The following is Part 3 in a five-part series on the history of the HGMS Show.

Part 1: 1948–1968 Early Days (in May 2006 BBG)
Part 2: 1969–1977 Rise to Prominence (in June 2006 BBG)
Part 3: 1978–1989 On Top of the World (in July 2006 BBG)
Part 4: 1990–2000 Fall from Grace (in August 2006 BBG)
Part 5: 2001–Present The Phoenix (in August 2006 BG)

PART 3: 1978-1989 – On Top of the World

Introduction: There were no major changes that distinguished the start of this era from the end of the previous era with the exception, of course, that we had just completed our very first Federation show and were already thinking about our next. This in itself was enough to separate the two eras because it essentially changed the collective psychological outlook of the club from a “small club” mentality to a “large club” mentality. This is demonstrated by the fact was that despite having an uninterrupted string of eight incredibly successful shows, the club in the 1970s still thought “small.” It preferred to have shows in a small place like the Shamrock (which Bill Cox calls “the garage hotel show”) with 16–19 dealers, despite the fact that we were attracting between 8,000–10,000 people to each show (I commented on this imbalance in the Epilog of Part 2). We will see that the club rectified this imbalance during the 1980s.

An overprint on events in the late 1970s was the inevitable changeover of key personnel. In April and May of 1979, Gene and Anita Shier and Jim Knight, respectively, moved to Austin to retire. In June of that same year, Ed Pedersen was transferred to Denver. At the time of his transfer, Ed was the sitting Vice President and Cochairman of the ID Service with Irene Offeman. Each of these people was very active in the club, and their leadership was missed.

At the same time, several others were entering into the club’s leadership circles. Ron Carman, John and Ruth Hammett, Sister Clement Johnson, Yvonne Dobson, Frances Harris, and Janelle Walker had all been in the club for at least a little while but started helping out in a big way between 1978 and 1982. Of course, many people who had already held leadership positions were still around, including Bill Cox, Tom DeHart, Anne Frank, Irene Offeman, and Gus and Frances Lindveit.

The new Dealer Selection Procedure rules were modified in 1978, 1979, and 1980 as the club sought to make this overly-stringent process more workable (see Appendix 2 in Part 2 for a full description of the original regulations). In 1978, a representative of the new Faceting Section was added to the committee. In 1979 the rules were modified to take the Board Secretary out of the loop and to allow dealer contracts to be sent directly to the Dealer Chairman and to be kept on file by that person. 1980 saw several significant changes: The position of Assistant Dealer Chairman was created, and it was specified that this person would automatically become Dealer Chairman the following year. The provision prohibiting more than 12% local dealers in the show was abolished, and text was added granting the Dealer Chairman authority to replace cancelled dealers without Board approval if the cancellation happened within 60 days of the show.

But perhaps the largest single factor affecting the club and the show in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s was that we had to share the Houston market with a second major show, in large part due to our own failure to recognize what the market was telling us. The relationship with Herb Duke started out in 1977 very dubiously, in my opinion, with Herb wooing the HGMS Board with phone calls, letters, gifts to the club (for instance, equipment provided by Herb at the first two Intergem shows in 1977 and 1978 were then donated to the club following the show), and assurances that he would NOT interfere with our show in any way. This “mating dance” continued for several years.

However, the relationship started to sour in early 1980 when the club declined Herb’s offer to participate in his show. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, but the supposition of those I talked to is that it began to be apparent Herb Duke was sweet-talking us while at the same time trying to take over the Houston show market. For instance, there had apparently been assurances from Herb that he would not hold a show prior to our National Show in 1982. However, by late in 1980 Herb’s true designs on our city were becoming clear as he wrote and said that he would, after all, be having a show in 1982. Needless to say, we didn’t participate in his 1981 show either.
However, to show he was a nice guy and held no grudges (!!), Herb invited us to have a table in his show in March, 1982. We accepted because we wanted to promote our own National Show in June of that year. At that show, Bill Cox and Herb met. I would have loved to have heard that conversation. (From the very start, Bill had been emphatically against the HGMS having any sort of relationship with Herb Duke because he knew what Herb was trying to do.) At any rate, Herb was apparently nonplussed by this meeting and the rest, as they say, is history. Intergem soon went to two shows, then three shows in the late 1980s, then four shows in the 1990s. The effect was, to say the least, quite dramatic on our bottom line. We have suffered hugely from the loss of identity because most people did not (and still do not) realize that there were (and are) two separate organizations having gem shows in the city.

The Intergem show now boasts being in 30 cities nationwide and having 80 shows per year, as well as producing their own magazine (Gems and Jewelry). If it’s any consolation to the club, it is my guess that most, if not all, of these 30 cities have gone through exactly the same difficulties that we have. But that is what America’s free enterprise system is based on and is the same reason why Wal-Mart is reviled in every small town across America. The fact is that it is difficult for a small business (or, in our case a nonprofit organization) to match wits with a dynamic, rapidly growing business, usually led by a similarly aggressive and visionary businessman.

1978: As it turned out, this was our last show in the Shamrock Hilton (thankfully). Anne Frank was President, and she asked Bill Cox to come back into the leadership circle to take on the roll of Show Chairman. Bill had continued to be a member and attend club meetings, but he was starting his ascent into the AFMS (the nationwide American Federation) leadership circles because, in his mind, that was the last remaining mountain to climb.

Gene Shier was again the Dealer Chairman (this would be his last year with the club). He abided by the new Dealer Selection Policy regulations and submitted a list of dealers to the Board for approval in February. However, there had not really been time to set up the necessary processes required by these new rules, so Gene had just made up a list. In the meantime, the Board secretary (Frances Harris) had duly begun receiving and tabulating requests for dealer space. This list would be used for the next show in 1979, using the full “dealer committee” as specified in the policy.

In my view, this show was remarkable because it was unremarkable. By that I mean that it was the first show since 1969 to attract less than 7,000 people (it had an attendance of only 6,540). Bill Cox reported it actually was a good show but that really bad thunderstorms during all three days were to blame for the low attendance. However, I have a different suggestion: perhaps the Intergem show, now having completed its second year in Houston, was already having an adverse impact on our attendance.

I am supported in this hypothesis by the show’s statistical data (see attached tables). The shows in the 1970s only fell below 8,000 in attendance once, and that was in 1970 when we barely missed that mark. On the other hand, after the beginning of the Intergem shows in Houston, the club has gone above 8,000 only in 1982 (the National show), and in 1988, 1989, and 1990. The average attendance from 1970–1977 was 9,115, whereas from 1978–1989 (excluding the National Show) it was 6,469. I believe this was due in large part to the presence of Intergem.

The other notable item from this year was that the club had decided to start looking for land on which to build a clubhouse. Bill Cox, Tom DeHart, and Mitchell Peters were on this committee. There were a few possibilities, but nothing the club was seriously considering. In association with this idea, Bill suggested the club think about a museum as a contribution to the community. The Board liked the idea and promptly assigned Bill to be chairman of a committee to look into this, with Sister Clement Johnson (who was a Board member at the time) volunteering to be the museum’s curator. However, this idea apparently went nowhere.

1979: This year was an interesting one for the show. It was Ron Carman’s first year within the leadership structure of the club (although he was the Mineral Section’s chairman the previous year). It was the beginning of a long career with the club, culminating in Show Chairman for our second National Show in 1994, after which he went on to become AFMS President in 2003.

The year started out inauspiciously enough, with Ron duly making the requisite reservation at the Shamrock before the end of 1978. He had tried to get the Grand Ballroom, as had Bill Cox before him, and had a similar result (failure). Nonetheless, the Board voted to have a total of 30 full dealers at the show and five half-space dealers, for a total of 35 (similar to the number in 1977, except that they had the Grand Ballroom that year for the Federation show). I’m not exactly sure where they thought they were going to fit all these dealers, but that’s what they voted to allocate. Of note is that Sister Clement Johnson was the Dealer Chairman this year, representing the first year since 1973 when someone other than Bill Cox or Gene Shier was Dealer Chairman.

Things proceeded well through the spring with Herb Duke offering to let us sell GemBrite at the Intergem show (we politely declined), and Bill Cox being nominated to be the Show Chairman for the 1982 National Show. He accepted and immediately started working on initial preparations. By September he had the Astrohall reserved for June of 1982, and in October he convened a planning meeting for the preliminary 1982 National Show Committee.

However, come summer things started to unravel for young Ron. He already had a rather rocky relationship with the Shamrock because he felt they treated the club like second-rate citizens. Then, in June he received a letter from them saying that the Shamrock would not be available for the weekend he reserved. Apparently, we hadn’t signed a contract for that year’s reservation, and they didn’t have a deposit from us (oops!). So, because of one reason or another, they had double-booked the weekend we wanted. To compound the problem, it was too late to change our show dates. Things were definitely looking bad for the 1979 Show Committee.

But blessings come in many disguises. The Shamrock, by kicking us out of their hotel, actually did us a favor by forcing a reluctant club to do what it should have done at least eight years before—find another location to hold the show. Somebody had mentioned to Dealer Chairman Sister Clement that the University of Houston (U of H) Hofheinz Pavilion might be a place to look into. Thus, she and Ron Carman immediately went to look it over and have a meeting with the facilities manager. They were suitably impressed and went back to the Board to report their findings. The Board promptly voted to approve the Hofheinz as a show locality for 1979.

Now, to understand the oddness of having a show in the Hofheinz Pavilion, you have to first understand that it is an arena for the men’s and women’s U of H Cougar basketball teams. Thus, it has a wooden floor, 8,000 seats ringing it in theater fashion, and an upper court with refreshment stands, luxury suites, and offices. We used the entire upper concourse for the main part of the show and tried various plans to make use of the lower floor.

Thus, in 1979 the dealers, ID service, and working exhibits were upstairs on the main concourse. The case exhibits were downstairs on the basketball court. Of course, the first year everyone was finding out what works and what doesn’t work. It turned out that there were a lot of complaints about having to walk up and down the stairs to get from the exhibits to the dealers. Plus, running electricity to the exhibits was a real pain. In fact the whole setup strained the capabilities of the facility electricians. This arrangement would be changed for the next show.

The show went off as well as could be hoped considering the location was changed three months prior to the show. Of course, attendance was not great (5,450), nor would anyone expect it to be. You can imagine the fretting publicity chairman Earl Nelson did over having to completely revamp all the publicity materials and submit them on such short notice. Property Cochairmen Tom DeHart and Jerry Grimes had to redesign the floor plan from scratch and get a handle on the electrical arrangements, and Dealer Chairman Sister Clement Johnson had to notify all the dealers of the change in venue and give them directions.

1980: This year started out with quite a bang. Literally. An auto shop that was adjacent to the clubhouse on Alder blew up in January, causing the common wall to collapse and the roof to cave in. Then fire swept through both. Clubhouse chairman Tom DeHart worked overtime through the entire episode and for months afterwards. Many club members came quickly to help save all our equipment and move it to a hastily-rented storage shed. In fact, due to the quick action of so many club members, we apparently didn’t lose any equipment whatsoever. This is a real testament to the devotion of our club members.

The Board had to move quickly. Several club members fanned out over the area to find potential clubhouse locations. At the Board meeting in February (held in the Garden Center), President Sister Clement Johnson, Kris Wittlinger, and Tom DeHart presented details of a warehouse near Bissonnet and Hillcroft. It was a building in the Ashcroft Industrial Park on 7329 Ashcroft. It was a bit more expensive than the Alder clubhouse ($425/month versus $250/month), but it was the best option they could find on short notice. And it wasn’t a bad place either—it had a room for the shop and another for meetings. It was approved by the Board and by the club at the February General Meeting.

The Ashcroft quarters would become our clubhouse for the next five years. At the March Board meeting, Tom DeHart was given authorization to spend as much or all of the preliminary insurance disbursement ($1,500) on whatever he needed at the new building. By April, he had the new clubhouse livable and the Board started meeting there. The remainder of the insurance claim money would come later.

This calamity reinforced a growing perception that we needed to find our own clubhouse. In May, a building fund was created as a separate bank account. Any donation could be earmarked for the building fund if desired. As a result, this fund was continuously increased over the next few years.

Despite these distractions, show preparations proceeded as normal. Numerous discussions were held with Herb Duke by various people (Kris Wittlinger, Al Police, Sister Clement). The details are not reported, but they most certainly were concerning his delicate balance between keeping us mollified and taking over the Houston show market. We were obviously beginning to see this because we declined the invitation to participate in his show this year.

But several changes were occurring. Ruth Hammett was starting up a new Youth Section with help from Consie and Dalton Prince. Steve Blyskal got the idea to have a Swap Area from the Clear Lake show, and he convinced the Show Committee to begin one. And this year saw Yvonne Dobson start on the Show Publicity Committee as Cochairperson with Earl Nelson. This event is notable for the simple reason that Yvonne would end up being involved in publicity much of the decade. Her contribution to the show was immense, since several of our best shows in this period can be correlated to her involvement on the publicity committee.

Ron Carman was Show Chairman for a second year and applied his experiences from the first year to make this year better. All case exhibits were put on the upper floor with the dealers and exhibitors so people wouldn’t have to walk up and down the stairs to see them. Steve Blyskal’s Swap Area was the only thing on the basketball court, which gave them plenty of space. Dealer chairperson Ruth Hammett had about the same number of dealers as in 1979, and program chairman Dr. Al Kidwell had an array of interesting talks lined up for the show.

This, by the way, was becoming a regular feature of the show—a full program schedule so people could attend talks as well as see exhibits and visit dealers. Dr. Kidwell was responsible for the programs during the Federation show in 1977. However, upon our move to the Hofheinz in 1979, he expanded it considerably because he had the use of rooms in which to hold these lectures. Dr. Kidwell continued supervising the annual show programs for several years, including for the National Show in 1982.

The improvements mentioned above were all evident in the bottom line. Attendance increased to 7,558 (highest in three years) and profits climbed to $6,659, which just barely edged out 1975 as the most profitable show ever held to that point. I’m sure everyone was quite happy to be having a successful, stable show once again.

1981: The two main preoccupations during 1981 were Herb Duke (again) and the National Show in 1982. Bill Cox had suggested in late 1980 that the 1981 and 1982 Show Committees be combined for more efficient planning. The Board agreed to this, so the 1981 Show Committee regularly met in combination with the 1982 committee. The 1982 Dealer Chairman (Art Smith) presented a list of dealers for the National Show as early as April for Board approval. It was decided that in addition to Art’s dealers, all the 1981 dealers would automatically get invitations. This began adding up to a large number of dealers—exactly what Bill Cox’s plans were for the National Show.

Show and Board positions were similar to those in 1980. Ron Carman went from Vice President and Show Chairman to President, Ruth Hammett continued being Dealer Chairperson, and Yvonne Dobson added Vice Presidency and Show Chairpersonship to her Publicity Chairpersonship. So the 1981 show benefited from having Ron’s experience at making the Hofheinz work for us the previous two years and from Bill Cox putting his energies into our first-ever National Show the following year.

The result was a show very similar to the previous show—and with the successful results of that show as well. Steve Blyskal reported that his Swap Area, now in its second year, was very successful. Dr. Kidwell’s programs also went well. There were 65 case exhibits for this show, 34 of which were competitive.

Farewell to the ID Service: In Part 3 of this history, the ID Service is in the twilight of its long and productive life. In 1977, the service celebrated 10 years of existence in conjunction with the Federation show that year. However, the departure of Ed Pedersen in 1979 was a significant loss. He essentially helped run the mineral side of the ID service so Irene could concentrate on the fossil side. (Gemstone ID was abandoned due to the difficulty of finding qualified gemologists, and the unfortunate reality was that people would buy gemstones from dealers and immediately take them to the gemologist to verify their ID and value.) So in 1978 Linda Northcote agreed to help run the mineral side of the ID Service. She would also perform that task in 1979 with Gus and Frances Lindveit assisting on fossils. Things went smoothly because there was a core of experts that had been in the Service for many years, such as Dr. Charles Riley, Theo Miller, Dr. Al Kidwell, Dr. Russell Jeffords, (all from Esso Production Research), Dr. Dick Zingula (Humble Oil), Dr. Elbert King (U of H Geology Dept. Chairman), as well as our own members, Art Smith and Linda Northcote.

By 1980, Irene was again running the ID Service with the help of Jim and Terry Weedin. They were very busy at the show but complained (as had Linda two years earlier) of kids bringing grab bags over for identification so they could use them in their rock kits. This was not supposed to be the idea behind the ID Service. Concurrent to this, the Mineral and Fossil Sections were mature enough to handle identifications on their own (especially since people from those Sections were also doing duty in the ID Service booth). Too, these Sections had their booths relatively close to the ID Service (especially at the Shamrock where they were cramped for space) and thus the distinction became even more muddied. Over time, this issue grew into a minor skirmish.

By 1981, things were definitely winding down. Only 582 identifications were tabulated, which is suspicious because this booth had averaged over 2,000 for many years. I’m not sure whether the advertising was not sufficient, the experts were not tabulating their identifications, or the Sections were starting to provide this service. Perhaps all three were happening at the same time. But regardless, the 1982 National Show Committee discussed the issue and decided that they would not have a separate ID booth. Instead, the Sections would officially be responsible for this service. And it has been that way ever since.

It was a good run, lasting for 14 years. During this time, the ID Service made a valuable contribution to the appeal of our show and club. It helped put us on the map and demonstrated that we do provide worthwhile benefit to the community. And it all grew out of a desire by Irene Offeman to identify the kinds of minerals and fossils we normally collect, and to pass that information on to our club and the general public. It was a wonderful idea, and for this we all owe her our thanks.

The 1982 AFMS National Show: Bill Cox had been working on plans for this show since he was appointed 1982 Show Chairman back in March of 1979. By September of that year he already had reserved the Astrohall for this show. As discussed above, the 1981 and 1982 Show Committees met in combined fashion so that following the 1981 show (in September) they already had a plan for the National Show and were in the middle of implementing it.

Figure 1: Patch commemorating the 1982 National Show

One of Bill Cox’s fundamental philosophical tenets was that we had the capability to be a larger and more prominent club. He lived this philosophy in his personal life as he climbed through the regional Federation (SCFMS Vice President, President: 1976, 1977) and then through the national Federation (AFMS officer, culminating with President: 1978-1984). Thus, he was chosen to be Show Chairman for the National Show because it fit perfectly with his abundant experience and his vision. In addition he was a CPA with his own business, so his budgets were always fiscally sound.

So, logically, the “Bill Cox National Show Plan” was simply to have the biggest and best show the HGMS and AFMS had ever seen. His first mark was dealers, since he had been Dealer Chairman numerous times in the 1970s. Thus, his plan required that we have over 100 dealers at the show, a number that included about two dozen wholesale dealers (which was new to the club at this time). Everyone told him that it couldn’t be done, because this was a club that was accustomed to having 16–19 dealers at the Shamrock and was just now starting to have 30–32 dealers at the Hofheinz. But Bill was having none of that. In March of 1981, Dealer Chairman Art Smith presented 90 dealers to the Board for approval. In November he mailed out contracts to 101 dealers. In the end, 60 full-space, 21 half-space, 11 demo, and 27 wholesale dealers were at the show, a total of 109 dealers.

Now an aggressive plan such as this is extremely dependent on attracting a sufficient number of people to the show so that the customer-to-dealer ratio doesn’t plummet (see my discussion on this in the Epilog of Part 2). So Yvonne Dobson, in her third year as Publicity Chairman (and, by the way, was also President of the club this year!), stepped up to the plate and showed that she had learned well from her accumulated experience as well as her mentorship with Irene Offeman. The statistics tell the story: 33,000 fliers mailed (a list of 12,000 names came from Herb Duke to supplement our own show list), info sent out to 93 newspapers, 26 magazines, 40 radio stations, six TV stations, and 57 libraries. Total expenditure for this effort was $9,700, $4,000 of which was for newspaper advertisements. This was a very large sum for those days, where the typical publicity budget was on the order of $2,000. However, in this case the end justified the means, because 10,278 people attended the show, up from about 7,600 the previous two years. To this day, the 1982 show stands second in the list of top show attendances, edging out the 1977 Federation show by about 200 and only being beaten by the infamous 1971 show.

Another crucial component of any Federation show is the Federation activities. For this, Bill relied on Ruth Hammett, who had been Dealer Chairman in 1980 and 1981, was Vice President this year, and soon to be President for two straight years following this show. Ruth, assisted by Janelle Walker, had the unenviable task of coordinating eight meetings that required breakfast or lunch and seven more that required coffee and donuts. In those days a National Federation Show lasted a full week. Registrations were conducted continuously from Monday to Thursday, the first three days of which were Federation meetings. The show itself was a four-day show, starting on Thursday with hours of 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. except on Sunday when it closed at 6 p.m.. The official hotel was the Astro Village Hotel, where we had 250 rooms reserved and had arranged for a bus to ferry people between the hotel and the Astrohall.

Figure 2: Ribbon cutting at the opening ceremonies. From left to right in front are: Bill Cox (Show Chairman and AFMS Board member), Emerson Tucker (SCFMS President, from Lubbock G&MS), Barbara Gross (AFMS President), Yvonne Dobson (HGMS President, Assistant Show Chairperson, Publicity Committee Chairperson). The scissors in Bill Cox’s hand are the same as was used in the clubhouse opening (Figure 10).
Figure 3: Yvonne Dobson (left) and Bill Cox (right) at the welcoming ceremony in one of the meeting rooms. Dr. Dick Zingula is visible in the back (with grey beard).
Figure 4: Editor’s breakfast. From left to right in the front half of the table are: Dr. Harold Dobson (Yvonne’s husband), Dalton Prince (holding up his ham slice), Ron Carman in front, Yvonne’s empty chair (she’s taking the picture), Linda Northcote.

Competitive and noncompetitive exhibits were handled by Ron Carman. He had a total of 84 competitive and 41 noncompetitive exhibits, totaling 125 cases. This required the services of 46 judges (each was paid $50 for their services and given glazed, ceramic armadillos made by the club). The large number of cases caused a minor “case panic.” Thus, we had 20 extra cases made and sent out appeals to various regional clubs asking to borrow extra cases.

Programs were again handled by Dr. Al Kidwell. They were presented in three separate rooms; one for general lectures, one for the Faceter’s Guild lectures, and the third was his own creation, the “Rocksey Theater.” The Theater showed 25 movies, most averaging about 30 minutes long. Twenty-six program lectures were conducted, including an Arkansas Minerals Symposium on Saturday afternoon.

Special exhibits, handled by Sister Clement Johnson, included gem clocks from Cartier’s, oriental malachite and lapis lazuli carvings from the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, and (of all people) Herb Duke showing gems and artifacts from India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Working exhibits, handled by Tom Wright, included “singing rocks” (chimes made from slabs), faceting demos, silversmithing demos, and turquoise and opal carving demos.

Steve Blyskal reported that his Swap Area, now in its third year, was very successful. He had 22 tables and did almost $2,000 worth of business. He was not so thrilled with his out-of-the-way location, but there wasn’t much that could be done due to the scope of the other parts of the show.

No mention of credits for putting on this show would be complete without recognizing the important task Tom DeHart had as Properties Chairman (in addition to his position as Clubhouse Chairman). Tom had to lay out the floor plan, determine how many tables we could put in the space we had available, and how to allocate those tables to participants. He then had to supervise the property company (Freeman) during set-up and try to get enough electricity into the areas that needed it. This ended up being a real pain because our requirements were greater than what was available in the Astrohall.

The end goal of Bill Cox’s plan was to make enough profit to move us as far as possible towards our goal of acquiring our own clubhouse. Having over 100 dealers was a bold move, but he backed it up with over 10,000 attendees. The resulting customer-to-dealer ratio was 94, which is just about as picture-perfect as one could possibly hope. He also spent just over $60,000 putting on this show, about four times as much as normal in those days. But the bottom line was that his show produced about $26,000 in profit and a respectable profit margin of 43%. Not bad. The club would be very thankful for his success in another two years.

1983-1985—Show Hangover and a New Venue: Ruth Hammett took the Presidency in 1983 with the statement in her banquet speech and in her January President’s Message: “We have reached the top of the mountain. Now what?” She answers her own question by saying: “I have set for myself two mountains….The first is to start earnestly looking for a new clubhouse of our very own…..My next mountain … is one with the youth of Houston.” She will see both mountains climbed in the next few years.

In January the club realized they would have to buy an existing building rather than vacant land in which to build a clubhouse. In February a Building Committee was established composed of Bill Cox, Harold and Yvonne Dobson, and Sid and Billie Wald. They were given a three-year term and the commission to find a clubhouse. It was tough going, but in mid-1985 they would have success. I will discuss their success in conjunction with the other events of 1985.

Also in February, Ruth started pursuing the establishment of a Youth Section in the club. For this she gained the active support of Peg Wright and Consie Prince. On May 28, 12 youth gathered for a Saturday morning meeting at the clubhouse. They decided to meet twice a month and learn cabbing and other techniques, and to call themselves “The Pebble People.” And thus our newest Section became a reality. Ruth continued to set up meetings and presentations through the year, but Janelle Walker officially led this Section in 1984, Lexy Bieniek in 1985 and 1986, then the leadership returned to Janelle for the remainder of the decade.

So, with a club that was looking to capitalize on “reaching the summit” and yet having no choice but to put on a show similar to what they had before “reaching the summit,” Show Chairman Stan Madsen gave it his best shot. Dealer Chairman Sam Koster got the requisite number of dealers, which this year was increased to 42 with the official inclusion of 8 wholesale dealers. These dealers were put on the basketball court, sharing it with the Swap Area, so they could be well separated from the retail dealers. Publicity Chairperson Yvonne Dobson churned out her usual superb publicity, including a program that featured a closeup of a cerussite crystal from the Sams Collection (this poster still hangs in our clubhouse to this day). Ron Carman continued to supervise the competitive and noncompetitive exhibits, but complained that the number of exhibits was dropping substantially. He noted that this is a nationwide trend. Compounding this, show attendance was again down to the 6,000 level as was seen several years earlier.

In addition, the Hofheinz management was slowly taking away rooms that had previously been available for our programs, leaving us with a net smaller space at a time when the club was definitely thinking bigger. An investigation committee led by Ruth Hammett and Yvonne Dobson visited various facilities, including the Astrohall and the downtown Albert Thomas Convention Center. The Albert Thomas was accepted as the next show venue. The Board then agreed to have 55 dealers, 12 of whom would be wholesale.

The selection of the Albert Thomas was a wonderful choice because it was a professional convention facility. The shows immediately started being set up in our now familiar configuration, with separate booths for each of the sections (including the new Youth Section), Swap Area, exhibit cases, food court, and an info booth at the front door. However, the steady increase in number of dealers meant that the old style of having a reserve list and then selecting which dealers to accept into the show was now out the window. The Dealer Selection Committee now was only a formality, adhered to because it was written into the policies of the club. In actual fact, the Dealer Chairman and Assistant Dealer Chairman were in an all-out search to find enough dealers to satisfy our dealer numbers. This was not a problem as long as we could attract 6,000 or more people to the show, because the target customer-to-dealer ratio of 100 means that we could have 60 dealers and still provide them with enough income to make our show worthwhile.

However, storm clouds were gathering on the horizon. The local economy was in a steady decline mimicking the fortunes of the oil industry. In addition, Herb Duke announced a second show in 1983, to be held in November. While this was not in direct conflict with our show, it represented a steady sapping of the dollars available for gem and mineral purchases. And on another front, Ron Carman had arranged for another of Dick Zingula’s Uniform Rules Seminars to be held in July. This seminar had to be cancelled because not enough people had signed up. Thus ended an unbroken string of seminars that had acted to progressively educate our members on the fine art of competitive exhibiting.

There was also disturbing news on the leadership front. Jim Botsford had just finished a two-year term as Director when he accepted a nomination as Secretary in 1983. It didn’t appear he did a very good job, because at the end of the year President Ruth Hammett (who was a professional secretary as was Frances Harris before her) had to reconstruct many of the minutes from her own personal notes. Apparently ignoring this warning sign, the club allowed him to be Show Chairman for 1984 because he had been Assistant Show Chairman in 1983, where presumably he did a better job than he did as Secretary. He served in this capacity until somewhere around February, when he just disappeared. This left Assistant Show Chairman Tom Wright to pick up the pieces and put on the best show he could. Then, when it came time to choose a Chairman for the 1985 show, the Board made it official policy that an Assistant Show Chairman would be chosen at the same time as the Show Chairman, and that this position was a training ground for the Assistant to take the Show Chairman position the following year. In 1985, Ron Carman went through the official procedure of adding this language to the HGMS by-laws.

The 1984 show went off well, with the new hall receiving good reviews. Attendance was at a similar level as the previous year (just above 6,000), but this in itself was not bad news since it was the first year at a new locality. The increase in dealers to 55 meant that profit increased substantially to $18,464 while the customer-to-dealer ratio was still a healthy 108.

1985—Houston, we have a clubhouse: All other events of 1985 were overshadowed by the purchase of a building at 10805 Brooklet. The building was found by Yvonne Dobson and presented to the Board in July. A special Board meeting was convened on July 23 to consider its purchase. It looked like a good clubhouse, having 4750 sq. ft. and only requiring $40,000 down, but it would need considerable modification for use as a clubhouse, and it was located quite some distance out of town (by the standards of that time). However, the Board approved and gave Bill Cox authority to negotiate with the owner. Bill did so, and in August agreed to purchase terms of $138,000 with $35,000 down and a mortgage of $103,000 for 15 years at 10%. (Note: At some point this agreement was changed to 10 years with a balloon payment).

Starting on September 28 and lasting through the fall, the club came together to help renovate the new clubhouse. Electricity and air conditioning had to be modified, walls torn down and new ones framed, plumbing run, sheetrock hung and plastered. It was a tremendous amount of work, but this was OUR clubhouse, and by God, we were going to make sure it got done. A large number of volunteers donated their time and talent to pull this off, and my compliments go out to each and every one who helped to make our clubhouse what it is today.

Figure 5: Clubhouse renovation. In the picture are Stan Madsen (left) and Ruth Hammett (center). The person on the ladder is unknown. John Hammett is in the rear of the picture. He is largely responsible for the design and construction of our kitchen.
Figure 6: Art Smith (front) and Dalton Prince laying carpet
Figure 7: Stan Madsen plastering the wall in the men’s bathroom
Figure 8: Our new shop!
Figure 9: Open house dinner in October
Figure 10: John Hammett (left) and Richard Offeman (right) in front of the Christmas tree at the Christmas party, 1985. These two club members put a huge amount of their time and effort into the clubhouse renovation.
Figure 11: Ribbon cutting at the first clubhouse Christmas dinner, 1985. Left to right are: Bill Cox (Building Committee Chairman), Tom Wright (HGMS President), Yvonne Dobson (Building Committee member and the person responsible for finding the clubhouse). The scissors in Tom’s hands say: “It’s hard to be humble when you’re #1”. These are the same scissors that were used in the ribbon cutting at the 1982 National Show.

Although the new clubhouse took center stage, we actually did have a show that year, although it was held in late August because the Albert Thomas management bumped us off of our normal date in early September. Interestingly, Bob Cross was the Show Chairman with Jerry Foster as his assistant. Attendance was a bit less than the previous year, but profit was way down. This was due to rapidly increasing publicity costs and also an unexpectedly high electricity bill ($3,000 higher than the previous year). This understandably caused much concern among the Board, who went back to the electrical contractor to find out if the bill was correct. It was. Because of this problem, the Board voted to add restrictions on electrical usage to the dealer contracts. (These restrictions exist to this day). This change to dealer contracts succeeded in bringing electricity usage down to a reasonable level in 1986.

1986-1989—Change in Mindset: With a new clubhouse came a new attitude. This attitude did not just materialize out of thin air, but was the result of realities on the ground. Namely, we now had a clubhouse that needed funds for survival. We had a note to pay, utility bills, insurance, and clubhouse modifications that continued for many years.

So what was this new mindset? Simply to “maximize profit.” While today we might not think this was such a big deal, remember that this was a club that previously had almost no expenses to cover and no goals to work for. They simply existed to have fun, learn new lapidary techniques, broaden their existing knowledge of minerals, fossils, and jewelry making, and to exhibit their work. Bill Cox expended a lot of effort trying to change this lack of foresight. Now it was a reality.

Of course, the clubhouse attracted the lion’s share of attention in this period. In January, President Tom Wright gave the club the choice of meeting at the new clubhouse (for the General meeting) or the Garden Center, and they chose to continue meeting at the Garden Center (the Sections by then were all meeting at the clubhouse). The General Meeting began meeting at the clubhouse in early 1987.

Also on their minds was the fact that the mortgage agreement called for a balloon payment at the end of the 10-year note. Several were concerned about this, including long-time treasurer Derry Gartig and Director (and assistant Dealer Chairman) Doug Troeder. These two proposed starting a building endowment fund that would be tax exempt. The fund would be used in 1995 to pay off the balloon payment.
The show was run by Ron Carman and Stan Madsen in both 1986 and 1987. Ed Raines and Doug Troeder were the Dealer Chairmen, with Doug being the Dealer Chairman in 1987. The primary difference with this show from the 1985 show was the issue of expenses. The concern over high electricity and publicity expenses in 1985 caused Ron to slash expenses anywhere he could. The primary victim of this slashing was publicity. Debbie Cox (Director and BBG Editor) handled publicity with the assistance of Ben Noble. Ron gave her a budget of $5,500 (substantially less than in 1985), but she only spent $2,700. Part of the problem was that all the ticket stubs from 1985 were accidentally thrown into the trash, so our mail-out database was a bit scant.

The result was a show that slashed expenses by about $9,400 over 1985 levels. This reduction in expenses went straight to the bottom line: Profit increased by about $10,400 (helped substantially by an increase in dealer fees). Unfortunately, the public did not cooperate—attendance dropped by 1500 over 1985, which had already dropped from 1984. The reasons for this are many-fold: Publicity was scant, the weather was bad with lots of rain, and oil prices crashed to $12/barrel in March from a high of $33/barrel in September of 1985, resulting in the loss of 175,000 oil-related jobs in Texas. This event is known among the oil industry as “the crash of 1986.” Layoffs were in the thousands, even tens of thousands in the larger oil companies, throughout the spring and summer. I hardly think a substantial portion of our core audience was thinking about spending money on minerals, fossils, or jewelry in early September.

1987: The primary item of business in 1987 was to find a new show location. The Albert Thomas Convention Center was slated to close as a show venue because the near-by George R. Brown Convention Center was nearing completion. The Board searched for alternate venues, eliminated the Astrohall once again due to price, and finally settled on the George R. Brown in the summer. President Dalton Prince handled the negotiations with the City of Houston, and arrived at a very favorable rate due to the fact that we are a nonprofit organization.

Also important was the fact that Yvonne Dobson once again became the publicity chairman and proceeded to arrange a large amount of exposure for the club. She and Show Chairman Stan Madsen went before the Board in June requesting an additional $3,000 to spend on a series of spots with Channel 13 (ABC affiliate). The Board agreed, and Yvonne received a total of 21 spots for her efforts. In addition, she got spots on Channel 2 (NBC affiliate), radio station KPRC, Houston Home and Garden magazine, and several public libraries. Total cost for her publicity: $12,600, almost $10,000 more than the year previous and $4,000 more than 1985.

The result of this fantastic publicity effort: An attendance that was almost double that of the previous year (6,458), which in turn resulted in a profit figure that was only $3,000 less than the artificially high 1985 level. This is actually more critical than it might first appear because not only does the club need to make an adequate amount of profit, but each of the 60 dealers in our show also needs to be kept happy. And they will be kept happy as long as the customer-to-dealer ratio is at an acceptable level (100+), which it was due to the increase in attendance (108).

1988-1989—New Venue (again): As the year started out, the club was continuing to think of ways to make money because it had its eye on the 1995 balloon payment for the clubhouse. The Building Endowment Fund was being promoted as a way to build up a reserve cash supply. In addition, the club decided that what it really needed was another National Show just like its last one. Thus, the Board voted in January to make a bid for the next one (one was being hosted this year by the SCFMS in Shreveport, LA). So Bill Cox was approached to talk to the AFMS and see if we could put in a bid. The AFMS agreed, and the bid was accepted at the SCFMS show in August. And the year was convenient also: 1994 was just one year prior to the due date of our balloon payment.

As an added benefit, our move to the George R Brown enabled us to add even more dealers to the show (read: make more money). Dealer Chairman Ruth Hammett had 77 dealers in 1988 and 83 dealers in 1989. But as I have discussed before, basic economic principles dictate that a rise in number of dealers necessarily means that more attendees are required in order to keep the customer-to-dealer ratio at optimal levels. Thus, Publicity Chairman Yvonne Dobson needed to work her usual wonders. The Board approved giving her $13,000, slightly more than she used in 1987, with which to work these wonders. She did not disappoint either: Show attendance was increased by 1,600 over 1987, totaling 8,061. These attendance figures were back to the great numbers seen in the 1970s. The difference was that with 77 dealers, the customer-to-dealer ratio was at an optimal 105, unlike in the 1970s when it was 300–600.

The other major show-related event of 1988 was the reinstatement of the Swap Area. It had been killed by the Board, over the protests of the Mineral Section, in late 1986 because of a variety of complaints from dealers as well as club members. But in February Tim Smith presented the Board with a revised set of rules governing Swap Area use and volunteered to be the Swap Area Chairman. All the usual complaints were aired at this meeting and were rebutted by Tim using a document prepared by the Mineral Section. Complaints were centered on a perceived competition with dealers, perceived exclusive use by the Mineral Section, the location within the show interfering with dealers, and a lack of effective leadership to run the booth.

Tim’s rebuttal stated that the Swap Area is in competition with dealers, but the money gets recycled back to the dealers’ pockets because all purchases must be made in swap dollars which, in turn, can only be spent with dealers. Exclusive use by the Mineral Section stems from the prohibition of selling finished jewelry. (The reason given had something to do with tax liability, which I am still unclear about). But regardless, faceted or rough stones, polished or unpolished cut material, and fossils can all be sold in the Swap Area. Location was a problem at various times in the past, but became a non-issue because the George R. Brown had so much space that it could be located in the back well away from dealers. With Tim’s assurances of effective leadership by himself, the Board somewhat reluctantly agreed to reinstate the Swap Area for the 1988 show.

The other potential issue beginning to surface was that the show was now becoming so complex and such a large effort that nobody wanted to take leadership positions on the Show Committee. (Sound familiar? It should because the situation has not changed to this day.) Ron Carman was the only person who would volunteer, as he had for the past two years (along with Stan Madsen), and thus he got stuck with the job in both 1988 and 1989. And he did it by himself—nobody would even volunteer to be Co-chairman (sound familiar?), although they managed to get Ben Noble to volunteer to help with the Assistant position in 1989 with the proviso that he would not be required to take the Chairman position the following year (again, sound familiar?).

So, the 1989 show was almost a carbon copy of the 1988 show, which is not a bad thing: Attendance of 8,100 with 83 dealers, producing a customer-to-dealer ratio of a picture-perfect 98, profit of $30,000 and a profit margin of 74%. There’s not an organization in the world that would hesitate even a second before proclaiming this an enviously successful show.

But the issues facing our club needed to be addressed because they would not simply vanish into thin air: Attendance was not very good at the General Meetings now being held at the new clubhouse in 1987 after 24 years at the Garden Center. Ron Carman was not the “Show Committee Chairman for life,” so other volunteer leaders would need to step forward. There was still a balloon payment due in 1995 that the club was not making much progress toward meeting despite their much touted Building Endowment Fund. In addition, Yvonne Dobson’s valuable experience in the publicity field was effectively lost following the 1989 show because of disagreements on how to handle the show mailing list (in those days computers were still a novelty, and Microsoft database managers were not as ubiquitous as they are now).

And to cap it all off, Herb Duke brought a third Intergem show into the Houston market in 1989. His shows were now in January, May, and November. While this was still not directly interfering with the run-up to our show, it nevertheless was definitely taking a progressively larger share of the dollars available for jewelry sales. Plus it was becoming even more difficult for the public to tell the two shows apart; a problem that would only grow worse in the coming decade.

Epilogue: In looking at this decade, it is an indisputable fact that the two most important events in the life of our club, even to this day, occurred. First, we held our first National Show in 1982. Because of the vision and financial wisdom of Bill Cox, this show was outrageously successful and earned us national accolades. It didn’t hurt that Bill was then a sitting officer on the AFMS (the nationwide American Federation) Board. Conversely, I’m sure the success of that show didn’t hurt his reputation, which would culminate as AFMS President in 1984. The success of that show was such that it produced a profit that was about four times our normal show profit. In addition, this profit would represent a little less than half of the total financial holdings of the club at the time we purchased our clubhouse.

Which brings us to the second most important event in the life of our club—the purchase of a clubhouse in 1985. To this day, there are only three clubs in Texas that have their own clubhouse (Arlington, Austin, and us), so I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this. It allows us to have a building of our own that houses a meeting room, shop, classroom, library, kitchen, offices, and storage. Imagine how difficult our job would be as a club if we didn’t have our clubhouse. Only after you fully visualize not having a clubhouse can you appreciate how much we can, and are, doing because we have a clubhouse.

Despite the various problems and headaches involved in putting on a large and complex show such as had evolved by that time (by a volunteer club, I might add), the shows produced during this era were “by the book” as far as show economics were concerned. The entire goal in producing a show is to put on the best show the organization is capable of, so as to attract the maximum number of attendees, and then stock the show with however many retail vendors that can be kept happy by the number of attendees. That dealer number is easy to calculate—the target customer-to-dealer ratio is approximately 100. This approximate C/D ratio was held throughout most of the decade.

In general, the club at this time did the best it could with the resources it had available to it, and the results were quite impressive.

Acknowledgements: Numerous current and former club members contributed to this article. I thank the following individuals for their extensive help: Art Smith, Ron Carman, Yvonne Dobson, Bill Cox, Derry Gartig, Tom Wright, Steve Blyskal, Irene Offeman, Tom DeHart, Anne Frank, and Tim Smith. Even though I did not speak to them personally, I am indebted to the contributions of JoAnn Gartig for her compilation of attendance records through the 1980s and Frances Harris for her immaculate minutes of Board meetings from 1977–1980 and 1982, and her similarly immaculate records of all National Show Committee meetings in 1981 and 1982.

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