- Written by Todd Moning
She’s not hard to spot. Just look for the button-covered green vest that exudes enthusiasm for FMCA, motorhoming and life in general.
If that doesn’t strike you, listen for a girlish giggle. Or, look for a luminous smile beneath gray-streaked curls. That’s Genny.
The 84-year-old woman from Owosso, Mich., comes off as chipper as a schoolgirl.
Beverly Spurgeon, director of FMCA’s Membership Services department, first met Genny in 1967. “Genny is someone you like immediately," she said. "I can’t even begin to imagine the number of friends she has made over the years."
Zest for conventions
Jennings Luckey has attended most of FMCA’s 78 conventions, including the first gathering in 1964. If it weren’t for school, she might have achieved perfect attendance.
“I think I’m the only one who has been to every summer convention,” said Genny, one of FMCA’s 185 charter members. “I’ve only missed eight winter conventions, because during that time the kids were in school, of course.”
She also held various FMCA national office positions for nearly 20 years in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
FMCA has been the biggest part of her life outside of her family, said her oldest son, Ralph Jennings, 59. “There are basically two organizations she has been really active in throughout most of her life. One is the Women Marines Association and the other is FMCA. And FMCA is far and away the most significant to her and that’s where she generated the most friends and the most experiences.”
Aside from her proclivity for conventions and volunteer service to FMCA, Genny is known for another feat — motorhoming in the 1960s and ‘70s with her first husband, Howard Jennings, and their kids — five boys and four girls.
Matched in the Marines
Genny met and wed Howard while stationed in the U.S. Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune, near Jacksonville, N.C., where he was serving as a Pharmacist’s Mate.
At age 20 she had enlisted in the Marines in St. Louis, Mo., with the signed consent of her mother. A brother already had joined up, and Genny figured it was the right thing to do at the time.
So she went down to Camp Lejeune for basic training, and then served for two years there as a clerk at an officer’s club. “They had a little canteen, like a store, and I was in charge of that.”
In November 1945 the Jennings settled in Howard’s central Michigan hometown of Owosso, about 25 miles west of Flint. (They would be married 43 years, until Howard’s death in 1988.)
In 1959, 14 years and nine children later — Marie, Ralph, Charles, Rae Ann, Paul, Alvin, Wells, Martha and Laura — the Jennings bought their first motorhome. Actually, it was a 1949 55-passenger Ford school bus before Genny and Howard applied their handiwork.
“It was in a parking lot where they had all these old, yellow school buses,” Genny said. “My husband happened to see it and we went in and bought it, for $200. That was a lot of money back then when you had nine kids. But you can’t get nine kids in a car very comfortably.”
Ralph, the second-oldest child, was 11 when his parents bought the Ford bus. “I can’t remember where they bought it … maybe out West somewhere," he said. "But it was a big event when Dad brought it home. And it took a while to convert it because it was all done pretty much homegrown, or handmade.”
The Jennings tore out the interior and started rebuilding it from scratch. “We actually used some of the school bus seats for the conversion,” Ralph said. “In the front we had a removable table and two of those bus seats facing each other. That was our card table and our eating table and it turned into a sleeping area, so it was kind of an all-purpose thing.”
Their biggest consideration: ensuring sleeping accommodations for 11 people. “We made three three-tiered bunks in the back and then there was the fold-down table that slept two more,” Genny said.
They painted the bus in pastel green, with dark-green trim.
All told, it took them about four years to convert the bus to a “house car,” as coaches of that era were called. Still, a few challenges remained …
‘Real difficult to drive’
The Ford bus was different from the coaches of today because it did not have an automatic transmission. And it had a two-speed rear end, which meant the driver had to double clutch to get into some gears.
“It was real difficult to drive at first,” Genny said, “but I learned because I had driven tractors and trucks for my stepfather.” Genny, who is the oldest of nine children, grew up in St. Louis, where her step dad had a farm and owned a grocery store. (Her biological father died when she was very young.)
The bus was also a cumbersome vehicle for a time when two-lane roads were prevalent, Ralph said. “It wasn’t like now where you just get on the interstate and go. Back in the ‘60s that was when the interstates were just being built, so we spent a lot of times on two-lane roads.”
The house car also lacked one prominent amenity: a bathroom.
“We obviously tried to stop at parks with bathroom facilities,” Ralph said. “But at that time there weren’t any KOA campgrounds and that kind of thing. It was all state parks or parking by the side of the road, or a turnoff somewhere or a parking lot.”
The lack of a bathroom and driving challenges never deterred the Jennings from traveling far and wide.
Even before they purchased the Ford bus, the Jennings family was no stranger to camping in the state of Michigan. Myers Lake in Byron and Higgins Lake in Roscommon County were favorite places to camp in the summertime.
“Those trips were fun times, too,” Ralph said. “I think that’s what led us into buying the first bus. My dad found that everybody liked doing that stuff and it was a way to keep everybody together.”
With the bus conversion complete, they were ready to expand their range.
But it wasn’t always easy to find time to travel. Howard owned the Jennings-Lyons Funeral Home in Owosso, a business started by his grandfather in 1896.
“My husband was funeral director, so he didn’t have much time off,” Genny said. “But we usually had a two-week period in July and would do a lot of traveling during that time.”
Their first big trip was to FMCA’s first national “gathering” at Fort Ticonderoga, New York, in summer 1964 with all the children.
“It’s funny,” Ralph said, “I remember the area where we were, it was kind of a small area. It was almost like the coaches were circled up like an old wagon train. That’s kind of the way I picture it now.”
A year or two after the Fort Ticonderoga trip, they traveled around Lake Superior, up into Canada and back down into the United States.
On another occasion, they journeyed through the Black Hills in South Dakota to Yellowstone National Park and up to Little Big Horn in eastern Montana.
They traveled to St. Louis, Mo., a couple of times to see Genny’s parents. They ventured to California and Washington, D.C., and to Florida’s Disney World.
“We just tried to pick things that would be interesting to the children so they could learn about the country more than anything else, which they did,” Genny said.
During her children’s formative years Genny kept up a mother’s breakneck pace. “Oh, man, she did everything,” Ralph said. “You name it, she did it.”
She took on the roles of den mother and troop leader. She was a parent advisor to DeMolay International, which prepares young men to lead successful, happy and productive lives. She was active in the Order of the Eastern Star, a fraternal organization for men and women.
“I think she attended every school event that any one of us was ever in, which was quite a challenge,” Ralph said.
Marie, the oldest, went off to college in 1964, and Ralph joined the Air Force in ’66. Genny and Howard still traveled with seven kids for a couple of years after that.
“Once we had started the college routine,” Ralph said, “there was less participating [in motorhoming] by the kids. But maybe even more participation by my mother and dad because they had less child care to do.”Forging ties with FMCA
Genny’s 44-year relationship with FMCA grew from correspondence with Bob Richter, of Hanson, Mass. He organized the first rendezvous of bus-car owners in Hinckley, Maine, and went on to become FMCA's first national president.
“He had a motorhome built out of a bus the same as we did,” Genny said. “And we contacted him and other people from all over the country that we knew who had those sorts of things. All the people up in the east, where Bob started, they had a lot of them up there.”
In letters to the Jennings, Richter hinted that he was thinking of forming an organization of house car owners. “I wrote back to him and told him that whatever they did, we wanted to be a part of it,” Genny said.
In April 1963, Richter circulated a letter to a group of house car-owning families, including the Jennings, inviting them to attend a July 20 gathering in Hinckley, to view a solar eclipse.
But Howard and Genny already had other plans. “That was the year we were going to take the kids out West to see the cowboys and Indians,” Genny said. “So we decided, nope, we couldn’t tell the children we were going out there in the East instead of going to see cowboys and Indians. You don’t do that with all those little kids. We were going out to Colorado and Utah and that area, and we did.”
After the Hinckley meeting, though, Richter sent a note to the Jennings to let them know about the formation of the Family Motor Coach Association. “I sent him some money — $5 — and told him that was to be our first payment … that’s what our dues were that first time,” Genny said.
And so, the Jennings became FMCA’s 26th member family.
By the late 1960s, Genny had begun pursuing leadership positions within FMCA. Meanwhile, Howard, was working 70 to 80 hours a week at the funeral home (he retired in 1986).
As more of the kids began to fly the nest, FMCA began to figure more prominently in Genny’s life.
“She was busy with FMCA national office and the Michigan Knights of the Highway [one of FMCA’s first chapters],” Ralph said. “So for a while there, FMCA was basically her entire life.”
Genny served as:
- FMCA national secretary from 1967 to 1970
- FMCA national vice president from 1974 to 1975
- FMCA national fourth vice president 1975 to 1976
- FMCA national fifth vice president from 1976 to 1977
- FMCA national director-at-large (a chapter officer position) from 1977-1978
- FMCA Great Lakes Area vice president from 1982 to 1986
Genny was elected to the office of national secretary at about the same time that Spurgeon, FMCA’s Membership director, began working for FMCA. “Genny was one of the first members I met when I attended my first convention in Bowling Green, Ky. She has been a tireless volunteer for FMCA; her contributions to the association are priceless.”
Of her time as an FMCA national officer, Genny said simply, “I met so many nice people and we tried to do so many good things for the organization.”
Many of the friendships Genny has formed originated from her involvement in FMCA chapters. She belongs to the Pipe Dreamers, Michigan Knights of the Highway and Creative Travelers chapters.
“I tried early on to encourage chapters because I thought that that’s the closeness that you get. It’s great to go to national conventions and everything and meet people, but the monthly things you do in your own community and area are the most important. You learn more about your friends and I think people appreciated it better.”
Fellow Michigan Knights members Dorothy and Edgar Casada of Highland, Ind., joined FMCA in 1967 and have known Genny for 30 years. “People are drawn to Genny because she’s sincere, she’s open and she’s friendly,” Dorothy said.
Genny met her second husband, Bill Luckey, through the Michigan Knights chapter. In fact, she and Bill were married at a Michigan Knights chapter meeting in 1994.
Through the years, Genny has owned six motorhomes and traveled to every U.S. state except Alaska. “Well, of course you can’t take the motorhome to Hawaii, but I have been there, too.”
In 1964 Genny and Howard bought their second motorhome — a Flxible bus — from Hotard Coaches Inc., a charter bus company in Reserve, La.
“When we got the Flxible, Dad actually bought a wrecked Airstream trailer and salvaged some things — mostly cupboards and a couple of appliances — out of that and put them in the Flxible,” Ralph said. “And we did put a bathroom in that one.”
The Flxible may have been better equipped, but Ralph will always have a soft spot for the green Ford bus.
“Those were actually pretty fun times, particularly for me, when we had everybody in the green bus. I helped my dad convert the Flxible, which kind of gave me an affinity for that particular bus, but the green bus was the one we did so much traveling in, when I was young.”
About three years after converting the bus, the Jennings began towing a small trailer to make conditions in the bus less crowded. “It gave our folks a little privacy,” Ralph said. "And it was fun for the nine of us in the bus with not nearly as much supervision.”
Three more motorhomes
Eventually, they sold the Newell to FMCA members Roy and Shirley Leschinskey of California, and bought a Landau. After Howard died in 1988, Genny sold the Landau and downsized to a 29-foot Winnebago Sunrise.
The Winnebago Sunrise proved too small for Genny and her second husband, Bill Luckey, so they bought a 38-foot Foretravel Unihome, which she owns today.
Bill passed away in March 2006 after 12 years of marriage to Genny.
Today, this grandmother to 29 (including Bill’s four grandkids), and great-grandmother to 15 (three of which are Bill’s grandkids), doesn’t drive her motorhome often anymore. “Bill wouldn’t let me drive very much, so I’m getting a little bit chicken about driving the coach. But women can drive them just as well as men can. Like I tell all the other ladies, the rear end will go wherever the front goes, wherever you drive it.”
She’s put the Foretravel up for sale but hasn’t ruled out the possibility of purchasing a smaller motorhome. “I think motorhoming is the best thing in the world for anybody, to be able to travel and see everything that’s good in America. There is so much beauty here.”
She flies to Europe on occasion to visit her daughter who lives in Sweden, and intends to continue to attend FMCA conventions and see the “beautiful things here in America.”
Of course, she has her mind set on attending FMCA’s convention in St. Paul, Minn., in 2008.
It might be time to start on another vest.
At conventions, Genny’s green vest is an eye-catcher. It’s inundated with patches, pendants, souvenir pins and buttons that contain pithy lines like “Smile when you yell at me!” and “FMCA members R #1.” Other attachments salute her FMCA chapters, her home state of Michigan and states she’s visited.
“I’m kind of a button collector. I have lots of buttons I’ve picked up from different places I’ve gone. People have traded for this one or that one. It’s interesting to do.”
Three columns of convention hash marks are sewn onto the back of the vest. They’re embroidered with the city, state and year of each convention she has attended.
Genny first donned the vest in July 1976 at FMCA’s 13th annual summer convention in Centreville, Mich., which was co hosted by her Michigan Knights of the Highway chapter. “I wear it at least the first day of the convention, to show everybody that, hey, I’ve been here before.”
Has she ever.
From 1964 to 1975, FMCA held one convention in July or June each year. Those were no problem for the Genny and Howard Jennings family to attend.
But in 1976 the association began hosting an “annual winter” convention, as well, usually in March.
“In our community my husband was on the school board and you just didn’t take your kids out of school,” Genny said. “Nowadays, people do … but we would never take the children out of school for that.”
As the children grew up, got married, and school no longer was an obstacle, Genny and Howard became fixtures at nearly every FMCA convention, as dependable as the coach displays and evening entertainment.
It’s hard for Genny to single out one convention as her definite favorite, but the Sixth Annual Summer Convention at the Traverse City Civic Center in July 1969 stands out.
“I guess the one I think most of is the one we had in Michigan in Traverse City. It was real important because back then we [FMCA] were small. We had 555 coaches there and that was really quite a mark at that time.”
As FMCA conventions progressed to a much grander scale, Genny’s enthusiasm for the events never waned.
“I still like just about everything about them. I do enjoy seeing all the displays and go to as many seminars as I can. I still go to the [Governing] board meetings. I enjoy listening and hearing what they’re doing. Since I’m a past national officer, I feel kind of interested to know what’s going on, too.”
The most recent convention she attended was in Redmond, Oregon, in August 2007. She rode to Redmond with her friends the Casadas in their Newmar Dutch Star. “Other times I have followed them in my coach,” she said.
Regardless of how she gets there, FMCA always will be honored by her presence.
Everyone knows that no matter the time of year, the atmosphere will never be gloomy as long as Genny Jennings Luckey is around.