Person of the Week

JoAnn Kolley

Airstreamer (Wally Byam Caravan Club International)

The orca lined up and herded fish.  We were right in the middle of them.  There were about fifty orcas on each side of us.  There were babies and mamas and all kinds.  It was so awe-inspiring!  It was just a miracle!  We’ve seen so many of these kinds of things on our Airstream trips.

1.  What led you to the mission of being an Airstreamer (Wally Byam Caravan Club International)?

We always travelled.  We tent camped as kids.  By the time I left home, my family had gotten a pop up tent camper.  When my dad came close to retirement, his life’s mission was to have an Airstream.  He wanted to travel the country.  He retired at fifty-six.  He bought the Airstream.  He was a pipe fitter at the refinery, so what he did was work construction and travelled around where they had oil wells converting them into storage for oil.  He and my mother stayed in the Airstream.  He loved it.  He loved Wally Byam.  He talked about that trailer all the time.  He was happy!

I travelled with him one time.  I drove it. My baby daughter was with me.  We went down to the Pensacola where my brother was in the Navy.  We went down there, took a trip, and visited with him.  But because he worked with asbestos my dad got mesothelioma and he died.  I loved my dad.  I was really close to him.  His dream lived on in me.

I got married and our goal was to work and save money.  However, my husband’s idea wasn’t to camp.  His idea of camping was the Hilton.  So, I gave up on it.  I just said, “OK, I’m not going to convert him.  It’s my dream, not his.”

Just about the time we were retiring – a month or two before we did — he said, “You know travelling around in a motor home wouldn’t be bad.”  He didn’t have to say anything more to me.  I went looking for a motor home.  I found a used one.  It was in nice condition at Bill Thomas’  and we ended up buying it.   It was a thirty-footer, no slides, a small one, but really nice. We had that one and then another came along that was bigger and had a diesel engine.

I knew about WBBCI  from dad, but I didn’t give it much of a thought.  We were at Bill Thomas’ getting something done and we met up with a man, Ed, I worked for a few years.  He was telling us, “Oh you have to join the club.  You know it’s a lot of fun and we do a lot of things.  Caravans.”  I knew about caravans.  There was a rally at Mount Vernon, so we went and joined that day!  We became Airstreamers.

2.  What does this mission mean to you?

I enjoy people.  I love to talk to them and hear what they have to say, where they have gone.  I love going and seeing new places.  Learning about different parts of the country.  It’s just a wonderful life!  But I think it is the people.  They have diverse personalities.  I marvel at the people who are leaders, presidents, how they manage, how confident they are.  To think that they are all doing this at the same time together, with the same goals.  You see very few people who are isolated, withdrawn.  They are a very gregarious group of people with common interests.  They all have a sense of watching over everyone else.  You just feel so wanted.  These people don’t have to like you or talk to you, but they do!  They just embrace you.  It’s a family.

3.  What was your best day as an Airstreamer (Wally Byam Caravan Club International)?

I’ve had so many best days that it is hard to pick one out.  I guess it was when I was inaugurated president.  That was great.  I had the feeling that it was a challenge that was met and conquered.  There have been a lot of good days.  It’s hard to pick just one out.

Sometimes it doesn’t have to be a real dramatic thing.  You can have so many best days, but when you are travelling with your best friends and the sights that you see, and the things that you do are just so out of world – like the trip to Alaska.  When you are standing there and looking out over this huge glacier that just goes on for miles and miles and the mountains are all around – and you are standing there with your best friends, it’s just so magnificent.  It just shows you that God created the best things in the world – the world.

We took a cruise on the Gulf of Alaska.  We were on a boat and orca whales were feeding – it was a feeding line — a feeding frenzy.  The orca lined up and herded fish.  We were right in the middle of them.  There were about fifty orcas on each side of us.  There were babies and mamas and all kinds.  It was so awe-inspiring!  It was just a miracle!  We’ve seen so many of these kinds of things on our Airstream trips.

We talked to a lady in Georgia, just a little iddy, biddy town around where Jimmy Carter lives.  She was asking us about the Airstreams and what we did.   She said, “You know I’ve never been out of this county.”  She was about seventy years old and had never been out of the county — let alone out of the state!  You talk to young people and you tell them where you are from and they ask, “Where’s that?”  Well, I don’t think the kids study geography or history any more and yet there is just so much out there.  It’s our history!  I think everybody in the world ought to be camping.  Go out and just seek and see!

4.  What was your worst day as an Airstreamer (Wally Byam Caravan Club International)?

I know what my worst day was.  It was a meeting I had to lead — the first meeting after I became president.  I was so nervous.  My lack of confidence came bubbling up to the top.  I had to grab hold of it, sit up there, and direct the meeting.  I could feel a little more comfortable and secure because there were so many friends in the audience.  I can sit around a table and talk to people and give my opinion very readily, but when it comes to being the one leading, I’m not that confident.

5.  How did you survive your worst day?

I survived by getting support from my husband, Ray, from a past leader Ed, and friends.  The whole unit was on my side.  They really helped me and gave me moral support.  Ed had a regular order of business, so I had that to follow.  As I did it, I put that fear behind me, got started and going with the meat of the meeting, and everything flowed.  If I forgot something, someone would just say, “Hmm, hmm, we need to cover…” and then we would go right to that.  It was a matter of telling myself, “I can do it!  The people were just so kind.  They didn’t give me looks like, “Oh, what is she doing?”  They were supportive.  This helped me!   I’ve always been the type of person who could work behind the scenes and do anything.  But to get in front of a crowd with people looking – that was hard!

I’ll tell you a little story.  I used to do trade shows.  I would put the whole thing together. I worked the booth, stopped people to talk, and referred them to others.  I knew the guy that oversaw all the displays.  He came into me and told me that the person who was supposed to present at the meeting was not there.  He said, “Can you do it?”  I looked at him and said, “I can’t do it!”  He said, “Oh yes you can.”  He said, “All you have to do is sit up on the stage, in front of two hundred people.  You don’t have to say anything.”  I said, “OK, I can sit up there and do that.”  After we were done eating, they said, “And now we will hear from our rep.”  I went, “Oh”.  I walked over talked in front of the whole audience.  I couldn’t tell you what I said.  When I sat down afterwards, I asked, “What did I say?”  He said, “You were great!”  I thought, “Oh heavens.”  I would have loved to see that afterwards.  I did the talk, but I was shaking so bad.

I got a D in speech in college.  I just can’t get up in front of a group and talk — but I do.  I just have to tell myself, “I can do it.  Everything is OK.  These are friends. No one is going to jump on you.  It’s not life or death.”  I just have to be prepared.

I would tell someone with the same problem to relax.  Remember who you are and what you know.  I was always a good student.  A lack of confidence is what it is.  So you just have to talk yourself through it.  I tell myself, “OK you are not going to be nervous, I have a message to say, I want to say it!”  And then I do it!