The Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) 75th Annual Convention is scheduled to take place the third week of this month in Las Vegas.
I say scheduled rather than will take place because it seems over the past year when it comes down to the wire, everything has been canceled due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This time, my optimism is high for a successful gathering, but time will tell.
By mid-May, I’m assuming everyone who serves on PVA’s Board of Directors will have had the opportunity to receive a vaccine, but that’s only part of what needs to occur.
A large majority of the board members require the assistance of a personal care attendant, which begs the question, “Will they have had the opportunity to be vaccinated?” And what about the staff from the national office and chapters?
You can see that simply securing a venue to hold the convention with adequate meeting space and hotel rooms for the attendees is only the beginning — and probably the only part of the equation that can be guaranteed at this point.
This convention is obviously a big deal. Last year, the convention was unfortunately relegated to the virtual world of Zoom video conferencing due to the pandemic — making it the first one ever to be online only and not held in a host city.
From a historical perspective, it made me wonder if any other of our past conventions had been threatened with cancellation due to forces beyond our control.
None have been threatened that I know of, but the 2001 convention in Long Beach, Calif., happened just before 9/11. It started Aug. 19 and concluded Aug. 25, with just enough time for everyone to return safely home before travel restrictions and difficulties followed in the aftermath.
There were times when challenges within the organization made the gathering difficult, but nothing has ever risen to the level of causing a convention to be canceled.
I attended my first PVA convention in San Diego in 1992. During that time, a new chapter was forming in Minnesota, and I was invited to attend as its representative. I’ve attended every convention since, with the exception of 1997 in Seattle. I believe I had a good excuse for missing it, as my twin sons had just been born the month before and had I ventured to the convention, I’m sure I would have come home to a locked door. When our meeting in Las Vegas concludes this month, I’ll have attended 29 conventions in the last 30 years.
PVA’s conventions are different from conventions of other similar groups, as the event is really a business meeting of the national board of directors and not a bunch of conventioneers attending breakout sessions and social gatherings.
That’s not to say camaraderie at the convention isn’t a huge part of the experience. I’ve always looked forward to spending time with my PVA friends from around the country in the meetings and while exploring the host city.
Omaha, Neb., in 2005 was a memorable event, both in and out of the meetings. I was elected to my second term as national senior vice president at that convention, and the location in the city’s Old Market area had a small-town, welcoming feel.
Another of my favorites was New Orleans in 1999 and 2012 for many of the same reasons. When it comes to the architecture and ambience of its French Quarter, New Orleans is like Omaha on steroids, with the big differences being the vibrant nightlife scene and its uniquely famous cuisine.
I’m hopeful for a face-to-face meeting this year, as so much business actually takes place in the hallways, at the dinner table or at a bar. It’ll be a chance to catch up with old friends and celebrate the beginning of PVA’s 75th year of providing amazing advocacy and opportunities for our nation’s most severely disabled veterans.
I’m not much of a gambler, but I’m betting our 75th convention will become a reality in Las Vegas — the first one to be held in this city that has a special flair and unique appeal all its own. n