(part two of a six-part series)
The Brunswick (N.C.) Civil War Roundtable is the largest in the country. This week, ECW Editor-in-Chief shares a conversation he had with the roundtable’s president, Mike Powell, last May.
Chris Mackowski: So how did the roundtable get started?
Mike Powell: It started in May 2010, so last night was our seventh anniversary. The first meeting, we were taking bets whether we’d have twenty, thirty, forty people. We ended up with a hundred people. Wally Rueckel and a guy named Tom O’Donnell, who passed away last year, were the founders.
At that point, we were meeting over at Trinity Methodist Church here in Southport, and after about three or four years, their fire code was 350, and we started breaking that. (laughs) So, we had to find a new venue, and the Hatch Auditorium—it’s a perfect place. State-of-the-art A/V system with the big screens. I think with the stage and all, it works well.
Right now we are somewhere—it’s a lot harder coming up with exact numbers of members than you’d think because you’ve got renewals, you’ve got people that are two months late, do you count them, do you not count them?—but we’re somewhere between 1,150 and 1,200.
Last night we had just over 400—so we’ve had over 400 attendees every month this year except for January. That was the only time we did not have over 400.
I was expecting 500 last night, but with Memorial Day Weekend. . . . And we generally meet the first Tuesday of the month, but on the first Tuesday in June—next month—the Baptists had something planned over there, so that’s why we had to move it. So, we actually had two meetings in May, and that probably threw some folks off, too. I was sure we’d have 500—I mean, 400’s good! (laughs)—but I thought we’d set a record last night.
CM: So, seven years ago, Wally and Tom decide you’re going to pull together a roundtable, and you have a hundred people show up. How do you get a hundred people to start with?
MP: We actually have a Madison Avenue P.R. guy. He lives in New Jersey, but he has a house down here that he lives in eight months of the year. And he is wonderful. Our media guru, Chuck Rodema. We get wonderful press coverage.
I think that’s one of the things we do really well. We do outreach to everyone. I mean, if you’ve got a newspaper, we’re going to come and talk to ya.
CM: How many different media venues do you typically work with?
MP: Two newspaper here—one’s a daily, one’s a weekly—and two newspapers in Wilmington. There’s a couple folks up in Wilmington who have a local events websites, and we’re with them. Chuck might have a couple others he works with, but those are just the ones I hear about. I stay out of Chuck’s way! “Chuck, do your thing!” (laughter)
CM: So how large of a geographic area do you guys draw from?
MP: We draw from Wilmington down to Myrtle Beach. Now, obviously 60, 70 percent of our folks are from here [Southport] and St. James. St. James is a gated community up here that has as many people in it as over on Oak Island, so it’s probably the first largest city in the county. So, we get a lot out of there, and they’re all retirees. They’re all pretty much snowbirds. They come from up north and winter down here.
CM: Do you have a lot of snowbirds?
MP: Yes, I think our average age for a member is 60, and a lot of folks down here are transient people. They have houses here; they have houses somewhere else. So, they’re not here all the time. That’s one reason we don’t have meetings in July and August. It’s more of a resort nature around here than anything else, and a lot of folks—in fact, a lot of the leadership team—are gone for July and August, so we just shut down.
CM: How big is your board?
MP: I have five officers. I have nine directors. I have about ten advisors. The advisors are my institutional memory. They’re not required to come to the board meetings. If they want to come, that’s great if they come. But they each have a very specific talent that we try and draw on. So, even if they can’t come to all the meetings, even if they can’t be 100 percent participants, they’re still going to be able to contribute at some point along the way.
CM: So they have expertise.
MP: They have expertise. They have contacts with historians, which makes my life easier, trying to get speakers. They have contacts with newspapers. They have contacts with internet folks. We try to utilize that as much as possible.
We also have liaisons. I have people on my board, directors, that are on the board for Fort Fisher, the board for Fort Anderson, that are on the board for the Maritime Museum. So, instead of competing with these folks, let’s work together! We’re all doing the same thing here. We advertise their stuff; they advertise our stuff. It works out great. It’s really mutually supportive.
CM: And you have an active corps of volunteers, too.
MP: Besides the 20 on the leadership team, we have another 20 or so volunteers who make it all happen. Our folks at the registration desk, who’ve been trained on the computer check-in program, are doing a great job. We have a father and daughter team, the Whalens, who handle the Sutler’s Table. You met them. There are others, and they all do a great job. In order to turn good ideas in reality, you have to have volunteers that enjoy what they’re doing.
CM: You also have “regional directors” responsible for geographic areas. Can you tell me more about that?
MP: Wally set that up a couple years ago. “Neighborhood captains,” he calls it. If somebody needs a ride, we try to get them a ride. We actually have some folks that are shut-ins, so what we’ll do is we’ll make an audio disc and send that to them.
You know, just whatever kind of comes up. The neighborhood captains are going to know that area better. They’re going to know what publications we need. For instance, for certain meetings, we might put out fliers. They’ll know where to put the fliers. They offer that kind of support.
Good P.R. helps get people in the door, but what keeps them coming back? “We try to make it more than just a round table,” Mike says. He’ll explain how when his conversation with Chris continues.