The 1992 NRA Show, in Salt Lake City, was the place of conception for what was to become the Friends of NRA program. I was talking with Wayne Sheets, a long-time NRA staffer, about the NRA "Round-Up" program that we had started at Midway on January 1, 1992. Wayne was quite pleased and congratulatory of this program, as we were sending a check to NRA/ILA every Tuesday for $100 to $200 – representing our Customers' NRA "Round-Up"contributions for the previous week.
I offered that we could do more; that when Brenda and I got home from the convention we were going to throw a fund-raising party for the NRA, in the fashion of Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Knowing the budgets and membership base of these Key Conservation Groups, I couldn't understand why the NRA didn't have a fund-raising event program of their own – well, we were about to create one! Thousands of NRA fund-raising events across the nation – that was the vision.
Back home, the very next week, we were on the phone to a few of our friends in Columbia, Missouri – Jim Joy, Don Martin, Tom Mendenhall, Don Rose and John McGee, and a few others. They all thought it was a grand idea, so we began to have regular meetings.
First, we needed a name, a date and a place for the event. I believe it was Jim Joy who came up with the name "Friends of NRA." We considered ourselves a committee, after the Committees of Safety that were formed in America at the start of the Revolutionary War and, of course, both Friends of NRA and committee continue as the standard to this day.
We chose October 10th, 1992 and the Hearnes Multi-Purpose Building on the University of Missouri campus for our first event. This was a large facility that easily held the 1,000 people who attended.
So, what do you have to do to have an event except to come up with a name, find a place and set a date – well, a whole lot more than that.
I kept up with Wayne Sheets all summer, and during one of our phone calls Wayne said that there was lots of talk about the event at NRA Headquarters -- but they wanted us to postpone it until spring, so they could provide more support.
I told him no!
We were going to pull this first event off, no matter what; and that we needed all the support that the NRA Field Staff could provide. Dennis Eggers was the Regional Field Staff Director in St. Louis at the time, and he was hugely instrumental in our success, as was Mike Benecke, who brought in many of the auction items.
Several senior NRA people came from Washington and found over 1,000 of their Friends in attendance. It was truly a game changer!
Today's Friends of NRA eventsare much better planned and executed than the first one; and, of course, there is a national Friends of NRA office to provide support; other than that, the first one would look a lot like the ones you might attend today.
From the beginning, we understood that this couldn't be a Midway event, it had to be a community event or it couldn't be sustained. Over the last 20 years, certainly MidwayUSA has been a major supporter and has provided many volunteers; but it is the Columbia, Missouri community that deserves credit for its success.
One thing we didn't envision was the value the NRA would get by mobilizing NRA volunteers in over 1,000 communities, and getting NRA members together at the annual events.
In retrospect, Brenda and I couldn't be happier with how that seed planted back in 1992 has grown.