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American Mensa Annual Gathering

Have brains, will travel

Dr. Anton Anderssen, eTN  Jul 06, 2010

(eTN) What do smart people do? If Mensa is any indication, they travel. Every Fourth of July weekend, American Mensa meets in a different area of the country for its Annual Gathering (AG). June 30 to July 5, 2010, Detroit/Dearborn was the host city for the esteemed high-IQ group.

In the shadow of the Ford World Headquarters tower, Mensa met for six days at the AAA Four Diamond Hyatt Regency Dearborn, where nightly fireworks from Greenfield Village (historical museum) delighted hotel guests.

Several hundred of the some 2,000 Mensa conventioneers took educational visits to Greenfield Village, a remarkable living-history site with over 90 acres of celebrated artifacts dating as far back as the 17th century, including the actual Logan County, Illinois, courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law (brought to Dearborn brick by brick and reassembled). Other incredible historic preservations relocated here include Noah Webster's Connecticut home; Wilbur and Orville Wright's bicycle shop and home from Dayton, Ohio; Thomas Edison's Menlo Park laboratory from New Jersey; and the Harvey Firestone family farm, where produce is grown and served on-site in a historic inn.

Judy Marshak, from Henderson Nevada spent an entire day at Greenfield Village. “We ate in the tavern, where they served authentic 1850s fare at plank tables. My husband had trout, and I had chicken corn chowder with baked vegetable pie [quiche]. We sat with strangers; that’s the way they did it in the olden days. The bread was outstanding, and the corn was the most fantastic I have ever tasted in my life. There was no corn sticking in your teeth, you just bit into it and it just fell off the cob. They grow the corn right there in an organic garden. My husband and I both commented we’ve never tasted food like this before. He had a few beers, which were common in the 1850s, and I had the mint tea,” said Marshak.

“There were all kinds of people walking around in period costumes,” she continued. “There was fantastic acting by two people portraying slaves. The narratives were re-enacted from literature written by actual slaves before the Civil War, unraveling the story of what it was like to endure slavery. There were singers in town hall, lots of Barber Shop quartets, trios strolling around the grounds singing – it was all very beautiful. I come from a place where gardens are only in the casinos and seeing these beautiful flowers out in the open is awesome. It’s amazing how green everything is here, from the Suwannee River all the way down to the old-time train, to the little Model T’s running around town. It was highly entertaining.”

Each evening from July 1 to 4, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performed a special “Salute to America” on the grounds at Greenfield Village, after which a spectacular fireworks display lit the night sky. The weather was absolutely clear all week. Who would have known so many things would turn out perfectly?

Maria Sawczuk, from Newcastle, Delaware, said: “We spent hundreds of thousands of man-hours over the past four years planning for this 50th anniversary celebration. Everything has been remarkable, beyond all my expectations.”

Francesca DeLuca, a vivacious spirited lady from Long Island, NY, said, “I didn’t go on any of the coach tours, because I’ve personally gotten kicked out of Canada twice.” Needless to say, Fran loves a good shindig.

John Recht, a member of the American Mensa Committee remarked, “The Gala Dinner was my favorite activity. It was very moving to see the history of Mensa [on DVD], and to hear [archives of interviews] what was so important to people who have been members of Mensa for 40-plus years.”

Barry Schmidle, president of Mensa Canada, said: “My favorite thing about the AG is meeting people from all across the continent. I’ve had a lot of fascinating conversations with them.”

A group of Mensans and their guests visited the Detroit Institute of Arts, which houses one of the largest, most significant art collections in the United States. Marco Airaghi said, “I particularly enjoyed seeing works by the masters, like Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.”

Even the federal government got involved with Mensa’s 50th anniversary celebration. On July 2, the US Postal Service set up shop inside the convention and franked postcards and letters with a commemorative pictorial cancellation designed by Mensa’s Philately SIG coordinator. The postmark, celebrating Mensa in North America, was extremely popular with Mensans; it also attracted philatelists from the Detroit region seeking the rare imprint.

The pictorial cancellation was so successful, the philatelic event will run for three days at next year’s convention, to be held in beautiful Portland, Oregon.

Michael Meagher will chair the 2011 AG, June 30 to July 4. “I guarantee we’ll have tours to Multnomah Falls, part of the beautiful Columbia River Gorge area. It is Oregon's top tourist attraction and the second-tallest year-round waterfall in the nation. We’ll also have tours to the wine country. There are a number of micro-breweries in town, so we’ll almost certainly have both pub crawls and maps for self-tours. There is likely to be a tour to Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood, and we might even take tourists to the coast to see the ocean,” said Meagher.

“The 2011 AG weekend coincides with the Waterfront Blues Festival, and, of course, fireworks displays,” noted Meagher.

Mensa member Linda Roach, from Portland, Oregon, won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service Journalism in 1993. She and Claire Natola are working on marketing for the 2011 AG. She said: “We’re trying to give people stimulating experiences. People will be doing things. If we learn about cocktails, we’re actually going to be mixing the cocktails. We’re not just going to be talking about kayaking, we’re actually going out in the kayaks. We won’t just talk about books, we’re going to meet Jean Auel.”

Auel is best known for her Earth's Children books, a series of novels set in prehistoric Europe that explores interactions of Cro-Magnon people with Neanderthals. As of 2010, her books have sold over 45 million copies worldwide.

“There are millions of people around the world who have been waiting for her to write the sixth book in her series, The Land of Painted Caves, and it is coming out on March 29, just in time for the 2011 AG,” said Roach.

There is no iron-clad stereotype about members of Mensa, but if you had to pick some common characteristics, it would certainly include love of books and love for travel.

Maria Sawczuk said: “Other than the ability to test well, we are just like you [everyone else]. You will find somebody here who has the same interests that you do, you will find people who have the same jobs as you, you will find people like you, and people very different from you.”

The people I noticed on the first day of the convention fell into the “very different from you” category, with colorful characters walking about sporting unique appearances. For example, there was the long-haired man dressed in black leather, carrying a whip on his right hip. A whip? Is he some sort of a lion tamer or safari leader?

Then I saw a man walking around with his “other half,” a very large stuffed toy tiger. He even had a registration tag for the fluffy feline. Who would spend US$65 to register a stuffed animal as your companion?

Then there were the quinquagenarians in piggy and bunny slippers normally worn by five-year-old children; or the man carrying a staff, upon which was impaled a resin skull projecting red lasers from the eye sockets. I’m clueless on that one; there were no masquerade balls on the program.

The most intriguing Mensan was the one I called the part-time blind man. At times he used a white cane before him and asked people having good seats at presentations to cede their place to him because he was handicapped. Alternately, he effortlessly managed his way down aisles and around people without his cane as he went to and fro. I guess his on-again, off-again blindness had something to do with the type of lighting in the room.

As a genealogist, I know from experience if you look long enough you’ll find some fruits and nuts in every family tree.

Mensa also has its share of stunningly beautiful women like the Academy Award winner, film producer, writer, fashion model, women's Olympics archery team semi-finalist, and actress Geena Davis. Then there is the drop-dead gorgeous Marilyn vos Savant, who is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records under "Highest IQ."

Gary Rimar of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, won the crown in the “Mr. Mensa” contest. He competed in three categories: the sexy legs contest, perform in a talent show, and present an individual statement.

“This has probably been the best AG in my life, and some of the days here have been the best days of my life, because it was wonderful. Everybody here accepts me, understands me, and they get my jokes. They may not think they’re funny, but at least they get them. It’s really nice to be able to connect to everybody,” said Rimar.

Award-winning editor Cookie Bakke said: “My favorite event is 'Pretentious Drinking,' probably because I otherwise don’t drink all year long. 'Pretentious drinking' has only one rule, and that is as you take a shot of whatever you’ve chosen from the hundreds of bottles of alcohol from around the world, you must hold your pinkie in the air.”

Greg Skow of Las Vegas went to the Beer 101 and Mead Tasting events. “It was informative, tasty, and really a fun time. Rex Halfpenny, publisher of the Michigan Beer Guide, spoke on the evolution of the craft beer, and focused on Michigan brews. All the beers I’ve tasted this week have been from local Michigan microbreweries. It is a treat because when you live on the west coast, few of these beers make it to the area, because our distributors just don’t carry these brands. Michigan is a good place to come to taste ales and lagers, and many of its products have won national and international awards.”

“Tonight, I’m going to a barbecue place in Detroit that specializes in Michigan beers. They have a beer engine, an English device to deliver beer through a firkin. It has a contained area where there is secondary fermentation without pasteurization. It has live yeast in it and is conditioned in the vessel it’s served from. It’s what the English call 'Real Ale,'” said Skow. “I’m a real aficionado of that style, which is served not as cold as American tap beers, so you get a lot of subtlety and flavor. It’s very pleasing to the palate and lot less filling and gaseous.”

“At the 2011 AG, we’re going to have a focus on authors and wines,” said Bakke. “And right by the Portland hotel is Powell's Books, the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world.”

“Mensa is fun, lively, and challenging. It’s like being on the German Autobahn - when you’re a car generally in 2nd gear, sitting in traffic, the Mensa AG is like taking a Ferrari out on the Autobahn, and once a year you get to blow all the carbon out, put it in 5th gear overdrive, and zoom.”

Mensans are mostly known for their big brains, but many are also known for their big bottoms. For US$65, attendees had access to unlimited beverages, beer, wine, snacks, candies, and chips. Several times a day, huge pots of soup and trays of deli meats, salads, and desserts were placed on long tables in the hospitality ballrooms. Attendees also took plates of food to the meeting rooms, where they watched PowerPoint presentations and enjoyed ebullient speakers.

Melissa Rennie from Bear Lake, Michigan, said, “I loved the two Pulitzer-Prize-winning writers who came to speak about breaking the Kwame Kilpatrick [disgraced Mayor of Detroit] sex scandal.”

On June 23, a 5.5 magnitude earthquake shook the Great Lakes area. Earthquakes are rare in this part of the country. During one of the Mensa programs, a packed room shook, including the floor, chairs, and desks. I thought it was another tremor. It turned out to be just a rather obese Mensan falling to the floor with a plate of food.

Tall, blond, and slim Jeroen Komen traveled from Utrecht, The Netherlands, as part of a leadership exchange program between international Mensa groups. He is a big fan of Herb Guggenheim, Ph.D., a licensed clinical social worker who spoke at Detroit on mental illness. “I’ll also be traveling to the European AG in Prague, Czech Republic, this year,” said Komen, “It’s so fun to meet interesting people around the world."

John Sokalski from Roseville, Minnesota, said the highlight of his experience was listening to Theodore Dutch Van Kirk’s amazing story as navigator on the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped the first atomic weapon of mass destruction in the attack on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945. “I am interested in World War II, and I was surprised to learn Van Kirk had been flying bombers in both European and Pacific conflicts.”

Ryan Jackson, a medical doctor from Casper, Wyoming, was unable to attend this year’s AG, because he is volunteering in Haiti with one of the humanitarian relief organizations. He has a special connection to the Enola Gay. “My grandfather, Cpl. John Edward Jackson, was the mechanic for Enola Gay.”

Jackson is one of the Mensans who also belong to progressively higher IQ societies, like the Triple Nine Society. Triple Nine had a meet-and-greet session as did many other organizations.

Also celebrating a 50th anniversary this year is the Nightingale Conant Corporation, a world leader in personal development. They are famous for publishing books on disc by celebrity speakers like Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, and Wayne Dyer. Win Wenger, one of their featured motivators is also a member of Mensa; Wenger led several fascinating sessions about human behavior and how to increase learning potential. All of the sessions held during the six days were included in the price of registration.

Only members of Mensa and their named guests can attend an AG, but local monthly meetings are usually open to the public. Many people build strong and lasting friendships with people they meet while traveling to Mensa’s regional and national events. Betsy Mark, regional vice chair from Ypsilanti, Michigan, and proctor for admission exams said, “Mensa is a second family for me.”

There are some people who want to join Mensa desperately. Mark continued, “When I first began proctoring, there was someone who really wanted to get into Mensa. He took 12 different IQ tests and scored just slightly below the 98th percentile, which is the cutoff. Then, on his 13th try he placed at the 98th, finally achieving his goal.”

Besides knowing where you’ll spend your Fourth of July vacations each year, Mensa is also an excellent resource for networking. Author Yash Talreja brought a stash of his flagship book, "Inside the Giant Machine, An story," and sold out within 30 minutes. J. Andrew Parsons, a specialist in solar voltaic technology, brought hand-crafted, stained-glass objets d’art from Oregon; cleverly displayed at angles catching rays of light from the near-solstice sun, Mensans flocked to buy his glass art pieces. They were among the most beautiful treasures hand-crafted by Mensans and offered for purchase at a special market event.

If you enjoy traveling, and you’re also bright, you might find Mensa to be a good organization to join. There are some 200 tests accepted for membership, “And if you’re old enough, you can use your SAT or ACT scores,” said Betsy Mark.

The Mensa Home Test is a fun way to discover if you and Mensa are a good match. While this timed test will not qualify you for membership, it does offer a strong indication of your likelihood for success should you choose to take a proctored exam. It is available online at .

Future AGs are slotted for Portland, Reno, Dallas, and Boston. Smart people really do seem to get around.

The Detroit Symphony performs concerts at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, as well as in recreational areas like Metro Parks and even Florida. For media info, contact Elizabeth Twork at (313) 576-5126.

Greenfield Village is open year-round and offers seasonal events like a turn-of-the-20th century Hallowe’en and Holiday Nights, the most popular holiday event in the area, complete with candle-lit paths, live entertainment, costumed presenters, carriage and Model T rides, delightful holiday shops, Santa and live reindeer, ice skating, a spectacular fireworks display, and more. For media info, contact Carrie Nolan, 313-982-6126.

Detroit’s Fine Arts museum, the DIA, will run a stunning exhibit, “Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus” (currently at the Louvre) from Sunday, November 20, 2011 to Sunday, February 12, 2012. For media info, contact Pamela Marcil, (313) 833-7899.

Mensa offers IQ tests on a fee basis. For general info, call toll-free 800-66MENSA.

Be certain to tell these fine establishments you read about them in eTurboNews.

Have brains, will travel
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