Only the Beginning…

By Den Gardner, Executive Director

For those who attended the Charlotte annual meeting and watched the “tribute” Kristy Mach prepared for the first 30 years of TOCA, themed to the music “Beginnings” by the pop/rock group Chicago, it might seem a dichotomy. (As many of you know, I manage and play in a cover band that plays a lot of Chicago tunes, so the connection was certainly obvious, and I loved it!)

So, is looking back 30 years the “beginning”? It really is. This is a new beginning for TOCA. As I move to a more consulting role in the organization and Kristy takes over in the executive director role, let’s celebrate TOCA by starting a new chapter. (BTW, Kristy is 45 years old as she takes over the day-to-day reins of TOCA. I was 38 when TOCA was conceived in 1989. So, she’s got many years of additional experience under her belt than I did as a novice association management person back then. You are all the better for that!) Kristy and I have thoroughly enjoyed the past five and one-half years we’ve worked together as partners. She is smart enough to have hopefully picked up on the one or two good qualities I profess to have – the most important being able to attract and work with people smarter than me.

As I looked out at the crowd in Charlotte, I saw energy. I saw young professionals (YP) that seemed to make up at least half of the attendees. When I noted that these YPs were the future of TOCA, applause broke out. That’s what gets me excited.

I also saw veteran TOCA members in the audience who were there in the beginning years of TOCA; people like Steve and Suz Trusty, Cindy Code, Owen Towne and Debbie Clayton. These folks have stuck with TOCA from its beginnings and are still key players in its future. I will always value their friendships.

When I think back to those early days (and I was reminded about this many times over the years), I can’t help but tell one of my favorite anecdotes. It was year two in St. Louis in 1991. About 20 of us were there and the breakfast the last morning was being sponsored by John Deere, one of our founding sponsors. As breakfast neared around 7:30 a.m., the room was basically empty, except for a great buffet, me and my cohort Lois Kocon. There were no smart phones, no way to text attendees. But there was a hotel phone, to which I got on the phone and called every member. I “politely” asked them if they wanted a future for TOCA and were hungry. If so, sponsors like John Deere and other founders like Ciba-Geigy (now Syngenta) wouldn’t likely be around when no one showed up at their sponsored events. Some of you will remember that call. Right, Cindy Code? Right, Owen Towne?

What happened? The people showed up and they have continued to show up since then – at annual meetings, events at trade shows for our various audiences, by participating in our awards contest and so much more.

So, to all of you who already play a major role in TOCA or are going to jump in with both feet today, I say:

Only the beginning
Of what I
(you) want to feel forever
Yes, only the beginning
Only just the start

Thank you to every member the past 30 years for the honor of serving you as executive director. Thanks to all the staff people at G&G then and now who keep the wheels of the bus turning each day in the right direction to make TOCA the kind of organization we all want it to be. I know we’re facing the right way. Finally, thanks to my spouse Sandy, who supported me through three decades and kept me pumped to keep moving TOCA forward to meet its members’ needs.

I was struck by one of the comments made by the attendees this year when we surveyed them after the meeting. “The tight-knit community that TOCA has created is very warm and welcoming, and it was great to connect with people who understand our industry and marketing.” That says it all in my book.

What a testament that comment is about TOCA members. After all, when all the professional development is finished, the networking has concluded and the last swallow of a Smith & Kearns slides down my throat (a great late-night drink – look it up), it’s the friendships, the warmth and the memories that will sustain me. I hope when I’m 97 I’ll be able to attend TOCA’s 60th anniversary meeting.

I used the following line from Confucius five years ago in the introduction to the 25th anniversary book about TOCA. It’s fitting yet today. “Choose a job that you like and you will never have to work a day in your life.” That describes TOCA and my 30-year adventure to a tee!

From that organizational meeting in Minneapolis in 1989, to the excitement ahead as we implement the new strategic plan, it’s time for you guys to make TOCA better. A mentor of mine once told me: “If you’re gonna dream, you might as well dream big.” That’s my dream for you as you take TOCA to the next level. I know I won’t be disappointed. For it truly is “Only the beginning.”