I saw on the news the National Republican Party is considering locating the 2016 Republican convention in Kansas City, 40 years after the one there in 1976. I remember that ‘76 convention as if it were yesterday! I lived in Blue Springs in 1976, and I thought to myself, “If the convention was going to be that close, I am going to be a part of it. I am not going to miss such an exciting event!”
My mother and sister and I were brave enough to go to a planning meeting, where we were selected as the hosts for the Indiana delegation, which would be housed in Blue Springs — quite a distance to travel to Kemper Arena every day. Our job was to meet the delegation members as they arrived and to facilitate anything they needed in order to do their jobs. That sounded pretty simple, and so we agreed to take part; however, we were a little disappointed that we would be so far from the action in Kansas City.
Little did we know! The people in the Indiana delegation were not only friendly, they loved to party, and they included us in just about everything they did. We traveled every day to the convention at Kemper Arena, where we, along with the rest of star-struck Kansas City, gazed with wonder at the celebrities who walked the convention floor. One of the delegation members gave me his floor pass one day, and I wandered around, seeing news reporters such as Frank Reynolds and Howard K. Smith of ABC. Tony Orlando was there, too, and one night, I actually saw Cary Grant. I thought I was going to die right then and there.
Not only did we get to go to the convention, we traveled there in style, riding for the first time in a tricked out motor home that was more luxurious than any living quarters I had ever seen. Not only did the thing have a kitchen, it was complete with a living room, a poker table in the back, and a fully stocked bar that the motor home’s occupants attempted to empty on a daily basis! We also took the motor home to Crown Center, where we saw lots of excitement every time the television lights went on. I think the television crews eventually turned on the lights just to watch the people in the lobby hurriedly rush toward them, like so many lemmings, to see what was going on.
This was the year that Ronald Reagan ran for president against the then-sitting President Gerald Ford. It turned out that Reagan was courting the Indiana delegation for its votes, as he was trying to win the nomination on the convention floor; in those days, the nomination was not necessarily determined by primaries as it is today. That meant that Ronald Reagan came to Blue Springs, dragging his cheerleaders in their skimpy outfits behind him, as they sang — I kid you not — “Ronnie, Ronnie, Ronnie Reagan, his truth is marching on” to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” He spoke to the entire delegation twice during the week, but we were disappointed when President Ford didn’t show up.
It’s hard to believe that happened almost 40 years ago. I kept in touch with some of the people I met, one of whom is now the mayor of Carmel, Ind., and one of whom moved to Kansas City to go to work with a friend of ours.
If Kansas City is selected as the site for the convention, and I hope it is, I know that someone will have as much fun in 2016 as I had in 1976.