Celebration of 25 Years, at Tallahassee, Florida
by Gil Cunningham
from the Summer 1995 Volume XXI Number IV
Carol is responsible for this one!
In what was, no doubt some altered state of mind, she yelled to then
meet coordinator, Don Cole, in the convertible next to us; “We
want to host the 25th Anniversary Meet!” Well, “Put
it in writing” was Don’s response. Somewhere among the
odds and ends in our H’s console or glove box or Carol’s
purse was found a napkin or piece of tissue or other-not-for-writing
paper and the deed was done. That was Pittsburgh, 1989 – a
very considerable timespan from 1995.
Time spans do have a very consistent
characteristic of melting away though, don’t they? Sometimes,
way too fast. 300 meets came and went – I think we attended
most during that period. All were great and getting better. After
we experienced the Cornfoot’s, Kerrville, Texas meet and noted
the preparation and precedent setting meet folder, we looked at each
other with a kind of “Oh-Oh what have we gotten ourselves into”
expression. Of course, occasionally during these years we had given
a thought or two towards activities we might come up with to
entertain our meet guests, but now we were beginning to wonder if we
would need to put on a five day meet just to equal what was becoming
ever longer and more sophisticated events. Tallahassee might be a
nice place to visit – or even to live – but folks, there
just ain’t that much to do around here.
Then there was the Burke/Riehl meet
of September 1994. What can I say – it had everything –
Chrysler dream cars, barbecue, barnfuls of 300s, a tour of the most
prestigious auto museum, in America. How much better could it get?
I’ll tell you how much better – the President of Chrysler
dropped in by helicopter! Tuff act to follow, eh? It seemed that we
would have to bring back Bob Rodger or Virgil Exner, or even Walter
P. from the hereafter to equal that show! Thanks a lot, guys!
As in most things in life, the best
route to success is to be yourself, go with your strengths –
don’t try to artificially force something (I personally haven’t
learned that yet – I just thought it sounded good). To this
end, Carol and I determined our meet’s focus would be on a
celebration of our club reaching its 25 year milestone.
Essentially, a birthday party for all of us. We wanted no activities
that would tend to distract us from this central theme. If there was
to be any special recognition of speakers, they would be from our own
ranks who have given so much through the years to the success of the
organization. Since we now live in Tallahassee, activities would be
planned to highlight the characteristics of this unique area.
Experiencing an area is one of the things I like most about our 300
meets. 300 Club meets give us a reason to visit places we might
never go and allow us to discover all kinds of neat new things. We
hoped that would be the case with our meet as well.
Alain Lebas, our friend and 300F
owner, would be the first to arrive. Would you believe a week and a
day before the official meet commencement? But Alain had an
ambitious agenda. There are not too many 60 Chryslers in French
junkyards, so he had high hopes of filling up the bright red “dust
buster” he rented for his three weeks stay. Other early
arrivers include David Agnew from New Zealand and the Graefens from
California, who popped into our office to say “Hey” and
then went exploring. We had hoped this would happen – members
arriving a day or two early so they could more leisurely see the
sights of the north Florida area via a non structured itinerary.
As meet day approached, we watched
the weather forecasts more closely – they continued to look
favorable. Were we glad that the hotel had been unavailable for the
previous weekend, which we originally requested – it had rained
that whole time!
Wednesday finally arrived! We hoped
we had everything covered but with just the two of us –
something could have been missed. Time would tell – it was
probably too late to do anything about it anyway – even if we
knew the something we should do something about. 300s arrived
throughout the day, but more frequently towards evening of course.
It was an on your own car/look at and car/talk and car/get acquainted
day. It was especially exciting to see Arnold and Johnneen Lueth
drive up in their beautiful white 300C – all the way from
Michigan in a car that probably hadn’t averaged one mile per
year for the last 20 years. Then Don Cole arrived in the very same
300K that Jim Bartuska drove to that first meet in Holly in 1970.
The next day was to be a full one
and it dawned ----- beautiful! At 10 AM, we all left the Ramada Inn
parking lot for a 55-mile drive to Pebble Hill Plantation, just over
the Georgia border. Before the tour, we were served a really nice
fried chicken lunch in the courtyard under the Spanish-moss covered
live oaks. After the guided tour of the main house and an
at-your-own-pace self tour of the grounds, we departed for the town
of Havana, Florida to do some antiquing. Havana has become a rather
major antique center in northern Florida and many members were seen
carrying “treasures” back to their 300s.
About 6:00, we left Havana for a
short 5-minute trip to Nicholson’s Farm Restaurant for our
evening meal! Nicholson’s has grown from the original farm
house built in 1828 to a group of 7 or 8 antique buildings
collected from many areas in northern Florida and southern Georgia.
Most are used for dining. We were greeted by the owner, Paul
Nicholson, and a banner “Welcome Chrysler 300 Club” (a
nice surprise – Carol and I did not arrange that). After a
very fine meal, we all headed back to the hotel for an evening of
doing what we pleased – visiting one hospitality room, then the
other, then the parking lot, then around another time.
Friday at 10:00 AM, we queued up in the hotel parking lot again,
this time to head to Wakulla Springs,
about a 35-minute drive south. Water flows from the large spring at
the rate of about 14,000 gallons per second, forming the Wakulla
River. Most all members took the hour-long riverboat ride where we
saw our favorite north Florida reptile the alligator (and plenty of
them) plus many birds, turtles and the occasional snake. Some also
took the glass bottom boat ride over the 100-foot-deep spring. This
time the weather was not quite so accommodating and a heavy shower
occurred while some were on the riverboat ride. Not to worry –
the boat had a roof and the shower was brief.
About 1:00 PM, we departed for the
Cunningham’s where, so it was said, a backyard barbecue
awaited. Such was indeed the case! With a lot of appreciated help
from our friends, we served up a good ole Down South barbecue with
chicken potatoes, salad, beans and cole slaw. Enhancing the
authentic nature of the feed were collard greens, cheese grits and
corn bread. The collards proved unexpectedly popular with the
predominately northern guests (at least I don’t think Tom
Turner ate them all). The dessert of homemade pound cake with fresh
sliced Georgia peaches and real whipped cream proved very popular as
well (read that I didn’t get any!)
On Friday night, duty calls at a 300
meet so the dutiful ones reluctantly headed back to the hotel for
the 8:00 PM business meeting – the proceedings of which are
covered elsewhere in this news letter. Then it was talk time, play
time, party time until the usual early morning hours. We may be
getting older, but 300 club members will bring out the youngster in
By now, you know what we did at
10:00 AM the next morning. That’s right, lined up in the
parking lot! This time we did it chronologically so the cars would
arrive in order and minimize confusion when parking in our
designated block downtown. We did have a great looking display - all
backed in at an angle – a block of 300s. Our reasons for the
downtown day were twofold. That day, May 20th, was to be
a very busy one in Tallahassee with several sesquicentennial events
(yes Florida, has been a state for 150 years) and a rather extensive
bead festival. It was, therefore, anticipated that a larger than normal
amount of local people would get a chance to see our rare cars. Our
friends Karen Cooley and Eric Favien, owners of Chez Pierre
Restaurant in front of which our 300s were displayed, helped by
putting up posters advertising our meet all over downtown.
Secondly, it was hoped our members would take advantage of the
location to explore downtown Tallahassee, its historical districts,
the sesquicentennial activities and other attractions. From what we
heard and saw, these two goals were accomplished.
About 4:00 or so most members had
headed back to get ready for our 25th anniversary
celebration banquet. We had livened up the banquet room with red,
white, blue and silver balloons and lots of silver candles. It was
determined by our French representative that 5 of these balloons
would successfully float an empty Shaeffer’s beer can around
the room! Guess the party was getting a little more lively! Among
those generally recognized were the charter members in attendance,
Jim Bartuska, Gil Cunningham, Terry Lightener, Arnold Lueth, Terry
McTaggart, George Riehl and Dave Werner as well as past Presidents
Gil Cunningham, Tom Turner and George Riehl. The following people
should really have been recognized at the banquet, but we neglected
to do so. They also attended both the Holly 1970 and Tallahassee
1995 meets: Lynn Bartuska, Carol Cunningham, our son Graham
Cunningham (one year old at Holly), Johnneen Lueth, Eleanor Riehl and
son George Riehl III.
The now traditional “George
and Gil” award presentations followed with these winners being
called forward to receive their plaques.
Group I –
C300, 300B, 300C, 300D
First Place Bill
Elder - 300C Coupe
Second Place Terry
McTaggart – 300D Convert
Group II –
300E, 300F, 300G, 300H
First Place Dave
Schwandt – 300F Coupe
Second Place Tom
Turner – 300E Coupe
Group III –
300J, 300K, 300L, 300 Hurst
First Place Don
Warnaar – 300L Coupe
Second Place Don
cole – 300K Convert
South Dakota – 2,097 miles in a 300L Coupe
Roman Robaszewski –
Electrical trouble on the way to meet in a 300 Hurst.
tried to make it but failed and returned home.
Travelled to the meet
Dave Agnew –
New Zealand, Murray Neindorf – Australia
Alain Lebas –
France, Peter Wait – Australia
In addition, two very special cars
received individual dash plaques for attending both the
organizational meet in Holly, Michigan, 1970 and this Silver
Anniversary Meet. They were the black 300D convertible, owned then
and now by Terry McTaggart and the black 300K convertible, now owned
by Don Cole.
Three additional awards were
presented to Michael Burke, Ken Mack and George Riehl for outstanding
achievement in special projects of the club.
Adding a historical touch was the
display of Jack Streamo’s banner of welcome from the “Good
Ole Florida Boys”. It was originally hung on the side of a
motor home at the Fall 1977 Pocono, PA meet and has been carefully
preserved by Jack, since then.
Last, but most certainly, not least,
Don Warnaar presented his video of the history of the Chrysler 300
Club International. It was just outstanding and very well received.
Plans call for adding the 25th anniversary events to it
and then making it available to the membership.
Thank you Don, for
making this very important chronicle of our Club’s history.
Sunday morning dawned clear and
sunny for those heading home early. A farewell breakfast area was
reserved and I am told many took advantage of it. Some of us weren’t
able to because we had to minister to the needs of a certain D
convert’s distributor problems. It was a labor of love. I was
so dam happy to see Terry arrive with that car, I wouldn’t have
minded changing the rod bearings if it had needed it.
The final event, though not
officially planned (and the confusion showed it) was a caravan over
to Cunningham’s junk – er- I mean collection. It is
housed about 35 miles from the hotel and the only people who knew how
to find it were riding in the lead car! How’s that for
planning? No way can a string of about a dozen cars go 10 miles
without some separations. Oh well, everybody finally made it and
despite my fears, no one seemed particularly upset. I forgot (for a
moment) these were 300 people – used to sniffing out 300s in
the most out of the way places imaginable. Never a doubt they would
We hate the end of meets. It’s
always a downer for us – that’s why we are usually last,
or fighting for last with the Moons to leave the parking lot. So, it
was with relief that we heard the Riehls and Moons say yes, they
could probably bunk out at our place for another day or so. Of
course, our great ace in the hole for putting off the meet finish was
Alain Lebas, whose plane ticket was not good until Thursday. Yes,
we got some more partying in, looked over old meet photographs, my
300 spec and VIN books (it’s more fun with company) and even
had a “new” local junkyard discovered by Alain, Gloria
and Allen. (Appropriately called Allen’s Auto Parts).
Well, Thursday did come just as the
previous Wednesday had and when we said our goodbyes to Alain and saw
that bright red “dust buster’ disappear down the
driveway, we realized the 25th anniversary meet was now
history. Carol and I would like to thank our fellow club members and
friends who made this special effort to attend this special meet.
Florida is not a central location and we really appreciated your
efforts to attend – members and friends from Australia, New
Zealand and France, a 300L driven 2,000 miles from South Dakota, 300s
from many, many miles, from Canada, Michigan, New Jersey,
Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Maryland and from closer
too? We very much appreciated you all coming with or without 300s
and hope you had a good time. We did.
Thanks to Bill Elder (Wild Man of the North) for preparing this article