The 100th Birthday
How does one begin to recap and present the overall
results from a national convention like we just experienced in Savannah? There are so many people to ‘thank’.
There are so many people to ‘recognize’. There are so
many people to ‘appreciate’. There are volunteers that
gave of their time and efforts to help us make it a huge
success. There are so many that were ‘honored’. And
just as important are the 600 attendees that set another
all-time record for the National Watermelon Association.
So, let’s get back to the original question ….. Where do
It all started with the selection of a city to host the
convention, and there are not very many that could rival
historic Savannah. Savannah’s history includes the Civil
War, famous music writers like Johnny Mercer, home to
the novel ‘Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil’,
Cotton exchanges, Southern mansions, and the park
bench scenes that started and ended the movie, Forest
Gump, to list a few.
Adding to the ambience of the city was the Savannah
River with its huge tanker ships traveling just 75 feet
away from the hotel walkway, providing incredible sights
for our attendees. The weather was wonderful for wintertime and provided many that were snow-bound and tired
of the icy/snowy winter some relief while at convention.
And the Marriott Riverfront Resort pulled out all of the
stops, in cooperation with Marriott Corporate, and presented a facility, food & beverage, and service that would
rival any others that we have seen in the past decade.
The nuances that we experienced at convention are
indicative of our theme-oriented approach. Bring the city
and area into the resort property, and incorporate it into
the convention to make it the most unique experience that
we possibly can. We did that, and from what we have
heard from countless people, We did it well! So, let’s
look at the nuances:
Wednesday included our annual Golf Invitational at the
private Landings Club on nearby Skidaway Island. The
sporting clay shotgun tournament was held at the oldest
guin club in America, the Forest City Gun Club. And 50
people enjoyed a tour of Savannah history and lunch at
the famous Mrs. Wilkes, a reminder of family-style cooking and eating of the past.
Thursday started off with a grower-shipper outbreak/recall
seminar that no one wanted to leave. Ninety minutes was
just not enough for this important topic and discussion.
During the welcome reception, teams representing every
chapter competed in a charity bicycle building competition
that was fun for everyone – participants and spectators.
After dinner, the watermelon queens were introduced,
Happy Birthday was sung, the confetti cannons shot off,
and one of the best bands that we have ever had (A Town
A List from Atlanta) kept the dance floor full while others
bid on the silent auction, people took their turns in the
photo booth, and others played corn hole games.
Friday morning included the showing of the first ever
IMAX movie that features a food, Watermelon Magic,
along with the movie’s creator/producer, Richard Hoffman, and his family from the Philadelphia area. In the
afternoon, the NWA experienced the single largest grossing and net auction in our 100 year history.
On our final day (Saturday), we began with Staff Ser-
geant Edwin Allen, a 3-time Middle East War Veteran,
who expressed his thanks to the NWA for donating the
bicycles to the children of U.S. Army military soldiers
who have served (or are serving) in the Middle East. Fol-
lowing Sgt. Allen was our keynote speaker, Major Dan
Rooney. Rooney is a 3-time veteran of the Iraq War, a
former Top Gun F- 16 fighter pilot, and now a PGA Pro-
fessional, Owner of two golf courses, sports psychologist,
married and father of five girls, and Founder of the Folds
of Honor Foundation. Following the general session we
held the first-ever Watermelon Eating Contest at nationals.
That evening, a color guard was escorted into the ballroom
by the Savannah Bagpipes & Drum Corps to lead off an
evening of honors and recognitions.
It has been my belief that a picture is worth a thousand
words, and those photos provide lifetime memories that
words cannot express properly. So, we have built three
pages in this issue of The Vineline that will speak for
themselves with no captions and no names - - just visuals
and snippets of the national watermelon convention where
we celebrated the 100th Birthday of our storied association, the NWA!
You can view over 2,200 pictures from the convention on
the NWA website at www.nationalwatermelonassociation.
com. And you can purchase from a limited inventory of
centennial NWA tee-shirts while supplies last. Enjoy!
I must single out a small group of people that made it happen … my team (the Seven Ladies that gave of their time
and energy to make the convention work and get done
like they did. They are the hardest working women that
I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Thank You,
Ladies. You Did Me Proud, and made us look good (if it is
possible to make this man look good, that is). Thank you
so very much!
And last but most certainly not least, I sincerely wish to
Thank every Attendee, NWA Officers, Executive Committee members, all other committee members, Participants,
Sponsors, Exhibitors, Donors, Buyers, Speakers, Presenters and Friends of this association for your support, counsel, contributions and encouragement. You all contribute
to what I have been preaching for many year …. We are a
Watermelon Family! Godspeed to all of you!
erald Funderburk was 84 years old when he was called home by the good Lord
on March 8, 2014. Born May 10, 1929 in Wadesboro, NC, he was the retired
owner and operator of G.A. Funderburk Company and was a watermelon broker.
G.A. (as his preacher called him) was a lifelong, faithful, member of the Jefferson
United Methodist Church in his beloved home town.
He had three passions in life …… His Family, His church, and Watermelons.
Any grey areas outside of those three priorities were unrecognizable.
Mr. Gerald was a former member and past president of both the South Carolina
Watermelon Association and the National Watermelon Association.
Percy Bunch of Murfreesboro, North Carolina shared this about Gerald ….. “If it
wasn’t for Gerald Funderburk, we probably would not have a North Carolina
Watermelon Association today. He was instrumental in helping us to make it
happen.” Percy also added, “Gerald is one of the best watermelon people that I
Fellow South Carolinian Bradley O’Neal said, “Gerald brought and expected
respect in the produce industry. If you said you were going to do something, then
you had better do it. Honesty and commitment to a man’s word were his policies”.
His preacher from Jefferson United Methodist Church who presided over his
funeral service shared a quick story about G.A. in the euology …. “When G.A.
had a heart attack years ago it was at the same time of the watermelon harvest.
Cell phones were not allowed in I.C.U, yet G.A. was on the phone in between
treatments doing what he did – selling watermelons. When his doctor saw the
phone, he told Gerald that is what not allowed, to which Gerald replied, ‘If I don’t
sell watermelons during this harvest time, then the stress on my heart will be
worse than not being able to make the sales calls. Do you want me to get better,
or worse?’ You can guess who kept the phone and sold watermelons while he
On a personal note, I first attended a national watermelon convention in Orlando
2005 and was quickly introduced to this quiet man with the sad, inquisitive eyes from
South Carolina. After a quick handshake to say ‘hello’, I was whisked away to a full
day of meetings, but able to steal away 15 minutes in a deserted hallway that evening
to speak to Gerald. I felt blessed that this man chose me to be his friend. We shared
stories that evening and many more times in subsequent years, smiling and crying
together, about the watermelon business, his Daddy’s cotton business, and long
conversations about his bride and my father, who both passed away in 2003. He has
been and will remain in my thoughts and prayers as a confidant and friend forever.
Gerald’s passing is a loss to the Jefferson community and the watermelon
associations that he so loved, and love him back. The joy that we can take away
from his recent death is that he is no longer suffering, and he is
rejoined with his beloved Sue Smith Funderburk, who passed
in February 2003. Gerald is survived by two daughters;
Suzanne Mills of Hartsville, SC, and Jane Clark of
Jefferson, SC; a grandson, Jason Mills of Columbia,
SC; and a sister-in-law, Mary Funderburk of Jefferson, SC.
Gerald A. Funderburk
May 10, 1929 – March 8, 2014
Rest In Peace, Our Brother.