BAY AREA TRAVEL WRITERS HISTORY – 1982-2000
by Patricia M. Lee, BATW Founder (and president for 18 years)
When BATW’s then-President Ginny Prior asked me in 2013 to write about the BATW history, I had no idea where to begin; I had not kept any memorabilia, so dates and times were barely remembered. Marian Sanders, fortunately, had saved all of the newsletters and mailed an overwhelmingly large package to me. Then Monica Conrady, Jim Gebbie, Bethanne Lee, my daughter, and Kara Esborg, a literary friend, volunteered to help. Eighteen years of our history is quite a project. It was great fun, though, and very impressive to realize how much our organization has accomplished. With the contributions of willing members, the following is a personal attempt to put into words the Bay Area Travel Writers’ growth spanning the years from 1982 to 2000.
Following Our Passion
The Bay Area Travel Writers, as I knew it, evolved during a one-day travel writing class held on Sep. 15, 1984, at San Francisco State University. The class instructor, Gordon Burgett, an avid traveler, inspired students with enthusiasm and expertise to learn writing techniques and marketing strategies. I traveled extensively to foreign countries during my teaching career and often wrote personal stories about my trips. Early retirement in 1982 gave me more time to continue my passion for travel and writing.
So it seemed prophetic that I would enroll in this class and also sign up to meet members informally at their homes to read and critique individual articles. The one-day class was over too soon, but I went to my first informal meeting in a member’s home, where a small group welcomed me with happy tales of travel. We met once a month at different homes and gradually, by word-of-mouth only, our group grew. Then we needed a person to conduct the meetings and a treasurer to collect dues. Everything was done by volunteers. When the chairperson moved to Oregon, I agreed to do the job for a short time, never dreaming I would spend years in the position. When we outgrew the home meetings, Monica Conrady arranged for us to meet monthly at Fort Mason International Youth Hostel in San Francisco.
Every now and then during our meetings someone would ask, “Who is the founder of our organization?” The question and answer slipped away and were forgotten until I started my research in writing this history. I called Chris Baker on his cell phone for information, not expecting him to answer as he is always traveling and could be in Cuba. Amazingly, he answered on the first ring. He clarified that the group evolved from a travel writing class taught by Louise Purwin Zobel held in San Francisco circa 1982. He said, “Elaine O’Gara and I attended; we and about eight other persons signed an impromptu list of people interested in forming a mentoring group for readings.” After all this time, the mystery is solved: Elaine O’Gara is the founder. Even though she was a member for many years, she never mentioned the travel writing class or the first meeting. She was very active in all segments of the group and started her own newsletter, Romantic Traveling, and a Travel Market Letter. When Elaine left San Francisco, Carolyn Koenig accepted the role of editor of the newsletter and did an excellent job. Elaine and her husband eventually settled in Topeka, Kansas.
The meetings at the Hostel were exciting; endless conversations and ideas flowed freely. In the beginning we decided to name our association the Bay Area Travel Writers, and the name continues. In 1986 I wrote the first newsletter with a sketch in the upper left-hand corner of the Golden Gate Bridge designed by Diane Brady. Camille Bounds and Kay Grant printed and mailed it once a month to members.
Because adventure seems to call our members, it was around 1986 that my husband, Chuck, and I decided to look up my Irish roots. It was before email and the technology of today. With only one prayer card and a name, Egan, to direct us, we flew to Shannon, Ireland, where our adventure began. Picture a hotel, a young, tall couple meeting us, taking us to dinner, then to the bar where conversation continued until 2 a.m. … Then the story began.
Around that time, Marian Sanders (the adventurous spirit that she was) decided to travel to Morocco by herself. She challenged her ability and called it Travel & Tribulation – about a woman traveling alone. It proved to be a great experience providing much material for published articles.
In 1987 photographers Bonnie Kamin and Suzie Katz joined; Monica Conrady and Rebecca Bruns became members, also. Monica agreed to be the program chairperson, and Rebecca Bruns brought to light a discussion about upgrading a previous year’s Mexican travel book. Rebecca challenged our thinking about travel writing, sharing her ideas and stories with everyone. They added another dimension to our group.
Finally, at a meeting in 1988, we had a lively discussion about having our own directory. It was then that Donna Peck strolled into the meeting room, listened to the conversation, and announced, “I’ll do it.” She had members fill out questionnaires containing contact information, outlets and travel specialties that she typed into a document, and then used desktop publishing to create the layout.
In 1989 Alexandra Gautraud arranged for our group to hold our meeting at the Richmond Public Library. The main discussion revolved on the question of size. Do we want to limit the organization’s size or accept its growth? It was a clear vote for growth.
Individuals made presentations at meetings and spoke about various travel and writing interests. Bruce Whipperman, author of books on Japan, gave an engrossing slide presentation on “The Silk Road.” His trek through China and Pakistan was full of historical, cultural material sprinkled with personal stories. Gordon Burgett, Georgia Hesse and Don George presented their special writing and travel experiences also. In Don George’s talk he quoted a memorable line from The Atlantic Monthly, “The nineties are going to be the rock and roll of the travel industry.”
In the ’90s we rocked and rolled right into that era by renewing our membership guidelines. Our membership consisted of three categories; Active, published members; Associates who worked in the travel industry; and Provisional members who aspired to become published journalists. Michael Leone, our first Associate, brought delicious buffet food for us to savor while he delighted in talking about his travel clients. One of those he represented was The Rocky Mountaineer Train in British Columbia, Canada. Some of us had a great trip there and wrote about it for various publications. Another associate, Catherine Boire, planned one meeting in Calistoga where we pursued the surrounding area. We wrote and published many different perspectives of the trip. These are just two examples of what went on in those days. Other associates were Helen Chang, Sharon Rooney, Babs Harrison and Dawn Stranne. Barbara McVeigh and Elyssa Bernard, students from San Francisco State University, moved up quickly from the provisional category to editing and publishing our newsletter. Mentor Sheila O’Connor helped when needed.
In 1990 our first BATW directory by Donna Peck was published. Because she had access to expensive desktop publishing, software and laser printers, she was able to produce printer-ready pages. It began as a red, slim, spiral-bound booklet. Listed on the front page were the Board members: Patricia Lee, Chairperson; Alexandra Gautraud, Secretary; and William Soule, Treasurer.
Straight from the printer Donna brought the directories to the holiday party in North Beach, planned by John Moreno, at the New Pisa Restaurant. She recalled, “Like kids on Christmas morning, the members descended on the box, rifling through the pages to find their entries. They were pleased to see their scribbled information transformed into an attractive, easy-to-read layout. The directory transformed how we viewed ourselves. The Bay Area Travel Writers became well known. Within a decade the directory grew to 144 pages, with 11 Board members on the title page and entries for 101 Active members and 32 Associates.
Donna set two precedents: to publish an annual directory and to utilize the latest technology. She continued to publish the directory for 10 years, and then turned it over to others. Donna exemplified the caliber of BATW members.
Monica remembered, “In the ’90s we were suddenly overwhelmed with offers to host us. Kris Carber contacted Helen Chang at the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, who alerted them to our group. The result was offers from hotels, restaurants and other visitors’ bureaus eager to host individual meetings. Some of the places were The Mark Hopkins Hotel, the Cliff House, John’s Grill in downtown San Francisco, Casa Madrona in Sausalito and the St. Supery Winery in Rutherford; we were all over the place.”
In 1992 the bylaws were an important part of our association. Fortunately, Fred Gebhart, Secretary at the time, handled the incorporation as a not-for-profit organization. He created the documents for the Board to approve, drafted revisions, filed state and federal taxes, and handled any other issues. We met one evening to discuss the documents and any revisions required. It was a tremendous amount of work; Fred did almost everything. Directors adopting the bylaws were: Lee Daley, Elaine O’Gara, Fred Gebhart, Cori Kenicer, Dennis Cavagnaro and Patricia Lee.
We voted yearly for Board members who met once a month on Thursdays at my home. It was never quite clear if I was Chairperson or President. We probably merged the two and I held both positions. New press passes and business cards, based on Diane Brady’s sketch of the Golden Gate Bridge, were upgraded to a postmark logo by Lance Lougee and distributed by Ellen Sarbone. We had a master book, started by Virginia Ferrero, containing clips of articles and photos written and published by members about their travels, including copies of thank you letters to our hosts.
Monica Conrady and Tom Graves suggested a hotline for members to call. Monica continued to be the program chair plus the contact person for the hotline; she managed everything, including choosing speakers for programs, venues for many events and anything else that might occur. She handled the job for over 10 years and still had time to book our meetings at the Maritime Museum for several years until I was able to get The City of San Francisco Museum at Ghirardelli Square. Besides his photography work, Tom Graves provided a new PO Box address and checked the mail regularly. Lee Foster gave special Internet programs; we hoped to eventually access our business on the computer. It was another chapter in our growth.
While all of this was happening, members continued to follow their passion for travel and adventure. Monica and I remember a press trip we took that included the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. In St. Kitts we stayed at the Golden Lemon, a 17th-century manor house, which resulted in a story for Romantic Traveling newsletter. Innkeepers in Nevis had wonderful old plantations they were eager to show us. From early morning to late afternoon they escorted us all over the island. We were tired and weary. Monica will never forget my words when we arrived at our final destination: “I decline to get out of the car.” As she said, “I was completely inn’d out.”
Another adventurer, Karen Misuraca, arranged a media expedition that included Lee Daley, Marshall Krantz, Ginger Dingus, Ellen Sarbone, Jenny Rosenbaum, Chris Baker and some others. They arrived in Costa Rica, sailed on a small ship, the Temptress, and cruised along the Caribbean coast. They saw rainforest parks, viewed giant tortoises, manta rays, trees full of toucans, and danced on the deck under the stars. It was an exciting time. She noted, “On one dark and rainy night, though, they found themselves lost at sea aboard a precarious zodiac…” Imagine the rest of the story.
During the ’90s we established the Rebecca Bruns award in her memory. Carol Canter wrote, “With the May 13, 1994, passing of Rebecca Bruns, the publishing world lost one of its finest ‘tropical travel writers,’ an effervescent spirit whose passion for life illuminated her entire literary output.” She was a star in our midst and the epitome of our professional guidelines. We aim for the highest standards in facts and unbiased evaluation in travel journalism.
In 1997, with the expertise of several members, we had our first marketing panel, followed by a photography panel the next month. This time it was presented by Suzie Katz, travel/location; David Sanger, helpful tips; and Louisa Preston, underwater photos. It was held at the Rex Hotel and emphasized the sense of the moment within the location. With these panels we continued to upgrade our knowledge.
In January 1997, my words written in the newsletter expressed how much we had accomplished in the last 10 years. We can boast a directory; we are incorporated with bylaws; have a Board of Directors; and maintain a treasury scrupulously balanced monthly. We have benefited from the expertise of our members in many ways.
In 1998 several members were recognized for exceptional achievements. Cori (Kenicer) Brett, a member of the press corps, attended the King of Morocco’s golf tournament held annually at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in Rabat, Morocco. She played in the media golf tournament, which included fellow journalists from the United States and Europe – mostly men. Cori said, “Thanks to an amazing round and a complex scoring format I still don’t understand, I managed to win the tournament. My prize was a large silver tapine, a beautifully designed serving piece used for traditional Moroccan dishes and engraved for the event. My win presented a problem for the Moroccans. Traditionally, the winner of the media tournament is invited back to play in the King’s tournament the next year, but the participants are all men. So they broke with tradition and invited me (the winner) back to play in the Princess’s tournament the next year. I did return and it was great.”
Maxine Cass and Fred Gebhart received PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association)’s first gold award for a travel guidebook, titled On the Road around the Pacific Northwest. They accepted the award at the 47th PATA Annual Conference in Manila. These are only a couple of examples of the accomplishments of our members. Many other members received accolades in publishing, teaching and other venues.
In 1999 we were still “rocking and rolling,” traveling all over the world. We had spread the word near and far in writing and photography. Mark Miglio started working on the beginning of a website. Donna Peck added her expertise. At the end of the year I handed the gavel over to the lovely and very capable Lee Daley as chairperson. I want to thank everyone who made those times so wonderful. Years go by and memories may remain, but details sometimes slip through. As I said, 18 years of our history was quite a project and I want to thank Monica Conrady, Jim Gebbie, Bethanne Lee, Kara Esborg and many others in helping me begin this history and follow our passion. As Chris Baker said, “We started as a small group of hopeful writers and became true professionals.”
Notes: I was very lucky to be associated with members who enjoyed the same devotion for travel writing as I did and worked together toward a common goal. As time went on, the history became fascinating and was an emotional tour of memories. Whenever possible I tried to include names of members and the year an event took place. I want to thank my husband, Chuck, who was a willing participant in my adventures and passion. Also I want to thank Ginny Prior and Carolyn Koenig for their patience and help.
Our 1999 Board of Directors & Others:
Patricia M. Lee, Chairperson
Lee Daley, Vice Chairperson
Fred Gebhart, Secretary
Carole Terwilliger Meyers, Treasurer
Monica Conrady, Programs
Ellen Sarbone, Programs
Dennis Cavagnaro, Membership-also Santa Claus
Bruce Whipperman, Membership