litter” from the tables. Folks would look over the stuff during our break time too. As I prepared to move from NJ to Pa, I realized I had just too much car stuff (from MANY years of accumulations) and ended up giving away “a lot of my unwanted stuff” on these green tables – to the pleasure and treasure of many. A win-win! I did this with the philosophy of “I did not have to move what I no longer had”!
- A great benefit that occurred was when our club went paperless (well, mostly paperless). There was a definite economic advantage because of the postal savings, but it also gave me the advantage of e-mailing members about meetings. I did not have to wait for the post office to deliver anything, or incur postal expenses (not to mention printing, stuffing, licking, stamping, mailing 140+ envelopes)! With a few clicks on my computer, I could now send out a meeting agenda and any meeting notes. I did this about a week before the monthly meeting, and then send out a “Meeting Reminder” the day before the meeting. It worked! Cost to the club – NADA! Plus our newsletter editor would usually get out the monthly newsletter a few days before the meeting, and it included the agenda and any meeting notes – like profiles on our speaker(s).
Guess what! With these changes, monthly meeting attendance rose from about 20 members to 50 members at meetings! The meetings now had something worth coming for!
I planned meetings to have a variety of different presentations, based on what the members wanted, what they suggested, and who I could get to come. I got creative at times. Here is a list of some of the presentations that we had the past several years:
- Police Officer Denis Nelson talking about police activities and policies, especially concerning “vintage cars” and motorist.
- Car tire expert talking about car tires for sports cars (Bill Bloomfield from Euro Tire in Fairfield, NJ)
- Members bring in their MG and car memorabilia for “show N tell” one time.
- Had an oil engineer from Castrol talk to us about oil and lubricants for cars
- Staged a 50-50 auction of car stuff from members to members (1/2 of $$ the items sold for went to the club, ½ to the person)
- Had a “Pot Luck Dinner” meeting once a year.
- Had a multi station “Tune up instruction” where the basics of a MG tune-up were explained by members knowing that stuff (Had separate demonstrations on: points, plugs, timing, carbs, valves)
- A presentation on hardware (nuts, bolts, etc). Different types, grading, samples. SAE, metric, whitworth. (Steve Schultz)
- Presentation on car batteries (Greg Prehodka)
- Headers for MGs (Greg Prehodka)
- History of “British Car Invasion of North America” (Richard Miller)
- Personal stories of an MG enthusiast living and working in China (Art Issacs)
- Presentation by a local “New Car Salesman” – on buying and selling cars. Bob Berenbak of Norman-Gale Buick-GMC
- Talk about ZDDP in oil for our older cars. Zinc in engine oil (Greg Prehodka)
- Grand Bahamas Vintage Speed Week 1984, talk and video from Greg Prehodka who raced in it with his MGTD.
- Garage Safety (Steve Schultz)
- Outfitting you garage. Cabinets, floors, etc. (some garage company)
- Antique and Classic Car insurance (J.C. Taylor rep)
- Re-building SU Carburetors, (Nick O’Donohoe)
- Getting your car fixed – shopping for a reliable garage and mechanic (Phil Eng of Shade Tree Garage)
- Chrome Plating (G&H Metal Finishers)
- “Hawaiian Night” Theme – dress and foods.
- Presentation on “Gasoline” (Greg Prehodka)
- British Foods (By Bon-Appetite). Besides talking about them, they brought in samples of their foods for us to eat!
- Members told short stories: “My Favorite Scary Car Story” (for Halloween meeting). Gave out prizes for best stories in various categories.
- Special tools for working on cars (Greg Prehodka)
- Car Insurance rep from Allstate talk to us about car insurance.
- “Hot Doggie Night” Hot dogs with toppings for everyone.
- “Pizza Night” Pizza for everyone
- Slide show: Restoration of an Austin Healey Sprite. (Greg Prehodka)
- November meeting we would include a “Food Drive” where we asked members to bring in food donations, which we then gave to a local community food bank.
- Videos & DVDs were shown (Which I have – are available on loan from me):
- See Appendix for complete list of Videos and DVD’s
- BYOB Wine and Cheese evening
- Members talk about special trips they took with their MGs over the years.
- England, racing, ralley, drives, MG events, vacations, etc.
- Car Products for Your Car. Wax, cleaner, polish, etc (First Place Auto)
- “Lemon Awards” night. Members talked about the “lemon cars” they have owned – gave out awards for best “lemon stories”. Butch O’Conner (lawyer) reviewed New Jersey’s “Lemon Laws” too.
- Chris Leydon of Leydon Restorations talked on restoring vintage cars, and his personal life with vintage cars.
- Restoring your classic car (Netcong Restorations, Phil Brazer)
- Car fires – Steve Schults (Inspired by a Jaguar that caught on fire when coming to the Britfest car show one year)
- “Old” new tires (date code) Buyer be ware! Understand what you are buying (Mary Hayes)
- Churchill Machine Tool Company, Nick O’Donohoe
- Specialty tools for British cars from this company
- Are your MGs Ready for Winter storage (Greg Prehodka)
- Mid Life Crisis – Steve Schults (Why he acquired an MG)
- Painting your MG yourself – Mike Ruane
- Re-Upholstering MG seats, Nick O’Donohoe
- Powder coating your car parts, Dick Bettle
- “Cars in the Movies” by a guy out of Newark, NJ who’s business is to provide “cars for movies”. He had some most interesting stories of movies he was involved in!
- A few of our members “brought their MG to a meeting” (in warmer weather) where they did a “Show and Tell” of their car. Explained their MG in detail: its attributes, what they have done to it, modifications, problems, etc. I brought in my MGTD race car once for this.
- MGB Racing – A Family Affair (Mike Kush, MGB racer)
- All about “Torque”. Greg Prehodka
- Finding an overdrive transmission in the UK for his MGB (Mike Ruane)
- “Da Joisey Boyz” Racing at Virginia International Raceway (Greg Prehodka)
- Presentation on “Spark Plugs” (Greg Prehodka)
- At one Spring/Summer meeting (when the days are longer, and folks would drive their MGs to the meetings), we sometime held a “Mini Car Show” in the parking lot to start off the meeting. Some token awards would then be given out at the meeting for fun categories. (Car needing the most TLC, Car I most lust, Leaking the most oil, etc.)
Here are some other things the club did which may be of interest.
- For some very special monthly meetings, I invited members of our sister club, the NJ chapter of the New England MG ‘T’ Register to join us.
- “MG Buddy List”. We asked for members to volunteer to become a “MG Buddy” to new members joining the club. When someone new would join, we’d assign them a “MG Buddy” who lived close to them, to be their close friend and help them out with any questions or problems they had.
- One of our members owned a garage where he worked on foreign cars. One spring Saturday, once a year, he would let our club members use his garage to work on our cars for simple stuff. He had car lifts we could use, as well as his tools and equipment. Oil change, fluid checks, brakes, checking stuff, tune-up, etc. We’d help each other out with our cars. Some members came to just help out others. Some car deficiencies were found in doing car inspections. Better to find them now, rather than when driving to that special event!
- We had a few visits to member’s home garages on a weekend day, to see their cars, their garages, and what they had, and then we would go do lunch in some nearby place.
- One of our member’s kids had some kind of “British Day” at their elementary school. He arranged for four of us to take our different model MGs to the school for “show and tell” out in the school’s parking lot. All the kids came out, and we told them about our MGs and their British heritage. What the kids found most exciting about my MGTD, was honking its horn!
- There is a place in northern NJ called “Velocity 17”. They have indoor, electric powered go-carts for racing. They can go pretty fast on a winding road course! This is not kids stuff! We rented the facility for one evening (needed 30 people racing to get the place for ourselves) and made it a club activity. Our racers brought along friends and family to watch, and cheer them on. We met at a nearby restaurant for dinner first. I made up three teams of 10 to make it more fun. We brought our own refreshments. Had team captains! We gave out a bunch of token awards, for bragging rights of course, for race winners! Everyone enjoyed this. This is as close to racing as you can come without really racing – and it is safe! Just took someone to organize, and the club had to pay for it in full, up-front, and then get the money back from its participating members.
- From past traditions (before I was a club member), the club would have a “Father’s Day Feast” BBQ and picnic in a public park once a year on – usually on Father’s day.
- Some members, on their own, volunteered to invite members to come (hopefully in their MGs) to their house for:
- BBQ at Tom Shaw’s house. He provided the basics, and members were asked to bring sides
- Brunch at Charlotte Luer’s house. She provided the basics, and members were asked to bring sides.
- We had an invitation from “Mini of Morristown” to come to their facility for a tour, snacks, and to see the new Mini Coopers they had.
- Some members celebrated their “MG’s birthday”. (my TD will be 60 years old this December of 2012) Some MGB cars might be having their 50th birthdays this year! MG Birthday Cake anyone?
- Our club took a trip to “America On Wheels” in Allentown, Pa, when British Cars were featured. One of our member’s cars was on display.
- Drive our MGs to a casual dinner place, have dinner, and then drive to the “Drive In Movie” for the evening, in Warwick, NY.
- Our September meeting evolved into our “MG Oktoberfest” meeting festival. The VFW where we met, had a large covered pavilion outside with picnic tables and a BBQ pit. They allowed us to use it for this. So we would celebrate “Oktoberfest” at our September meeting out in the pavilion (late in September). We’d do special stuff at it. Games, contest, um-papa music, German foods, brats, etc. Club provided the basics, and members brought compliments. Always an enjoyable meeting with a unique spin.
- The club had made up simple “Brochures” about the club. These were given out to all members to hand out to any other MG enthusiasts they might run into, to get them interested in joining our club.
- Giving to Charity. We are blessed with our MGs and MG friends. Not everyone is as fortunate. The club did food drives for local food banks, and would donate money to charities from its “Britfest Car Show” every year. Since the early 90’s, the club has donated over $20,000 to charities. Bless them!
Stuff for the Club Newsletter. The newsletter is a critical communications device for the club!
- We once asked for members to write in and say what their nick-name was for their MG(s) and why.
- NL would maintain an updated list of upcoming events in the Northeast, including any web site address or e-mail address for more information.
Any club is only what its members what to make it. The possibilities are endless! Pursue your interest and any leads you can find! Be creative! The NJ club has a very active group of MG enthusiasts and as you can see, because of that they are having lots of FUN! Here is their club structure:
- Vice President
- Trustees (Three)
- Britfest Chairman (their annual car show)
- Technical Advisor
- Regalia Chairman
- Newsletter Editor
- Event Coordinator
- Membership Chairman
- Meeting Coordinator
- Road Events Coordinator(s)
- Plus any special activity assignments
Once a year, we would have a meeting of club officers and trustees to plan for the club in the larger sense for the future. Meetings, shows, road events, volunteers, socials, etc. Feedback from the surveys also helped these planning meetings. What are we doing right, wrong, should change, new stuff, need volunteers, etc. Meeting twice a year is even better. We needed to “Hold the good ship MG on course”!
An appendix is attached which has a number of documents which you may find most interesting, informative, and useful. Take a look at them. The member’s survey feedbacks are particularly interesting! Maybe you might want to survey your club’s members!
I hope this may have been of interest and informative to you. The ball is in your club’s court now. Feel free to use and share these materials with anyone who may have interest in them. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. And may we all have more FUN with our MGs and our MG buddies in the future – as we can!
“…we few, we happy few, we band of brothers..”