Branson 2019 Reunion – A Recap

Conservermen and their guests converged on the Radisson Hotel in Branson, MO to celebrate Conserver’s seventh annual reunion, held April 24 to 28, 2019. A total of 78 attended — 41 crew members and 37 guests. If you didn’t attend, I can safely say that you missed a good one! You might want to start plans to attend our 2020 reunion in Napa!

Once again, our hats off and a hearty BZ to our reunion committee: Kevin and Renee Weaver, Dale and Thayes Hower, Romondo Davis and Keith “Doc” Hansen, Jeff Beer (photographer), and those who worked behind the scenes to make this reunion a resounding success!

The Crew!

Folks started arriving in Branson as early as April 19th. Those of us who got in early met for dinner at Landry’s Seafood House on the evening of April 23. Thirty-eight crew members and their guests enjoyed a great meal and an evening of fellowship and renewing old friendships.

Lunch on Showboat Branson Belle

The Branson Belle Underway

Our first “scheduled” event on April 24th was a lunch and show cruise on the Showboat Branson Belle. Themed after the majestic showboats of the 1800s, the Showboat Branson Belle takes guests on a two-hour cruise across the waters of Table Rock Lake. Launched in 1994, she is 278 feet long with a beam of 78 feet and can accommodate 700 passengers.

Main salon and dining room
The showboat “crew”

Branson set some records: 15 first time attendees and a total attendance of 78 (41 crew members and 37 guests), which matched our Charleston reunion. Fund raising highs were posted in both the 50/50 raffle and the silent auction. Other gratifying highlights were the number of new attendees, six of whom were from the recommissioning crew, and the joy of seeing Shehanna Adams learn more about her father, the late LT Ned Culhane. Ned served on Conserver, and Shehanna was able to meet crew members he served with.

We enjoyed a daily breakfast buffet, compliments of our host hotel, The Radisson. From there, most of us gathered in our hospitality room, which gave us the opportunity to rekindle old friendships and create new ones. The hospitality room also contained the silent auction items, which were on display and open for bids. Bids were closed after the banquet. Our past reunions have established a “tradition” of being kind of free wheeling. Other than established meeting room hours, a business meeting, and our banquet, attendees and guests were free to tailor their time to enjoying both the reunion and the entertainment offered by Branson. This has worked out well for each of our previous reunions and Branson was certainly no exception. 

Business meeting

Prior to the finale (our banquet), the group’s business meeting, conducted by Kevin Weaver, was held in the hospitality room. The main purpose of this meeting was to reach a consensus on where our next two reunions would be held. We all agreed that Napa, California would be the location of our 2020 reunion and, after some discussion, Norfolk, Virginia was tentatively scheduled for 2021. Napa was chosen because that is where Conserver was “born”, and the attendees will dedicate a park bench in Shipyard Acres Park. The park lies across the Napa river where the shipyard was. Unfortunately, it was razed about a year ago. 

Memorializing passed members of the Conserver family

Before adjourning the business meeting, we memorialized the memory of Ron Gitschier, whose first ship was Conserver (1983 – 1986). Ron’s wife Sandi, daughter Linda, and Grandson Jasper attended. Ron’s CO, John Ackerman, and his Leading PO, Lee Samuelson, presented a cased ensign engraved in honor of Ron’s service on Conserver and his career in the U.S. Navy. RIP Ron, you left us too soon and will be missed by all. 

Sandy, Jasper, and Linda

A memorial table was set up in the hospitality room to recognize those members of the Conserver family who have passed on. A photograph of each deceased person was placed on the table, accompanied by a sympathy card attendees were welcome to sign. In addition to Ron Gitschier, we recognized the following Conserver family members:

  • Mrs. Mary Anne Weegar, wife of former Commanding Officer, Carl Weegar
  • Sue Sykes, wife of Roy Sykes MM3(DV) 73-75
  • Brett Parker, who served on Conserver as a QM2(SW) 90-93
  • Look for a memorial table at future reunions.

The Banquet

Our “grand finale” has traditionally been an awards banquet, at which a meal is served followed by various members of our family being recognized. After the awards, we open the dais to any crew member who would like to tell a “sea story” or two. This year, we opened it up to guests, specifically wives and sweethearts, in order to add a new point-of-view to the stories from the guys. Storytellers were limited to three minutes and, surprisingly, no one exceeded his or her time on the microphone!

Shipmates Dale Cloutier and Jake Donaldson

Our master of ceremony, Romondo Davis, opened the festivities with a recording of ex Florida State Senator Richard “Dick” Renick. Dick is, as far as we know, the oldest living crew member (86) who has attended Conserver reunions. The good Senator served on Conserver in 1947 – 1949. Health problems prevented his coming to Branson, so he told his story to Romondo, who recorded it for all who hadn’t heard how Seaman Apprentice Renick reported to the good ship USS Conserver.

John Ackerman led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance, which was followed by Thayes Hower, who spoke about being a Navy wife. She presented a prayer shawl to Terry Ackerman in recognition of her long and successful battle with cancer and her contribution to Conserver as its CO’s wife, and the contributions of all Navy wives. Terry then said grace and our meal was served buffet style. 

Romondo Davis and Dale Hower remembered and memorialized those passed Conserver family members: Mary Anne Weegar, Sue Sykes (wife of Roy Sykes), and Brett Parker. 

Dale Hower presented recognition awards to the following Conservermen:

Perfect Attendance

  • Lee Samuelson

Attendance at five reunions

  • Dale Cloutier
  • Bob Carmichael
  • Jeff Washburn

First reunion attendance

  • Jeff Beer
  • Dan Davidson – Recomm crew
  • Tim Burkhart – Recomm crew
  • Ben Lokey – Recomm crew
  • Mike Filkins – Recomm crew
  • Kelly Kilgore – Recomm crew
  • Anthony “Jake” Donaldson – Recomm crew
  • Larry Hecht
  • Vince Carlton
  • Ed Jones
  • Donald Jackson
  • Clarence LeGrand
  • Arnold Kitchen
  • Martin Wolfe
  • Jess Ashlock – A “walk-in” who happened to be in Branson.

Oldest and youngest attending the reunion

  • John Ackerman (81)
  • Kelly Kilgore

 Traveled farthest to the reunion

  • Craig Johnson – from Custer, WA

Served earliest

  • Buzz Costa (57–58)

Served latest

  • Jeff Washburn (89-91)

Romondo reviewed the storytelling “rules” and opened the reunion to any and all who wanted to tell a Conserver Tale! Needless to say, a good time was had by all; the tellers and the believers! We won’t relate to you any of the great stories we heard, but they will undoubtedly be re-told in Napa. Come and contribute one!

A “no shit” story for sure!

With that, we adjourned to the hospitality room to find out who the silent auction high bidders were. The auction contributed $1,332 to the reunion fund. By the way, we had a 50-50 raffle which brought $780. The lucky winner was Anne Marie Cloutier who took home $390. The same amount was placed in the reunion fund. 

See you all in NAPA in 2020! Stay tuned for more information.

About John Ackerman

Enlisted 9/55, came up through the ranks from the QM rate; SA - QMCS(SS), WO1, CW02, LTJG - LCDR. Served in submarines for 14 years, qualified as a Diving Officer (HE02) in 70. Then on to ASRs, ASs, and finally the best damned ship in the Navy, USS CONSERVER, which I proudly commanded from 84 to her first decomm in September 86. Retired on 1 Jan 87.

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