Reasons & Remarks – Every Convention Tells A Story

There’s more to a PVA convention then meets the eye


Convention time is here! Paralyzed Veterans of America’s (PVA) Annual Convention is set for this month in Atlanta, but PVA conventions aren’t what some people might imagine when they think of a convention.

Conventions at PVA are actually an annual meeting of its national board of directors. Over the years, there have been many instances of a little fun being injected into the event, but more often than not, it’s a week of serious business.

This year is PVA’s 76th Annual Convention, and I’d like to reflect on a few memorable conventions over that time. Whether it’s from 29 of the last 30 I’ve been to or one I’ve read about in PN, there has been much business conducted and many memories have been made.

I’ll start with some trivia from PVA’s first gathering Feb. 7–8, 1947, in Chicago that officially formed the organization. The representatives in attendance approved bylaws, decided on how voting would be conducted and elected their first slate of officers. The election of officers was noteworthy, as PVA’s first national president, Gilford Moss, didn’t have a spinal-cord injury (SCI).

When I told this story at last year’s convention in Las Vegas, I had to pause and take in the wide-eyed looks from the members of the board of directors. Then, I continued by telling them that our first president had multiple sclerosis.

PVA has only found itself in what would be considered true financial dire straits once in its 75-year history. Some serious decisions had to be made during the fifth convention in 1950 in Memphis, Tenn. Patterson Grissom was elected president, and funds were so short that the decision was made to shutter the national office, along with the position of the executive director, then known as the executive secretary. The board only had the funds to continue one vestige of the organization
PN magazine.

The 1958 convention (PVA’s 12th) in Chicago saw the election of a PVA icon to the office of president. Harry Schweikert Jr., was a World War II veteran who incurred a SCI in a 1945 motorcycle accident. Schweikert became a member of what would become the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association.

This convention also saw PVA financially back in the black due to its new association with a greeting card company, making it a pioneer in the area of direct mail fundraising. The 1958 convention also brought the adoption of the organization’s first official logo, the iconic Speedy, then affectionately referred to as “the little man in the wheelchair.”

The first convention I personally attended was PVA’s 46th held in San Diego in 1992. I was recently injured and was serving as president of a newly formed PVA Minnesota Chapter. From guest speakers to new business resolutions to the election of officers, it was enough to make my head spin — and mine was by the end of the week.

I had my introduction to parliamentary procedure as we debated and voted on 53 resolutions. I found the line-by-line, page-by-page scrutiny of the 400-plus page budget almost more than I could handle.

The awards ceremony was highlighted with the presentation of the Speedy Award, PVA’s highest honor, to none other than Dick Sloviaczek, who just happened to be the inspiration behind the Speedy logo.

I went home from the convention with a feeling of overwhelming awe for PVA, which had done more than I could realize to make my new life in a wheelchair the best that it could possibly be.

Every PVA convention has a story to tell. From organizational politics and finances to policy decisions or other pressing issues, there’s never a dull moment. A book could be written, and it would take a book, to tell the complete story of the only organization dedicated to serving the needs of veterans with spinal-cord injury or disease. Sounds like a task for the PN editor-in-chief someday.

The only convention I missed was the 51st held in Seattle in 1997. My twin sons had just been born about a week before the convention, which was a good excuse to stay home. This month’s convention in Atlanta may be another one that I’ll be unable to attend in person.

Last summer, shortly after returning from the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in New York, I found myself facing some health issues. I’ve had more doctor’s visits and stays in the hospital than I care to count, but fortunately, things appear to be back on the right track.

I’ll elaborate more on this adventure in future columns. Stay healthy, and enjoy your summer.   

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