(Disclaimer and acknowledgements: Parts of this article were fictionalized to fit its theme. However, all names and affiliations are true and accurate to the very best of the author's knowledge. Thanks to my ACB friends who have made the "Big Switch!")
Something really interesting caught my attention while attending the ACB national convention in Las Vegas last summer: it was like a big NFB reunion had broken out right in the middle of the convention! My wife Palma whispered in my ear, "Oh, my gosh, you'll never believe who is here this year, and he's walking right ahead of us heading for the exhibit hall!"
"Who?" I asked. She replied, "Harold Snider." "Bull pucky," I blurted. "There's no way Harold is here attending an ACB convention." "Well, if that's not Harold Snider, then it is his identical twin brother, and I don't think he has an identical twin!"
And so it went throughout the convention. We bumped into person after person, sometimes quite literally, who had been a member of the NFB.
We were bouncing around in the exhibit hall when we spotted the Murills, David and Becky, both very successful defense attorneys from Louisville and long-time members of the NFB of Kentucky. "Gee, we haven't seen David and Becky in years!" I exclaimed. "Can you believe we are meeting up with them here at the ACB convention in Las Vegas of all places?"
"Becky, what a surprise seeing you and David here. How are you guys doing?" Palma asked. We stood and chatted for a while before Becky said, "Well, we have someplace we need to be in about 30 seconds. So, we better get moving."
As we moved on down the row of tables, we came to Beyond Sight's booth. I felt a hand reach out for mine and a voice announcing, "Hello, I'm Robert Leblond. Did I hear you say that you were Ron Milliman?" "Well, Robert, since I don't think I owe you any money, I'll admit to being Ron Milliman!" We both chuckled and began talking.
As we were leaving the exhibit area, weaving our way around people, I asked Palma, "Oh, I think I hear Ralph Sanders over there, don't I? If that's him, I want to talk to him and tell him what an outstanding job he's doing with the PR committee." Palma responded, "Yeah, that's Ralph, but he's talking to Donna and Bob Seliger right now." "Hmm, that's interesting. Do you realize that all five of us are former NFB members who have switched over to the ACB?" I observed. "I'm sure we all have our reasons, and collectively, they'd sure make an interesting story. As long as Donna is there with Ralph, it gives me an opportunity to let her know what a bang-up job she is doing as our ACB national secretary. That is a really tough, thankless job, and I am sure glad we have such a top-notch person doing it."
The next morning, we met with Carl Jarvis and his wife Cathy and Cindy Burgett for breakfast at the Denny's, which was just down the street from the Riviera Hotel. After we were seated, I asked, "Carl, are you guys enjoying the convention?" "It's been interesting," Carl replied. "What I have liked best about the convention is how accessible the officers, board members and other national leaders are. For me, the opportunity to meet new folks and renew old acquaintances is worth the price of the trip. In truth, I'd rather sit around a table like this drinking coffee and chatting with some new friends about their experiences than to spend time in a long-winded meeting. What I didn't care much for, though, was the length of the opening ceremony. I certainly enjoyed the Sunday evening event, just thought it went far too long, but that's a mild issue. Overall I enjoy the bustle, the confusion and jumble of activities. Something is going on most every minute during the week."
Cindy chimed in, "Yeah, I sure have to agree with that. There is sure a lot going on; too much to do all in just one week!" Palma said, "As huge and noisy as all of these places are, it will take us more than a week to just get it figured out as to where is what." We all laughed and heartily agreed. As I joined in the conversation, I was thinking here is another group of six current and active ACB members who were all, except for Cindy, formerly active in the NFB.
Later that same day, we saw Rob Hubbard at the BITS meeting, and he remarked on what a great convention Carla and the crew had put together. He noted, "It is the best one ever; better than any of the NFB or previous ACB conventions I've attended." Then it occurred to me that Rob, too, was another former member of the NFB who had made the big switch.
At one of the social events, we ran into Ann Brash. She seemed to be really enjoying herself. Immediately to my right, I heard a fellow say, "I'm Richie Gardenhire," and I reached out to shake his hand and reply, "I'm Ron Milliman, and this is my wife, Palma." We stopped to chat a few minutes.
On Thursday, as we worked our way from one meeting to another, we saw Sue Ammeter chairing the membership committee meeting; Ardis Bazyn and Earlene Hughes were there too. Just as the meeting was ending, I told Palma, "I would sure like to say hi to Sue Ammeter, if we can work our way over to her."
I bumped solidly into someone and said "excuse me" as I walked over to where I heard Sue's voice. "Sue, hey, Sue, I'm Ron Milliman. It is so great to see you!" As we shook hands, Sue said, "Yeah, I feel like we sort of know each other already from the telephone conference call meetings. How's the convention going for you so far?" "Before I answer that, I want you to meet my wife, Palma." As the two ladies exchanged pleasantries, I said, "You asked about the convention; actually it has far exceeded our expectations. So, how about you? What's new in your life?"
Sue replied, "Since I retired, I'm enjoying my leisure. I retired in March, and we moved to our new home, which is about 100 miles from Seattle. We have three acres in the country and we are enjoying the quiet. I was just elected president of our new chapter so will be taking on a new role here in my new community. John and I will be celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary in August, so life is wonderful and I feel very, very fortunate."
"Gee, Sue that's great! I'm sorry that we have to rush off, but I want to catch Earlene if we can before she slips away, and I think I hear her heading toward the door. So, maybe we'll cross paths again later before we leave," I said as we were trying to spot Earlene in the crowd.
Palma stated, "Well, now I don't see her. Somehow Earlene has managed to disappear." I replied, "Then, can we say something to Ardis before she gets away too?"
Then Palma said, kind of disgustedly, "Well, shoot, now I don't see Ardis either. There are just so many people all over the place. Oh, here she is, over this way." "Are you Ardis?" Palma asked as we approached a woman who seemed to be picking up some papers. "Yes," Ardis replied. "Hi," I said. "I'm Ron Milliman, and this is my wife, Palma. It's a pleasure to finally get to meet you. How's the convention going for you so far?" Ardis replied, "I have enjoyed most of the programming and the banquet speeches as well as the socializing with members I don't get to see often. I have also enjoyed meeting many I had never met before. I did not have enough time to visit many booths in the exhibit hall because of my busy schedule during the week. I enjoyed the Wednesday night cruise, my big social event for the week. How about you? Have you guys had a good time?"
"Like I keep telling everyone, there are way too many people to see and way too many fun things to do, and way, way too little time for it all, but to answer your question, yes, we are having a great time," I said. "The Las Vegas scene has exceeded our wildest expectations." "That's great," Ardis said, "I'm sorry to just run off, but I have another meeting to get to myself. Maybe next time we can chat a little more."
Thursday evening several of us met for dinner: Bob and Donna Seliger, William and Sally Benjamin, Ralph Sanders, Pat Shreck, Palma and me. As we carried on our lively conversation, I mentioned my observation that lots of the people we meet at the ACB conventions are former members of the NFB who, for various reasons, have seen the light and made the big switch. Donna chimed in, saying, "Besides Ralph, Pat, you and Palma, Bob and myself, I can think of several other people who were former NFB people and have switched that are in our Iowa group such as Gary Patterson, Creig and Jo Ann Slayton, Don Hansen, Mark Nemmers, and I'm sure there are others that I just cannot think of right now. Oh, yeah, Ardis falls into that category too; she was even involved back in 1981 when John Taylor and Sylvester Nemmers were booted out of the NFB by Ken Jernigan. Many, if not most, of those people elected to switch, eventually, to the ACB. Not all of those people are here at the convention this year, but they have all switched from the NFB to the ACB."
Pat noted, "Another one that fits into that category I can think of who is here at the convention is Terri Lynne Pomeroy, and so does Mitch Pomerantz, Sandy Sanderson, and there are tons more." Ralph added, "For that matter, in 1978 the entire NFB of California affiliate was kicked out of the NFB, and many of them switched over the ACB. The same thing happened in Washington state in 1979 or 1980. The whole NFB of Washington affiliate was booted out of the NFB, and many of those people switched from one to the other organization too, including Sue Ammeter, who was even on NFB's national board at the time. Carl Jarvis was among those who switched too, as I remember."
It occurred to me that, of the eight of us around the table, six of us were formerly very active NFB people. In fact, I remembered that William had told me once that he was also a member of NFB, but as he put it, he just paid his dues and got "The Braille Monitor." So, in a way, all eight of us are former NFB people.
Palma nudged my arm and said, "I think Pat is trying to say something to you." I raised my voice a little and said, "Pat, you'll have to speak up. I can't hear you very well from way down here on this end of the table." Pat said more loudly, "Ron, I would like to talk to you before we leave, and we are really running out of time. Tomorrow is Friday already. So, is there some time tomorrow that we could get together for a little while?" " Well, how about if we meet you for breakfast in the morning early before the business session starts, say 6:30 or 7 o'clock," I suggested. Pat replied, "7 o'clock should be fine. Can you and Palma meet me just in front of the Monaco elevators?" "Will do," I answered.
After our breakfast with Pat Shreck, I was sitting at a table with my Kentucky delegation, awaiting the business session to begin, when I felt a light tap on my hand, followed by a sweet voice asking, "Are you Ron Milliman?" I replied, "It sure is! Who's this?" "I'm Janelle. Hi! We finally meet," she said with an enthusiastic tone. "Hey," I responded excitedly: "My very most favorite and prettiest list moderator! What's happening? Gee, it is so great to meet you!" We chatted for awhile before I commented, "Janelle, I sure don't know how you put up with all that you do on that ACB-L list, but you certainly do a wonderful job, even though one of the first things you did when you became the list moderator was to kick me off!" We both laughed, and Janelle said, "You just won't let me forget that, will you?"
A short time later, as I was washing my hands and about to leave the men's room, someone bumped into me and asked, "Who's this?" I responded, "Ron Milliman, and who are you?" "Hey, I have seen you on our ACB-L list! I'm James Congdon." "Well, James, it is great to meet you. Are you enjoying the convention this year?" I asked. He responded, "The thing I like the most about the ACB convention is that I don't feel as though I am inside some political machine or militant establishment like I did when I was in the NFB. The ACB doesn't try to force anything on me like the NFB attempted to do all of the time."
As I was walking back into the business meeting, I almost tripped up someone with my cane. "Oh, I'm sorry, that is one problem with these canes, they tend to get in the way sometimes." We both laughed, and I asked, "Who did I just about trip up?" "I'm Andy, Andy Baracco. Who are you?" "I'm Ron Milliman, and I have wanted to meet you. I feel like we know each other already since we have communicated so much online with our e-mail posts. So, Mr. Andy Baracco, how do you like the convention this year?"
"I love it," he said. "I especially like that it is here in Vegas. I have been able to see a couple of great shows, and I haven't done too badly with the gambling either, and I've eaten some good food. I have even been able to see some relatives, as well as catching up with my ACB friends from around the country. I like the exhibits, especially the technology, and I've spent, perhaps, too much money. I really liked the sessions on digital books and accessible cell phones."
Saturday morning, as we were waiting for our flight back to Nashville to go up to our home base in Bowling Green, Ky., Palma and I reminisced over the fantastic week we had just wrapped up in Las Vegas and how much fun the convention had been this year. Palma asked, "What did you like the most?" I thought for a moment, then replied, "Gee, that is really hard to answer. I liked it all. Well, most of it. I didn't care for the cigarette smoke and the cell phones, but everything else was sure lots of fun. I would say if you were asking about just the ACB convention, I enjoyed meeting and talking with all of the people, people that I have seen on the ACB-L list and exchanged posts with over the past few years, but if I had to pick something other than the ACB convention stuff, I'd say I most enjoyed the wonderfully romantic dinner we shared in the Italian restaurant in the Venetian overlooking the gondolas and the Italian vocalist at the helm singing all of the beautiful love songs. It was like they were singing just for us."
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