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pigeon History, Democracy and Progress of the NBRC
By: Touhoua (Tou) Yang

Published in NBRC Bulletin Nov/Dec 2013

I would like to address the history of the NBRC along with its growth in the democratic process, membership, and overall progress. There are some within the roller fancy that believe the NBRC is less democratic today than it was 10, 20, and even 30 years ago, the belief that the NBRC is nothing more than a good ole boys club and that it is in dire need of change. I do agree, the NBRC can continue to improve, to better serve its members as I believe progress is never ending. With that said, we must also appreciate and applaud the efforts of the NBRC to become a democratic club; one that has continually grown and allowed its member more voice and power than ever before.

The NBRC was created as a vision by a group of friends who wanted a Birmingham roller club that was dedicated to preserving and improving upon the Birmingham roller as a flying breed and a club that would not limit what type of roller or pigeon a man could keep in his own backyard. Men like J.L. Smith, Bill Pensom, and C.E. “Bus” Lutes took the helm when the NBRC was formed in 1961 along with friends such as Ralph Hilton, Russ Harter, Howard McCully, Stan Plona, John Spuria, Hans Roettenbacher among others served as the board of directors for the club. Like any hobby and/or club in its fancy, it was made up of friends who chose one another without a true voting process. Much like history has shown, democracy almost always starts with a small movement where a select group of men choose to rise up and create something they are passionate about. They were just men who, at the time, believed in one another and believed that together, they had what it took to take this new club to heights unseen in the roller hobby and to keep the flying aspect alive. The process of democracy was non-existent in the NBRC at this time because these men held all the power. Checks and balances did not exist and members did not have a say in the terms of direction of the club, leadership of the club, nor the creation of by-laws.

The club prospered despite of this until the death of Bill Pensom in 1968. Shortly after, in the early 1970s, the NBRC was met with turmoil as the secretary-treasurer left the club along with its funds. This left, then president, Dr. Gail Peterson in a bind and the NBRC slowly dwindled down until it had all but folded. In the wake of the NBRC’s decline and imminent demise, there was another club that had been rising up to assume the helm as the largest club in the US and the world, the IRA. The IRA held strong throughout the most of the 1970s and early 1980s in the absence of the NBRC. (Hardesty 1998)

It was not until the early 1980s did we see the NBRC slowly rise from the ashes. Again, the vision to rebuild this club fell on the backs of a few men; Charlie Albaugh, George Valiska, and Carl Hardesty in particular. Albaugh wanted to see the NBRC be a prominent club again and with $900 of his own money, fronted the NBRC back into action, money which he never asked to be compensated nor did he ever receive back (Hardesty 1998). The money was given to Valiska to get the club up and running again. Valiska would serve as the secretary-treasurer as well as the bulletin-editor during his time with the NBRC. Valiska, a school teacher, used his resources to print all of the bulletins at the school he worked. Valiska called and talked with Hardesty and together, they worked hand in hand throughout the early to late 1980s to get a membership that numbered 36 up to over 1000 members. One of the key reasons for this growth was Hardesty’s position as the publicity director for the NBRC and he promoted the club in his writings for the American Pigeon Journal, the APJ, in the 1980s (Hardesty 1998).

Hardesty led the charge of re-writing many of the NBRC by-laws single-handedly. Much like the NBRC during the 1960s, democracy was neither viable nor considered as Hardesty believed he knew what he needed to do to get the club up and running. Hardesty would prove that he was more than capable of running the show with Valiska. One of the key changes was that the NBRC would be a fly only club and Hardesty also made changes to the by-laws regarding the leadership of the club. One of those key changes was that the President would not be elected, rather the board of directors (regional directors) would “vote” for the Vice-President knowing that the Vice-President would eventually serve as President of the club (Hardesty 1998). The word vote was put in quotation marks because a true voting process was still absent in the NBRC as those at the helm, Hardesty and Valiska, still made most of the decisions themselves. A voting committee to oversee the ballots and votes did not exist like it does today. Speaking of voting and committees, it must be noted that during the 1987 convention in Louisville, which was where the NBRC held their conventions annually until 1989-1990, Hardesty also made a ground breaking decision that changed the club for the better.

That year, Hardesty had created the Hall of Fame award which he felt was sorely needed. Hardesty saw that throughout the pigeon hobby, regardless of breed, awards were given to recognize the top flyers and top breeders, yet an award for those who made the dedication and sacrifices necessary to keep the hobby and clubs alive did not exist (Hardesty 1998). Hardesty, on his own accord, decided to create the Hall of Fame award which he gave to George Valiska for his tireless contributions in getting the NBRC up and running again along with Charlie Albaugh who had fronted the money to give the club its much needed legs. The award was a large silver platter presented in front of those who attended the convention and it was a surprise to most in attendance. Although a voting body did not exist, Hardesty should be commended for his foresight to create an award for those who tirelessly give up their time and contribute to keep this great hobby alive.

The 1990s proved to be a decade of immense growth especially in the realm of flying competition but also a decade of turmoil which led to the most progress the NBRC has seen to date. The 1990s showcased why the club direly needed the democratic process. During its short history in the US, the NBRC had been a national, non-profit club run by a few men who did not have to answer to anyone. A key example of this was during Jim Schneider’s term as president of the NBRC.

Jim Schneider was appointed, voted, and approved as Vice President of the club in 1987 and he served in that capacity until 1990. In 1990, Jim Schneider became president per NBRC by-laws that state the Vice President would automatically become the President. Hardesty went on to serve as the Director-at-Large while Valiska continued to serve as the secretary-treasurer and bulletin editor.

Less than one year into Schneider’s term as president, Schneider realized that while he was president of the club, he had virtually no power; Valiska held the money and he was the man who still made the majority of the decisions. Schneider had continued a previous project started by former President, Carl Hardesty, where they would create a hard cover book that would be a collection of articles from NBRC bulletins of the past but everything had to go through Valiska and without Valiska’s approval, even with the board of directors’ (regional directors) approval, it did not pass. Realizing that he was nothing more than a figure head, as well as the fact that the NBRC’s finances were not transparent nor was Valiska willing to share detailed reports of the club’s finances, Schneider resigned as president of the NBRC in 1991. This showed Schneider and those in the know at the time that the NBRC was still lagging far behind in terms of the democratic process and balance within.

Upon Schneider’s resignation, Vice President Tony Dasaro became President of the NBRC and Director-At-Large, Carl Hardesty decided it was time to appoint a new Vice-President. This may have been a great time to have the board of directors (regional directors) or even the membership select a Vice President of the club but it did not happen. Carl Hardesty had two men in mind to serve as Vice President; Joe Marlett of Indiana and Carl Higgins of California. Hardesty felt a presence like Higgins would help the club especially since Higgins was from the West Coast so Hardesty appointed Jerry Higgins to be the Vice-President of the NBRC at the tail end of 1991 (Hardesty 1998). Another great decision by Hardesty as that gave balance to the club; President Dasaro was from the Eastern part of the US and Vice President Higgins was from California.

As aforementioned, the 1990s was a decade of success but also a lot of turmoil within. Not too long after the Schneider/Valiska debacle, the NBRC would see another dispute between the President of the club and the Secretary-treasurer of the club; this time, the two men were James Turner and James (Jim) Perri.

James Turner was appointed, “voted”, and approved to serve as Vice President under Jerry Higgins, who had become the President of the club after President Dasaro’s term ended. After Higgin’s term as President expired, it was Turner’s turn to serve as the club president. In Turner’s first address to the membership, Turner talked about bringing harmony and unity to the club as well as “making sure the membership’s voices are heard” (Marlett 1996). Little did Turner know, that would be the cause for another debacle between the President and Secretary-treasurer of the club.

Jim Perri had taken over the position of Secretary-treasurer and bulletin editor after Valiska decided he had given back enough to the club and it was time for him to move on. Perri served as the Secretary-treasurer while his wife, Kathleen Perri, served as the bulletin editor. One of the first things that Turner did as President was ask the Perri’s for a detailed account of the club treasury. As Turner stated, he was the President of a non-profit organization with a membership of over 1,600 members and he wanted everyone to know what the finances of the club were, where it came from, where it went, and how it was used. Like the secretary-treasurers before him, Perri would not give up that information and Turner would not sit idly by. Unlike Schneider though and due to the change in the structure of the club and membership, Turner chose to meet the issue head on and with that, Perri did the only thing he could do in order to retain all the power; inform the President of the NBRC that he was being relieved of his services.

So in 1996, less seven months into his term, Turner received a letter signed by Perri stating that, and I quote:

Dear James,

This letter is to inform you that your services as President of the National Birmingham Roller Club will not be required after July 15th, 1996. If you have any questions, please contact myself, Jerry Higgins (Director-At-Large), or Art Hopkins (Vice-President). Thank you for your past services in behalf of the National Birmingham Roller Club.

James A. Perri
” (Perri 1996)

Upon receiving the letter, President Turner decided it was time to correct the wrongs of the NBRC and truly make the club transparent. He wanted to include the membership in the decision making process as he had set out to do less than a year ago in his first address to the membership. Turner made copies of the letter sent to him by Perri and sent those copies to all the regional directors as well as numerous club members on his own dime. Turner knew that once the regional directors and membership knew what was going on, he would have their support and, that, he did. Many members sent a copy of the letter Turner sent to them to the NBRC bulletin-editor for publication so all of the members could see what was happening but Mrs. Perri refused to print these letters. Members did not stop there; many also sent copies of the letter from Perri to Turner to the PFRC (Piedmont Flying Roller Club) as well as the Roller Journal where it was printed for all to see.

This was arguably the lowest point in NBRC history especially when one considers the democratic process that the club lacked and its structure of power; a lower level officer, the secretary-treasurer, was relieving the President of the club of his position and duties. Turner, though, stood up for himself and the club and took action. At the time, the NBRC was arguably the only organization in the world where a person who was supposed to report to the chief executive officer had the power to fire the chief executive officer. It would be akin to the Secretary of Treasurer of the United States firing and relieving the President of his duties. This was the state and politics of the club throughout its history to that point.

During this time, many club members saw what the NBRC really was at the time; a club ran by one man and his friends. Numerous members in 1996 supported President Turner and they were taken off the NBRC’s mailing list and ceased to receive their bulletins. Those who were regional directors and supported Turner were also relieved of their positions and their names were taken off the bulletin as regional directors and the secretary-treasurer selected and appointed his own regional directors to replace those he “fired” (Gehrke 1996). All one has to do is take a look at the May-June 1996 bulletin through the November-December 1996 bulletins to see the change in regional directors which was all done at the discretion of the secretary-treasurer without the obvious approval of the President or Vice President. Even Hall of Fame members and Lifetime members were removed from the club during this period and did not receive their bulletins (Marlett 1996). Still, President Turner had the backing of the membership and before the issue could be resolved, Perri passed away due to a heart attack.

Turner continued his work as President but realized that upon Perri’s death, the treasury had disappeared once more. Kathleen Perri chose to have no part of the NBRC and resigned as the bulletin-editor and the NBRC had to scramble to find someone to print the bulletins. The NBRC turned to Guil Rand and Dave Gehrke for help. Gehrke, who printed his own publication the Roller Journal, stepped up and printed two editions of the NBRC bulletin before Bob Simpson and Bob Berggren were appointed to fill the vacancies left by the Perri’s. During his last year as President, Turner worked hard to bring the members back together, to change by-laws to create a more democratic process where the membership would have a voice (Marlett 1998). Turner’s first big change to the by-laws was to allow the membership to vote for their own regional directors instead of having them appointed (Marlett 1998). This by-law was passed and has been in effect ever since.

Turner also felt changed was needed in terms of the removal of a person in office and what the protocols should be as he did not want what happened to him to happen again. The same thing happened to Jim Schneider before him so Turner took steps as President to prevent one person having the power to “remove” any other officer from the club (Marlett 1998). The treasury report was also of concern to Turner so he took to the by-laws to make sure the ensuing treasurers would have to file detailed reports of the club’s treasury to the membership.

Turner’s last change to the by-laws in hopes of a more democratic club was to amend old by-laws to allow the general membership to vote on all offices of the club, including the office of President. The only automatic office would be the Director-at-Large which would help the transition of the person elected into the office of President (Marlett 1998). To this day, this is still the case.

Due to the changes made by Turner, in 1998, Joe Marlett was in charge of the first actual NBRC election where the membership was allowed and able to vote for the seats of President and Vice-President. Harold Ryan of Iowa served as the ballot counter and when all was said and done, Don Ouellette of California and J.V. Broek of California were elected as President and Vice-President of the NBRC respectively; Ouellette and Broek go down in NBRC history as the first men elected by the membership as President and Vice-President.

Speaking of changes to the by-laws to create a more democratic process, the 1990s also saw a change to the Hall of Fame voting process. During the early 1990s, the by-laws were changed and the Hall of Fame inductees were to be voted on by the existing members of the Hall of Fame instead of chosen arbitrarily by Valiska and Hardesty as they had done the previous years. It was also during this time that by-laws were changed so the role of the Vice President included tallying up the votes for Hall of Fame candidates. Karma has its way of working even within pigeon politics. It was Turner who fought for democratic change within the NBRC which lead to JV Broek being voted in as the Vice President by the membership; Oddly enough, it was in 1999 while JV Broek was serving as Vice President of the club, that Turner was elected by his peers to be inducted into the Hall of fame.

In regard to the Hall of Fame award, Joe Marlett continued the vision started by Carl Hardesty except he put everything in writing for the general public to see. As Marlett and Hardesty before him emphasized, our hobby is built on the backbone of volunteers who put forth their heart and soul into this hobby and thus, they should be recognized. The Hall of Fame award was not meant to be an award to represent the best flyers for there is an award for that; the championship trophy/plaque as well as the Master Flyer Award which was instituted in the late 90s (Marlett 1998, 2). A great flyer who wins a competition is always recognized by the organization/club he flew under as well as recognition by his fellow competitors. Hardesty and Marlett knew that the roller hobby’s life source was more than just that; it was the men who helped put on the competitions, the organizers, the judges, the volunteers, the regional directors, the writers of articles etc who kept the clubs and flys together and they should be the ones honored with the Hall of fame award. The Hall of Fame award was, and still is, for a fancier’s overall contributions to the hobby and flying is just one aspect of it. Marlett started looking over the by-laws of the Hall of Fame process and noticed it was sorely lacking, especially when it came to “qualifications” for potential candidates. It was during 1997-1998 after talks with President Turner that Marlett began to work on a guideline which was to be sent out to the general membership explaining what the Hall of Fame Award was and who would be a viable candidate for the Hall of Fame. After a few drafts, it was approved by the regional directors and it was first published in the July-Aug 1998 bulletin and is still used as the standard barrier for which all potential candidates are measured to. In was also during this time, the early to mid 1990s, that the Hall of Fame nomination was open to all members in good standing with the NBRC; prior to that, officers were usually the ones who nominated potential Hall of Fame candidates.

The 2000s saw the club enjoy prosperity and peace and we have continued to see the democratic process at work. It must be noted that much of the stability the club saw from 1997 until present day was largely in part due to the tireless work and dedication of Secretary-treasurer Bob Berggren and bulletin editor, Bob Simpson as they were the only consistent pieces of the club during that 15 year period. Although we did have a few hiccups along the way in 2006-2007, the club continued to prosper by way of democracy and allowing its members’ voices to be heard. The 2000s also proved to be a turning point as we had our first President of minority voted into office in Juan Navarro.

A simple reading of the past few pages, the reader will have learned or remembered that from 1961 until roughly 1996, the NBRC was really run by a select few; the secretary-treasurer held the power along with friends of the secretary-treasurer. In fact, the big debacles the club has endured over the years almost always came exclusively from the secretary-treasurer and the power he yielded. The club almost folded in the 1970s because the secretary-treasurer quit and ran off with the money leaving very little behind for Albaugh and Peterson. In 1991, we had the whole debacle between President Jim Schneider and Secretary-Treasurer George Valiska where Valiska left Schneider with no option but to resign and later in 1996, it was between President James Turner and Secretary-Treasurer Jim Perri. Each time a secretary-treasurer quit or resigned, the club suddenly had no money. After Valiska left the post in the early 90s, the club was in dire straits and after Perri passed away in 1996, the club was again left in dire straits. It was not until after 1996 and Bob Berggren took over as secretary-treasurer did we get detailed treasury accounts. From the 1970s until current day, only the transfer of the office of secretary-treasurer between Berggren and Jay Alnimer in 2012 did not result in a loss treasury funds.

As I mentioned in the opening sentences, there are those select few who still believe the NBRC is being run today like it was in the 60s-90s but they are simply living in the past because that is definitely not the case anymore. The secretary-treasurer is now held accountable for club funds and the treasury report must be included in every bulletin. All of the offices are now open to the general membership and ANYONE can nominate and vote for club offices. Anyone can nominate and vote for their local regional directors. Anyone can nominate a candidate of their choice for the NBRC Hall of Fame. The secretary-treasurer and bulletin editor can no longer arbitrarily throw anyone out of the club nor cease a member’s bulletin simply because of personal vendettas. Officers no longer collect nor count ballots for any of the elected offices. Unlike yesteryear, there is a voting committee selected every two years to oversee the collection and counting of the ballots. No one person holds all the power. All the things stated above, before the mid 1990s, were non-existent and not open to the general membership. This is just a small part of the history of the NBRC and an attempt to inform all about the progress the NBRC has made and has continued to make in terms of overall democratic change and the shift in power within the NBRC organization.

In the end, I hope this article has opened a few eyes as well as refreshed our memories. We must learn and remember history so we are not doomed to repeat it. I do hope this article did not come across too negative because that was not the intent. It is merely a piece of our club’s history that I felt must be shared to inform us all to be thankful for what we have, to see how much our club has grown, the progress the club has made and to continue to strive for excellence; to continue the work of men like Pensom, Lutes, Smith, Hardesty, Valiska, Albaugh, Schneider, Higgins, Turner, Gehrke, Rand, Ouellette, Marlett, Simpson, Berggren and other great men like them who have dedicated their time and efforts to better our club and to allow each and everyone one of us to be part of it today. Some of you may be thinking, my goodness, some of those men listed above were so flawed since they did not do everything by the book nor did they follow the democratic process, but to that I say, “Are we not all flawed?”

I would like to say thank you to James Turner, Wally Fort, Jim Schneider, Tony Dasaro, Carl Hardesty, Ellis McDonald, Joe Marlett and many other men for allowing me to talk with them and use them as a resource for this article. I would also like to thank Bob Simpson for his tireless effort to our great club over the past 17 years and for allowing this article to be printed in the bulletin. Lastly, thank you to Cliff Ball and Jay Alnimer for their continued service and contributions to the club as Vice President and Secretary-treasurer and to President Don Macauley for the past two years and also for stepping up to fill the void as the National Fly Director. The NBRC over the years IS democracy, growth, and progress at its best. So remember, before we think of knocking the club, we must carefully choose our words, look back at its history, and recognize the growth we have seen from the club and the steps others have taken to create a more democratic organization for us all. To paraphrase what a great American once said, “My fellow ROLLERMEN, ask not what your CLUB can do for you, but what YOU can do for your club!”

Written Sources Used:

1. Marlett, Joe. “NBRC Needs Radical Reform” Roller Journal October (1996): 10-11.
2. Gehrke, Dave. "Club Controversy." Roller Journal October (1996): 6-8.

3. Perri, James A. "President of the National Birmingham Roller Club." Letter to James Turner. 6 July 1996.
4. Marlett, Joe. "Thank You Mr. President." National Birmingham Roller Club Jan-Feb (1998).
5. Marlett, Joe. "The NBRC Hall of Fame." National Birmingham Roller Club July-Aug (1998).

6. Hardesty, Carl W. "The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of the NBRC." National Birmingham Roller Club Bulletin (1998)

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