The 2014 Buffalo County Fair concluded today, making it a day of great relief for me. For seven days straight – some of them with heat indexes over 100 degrees – I was at the fairgrounds for an hour or two or six.

I cover the fair as part of my agriculture beat at the Kearney Hub. There were many things to see and do, including a concert by the country group Little Big Town, a carnival with lots of rides and games, and exhibits of all kind.

However, Nebraska’s number one industry is agriculture and Buffalo County is one of the top-producing counties for crops and livestock, so the focus of the fair always will be on ag-related competitions and entertainment, and especially on 4-H.

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As usual, I was asked several times this week if I was having fun. Usually, I say it would be more fun if I wasn’t working, although most of what I do is take photos, which can be fun when it involves events such as bull riding and mutton busting.

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It also would be more fun if there wasn’t several hours of work to do after every fair day to sort and identify photos, and write about the grand champion winners in the market sheep, beef and swine competitions for 4-H members.

The heat and humidity did take the starch out of me on several days, but mostly I’m just brain tired. Sleeping for about 48 hours – if that were possible – sounds great. I hope to take a day off this week, and just getting back to a more normal routine helps in my recovery process.

I’m sure members of the fairgrounds and Extension Service staffs, and all those 4-H families (at least the parents) are thinking the same thing.

NFPW members know the feeling, too. Maybe they’ve never covered a county fair, but everyone I know has been involved in covering, planning and/or hosting big events or projects.

Parts of such things are fun and it certainly is rewarding at the end of it all to know that you did a good job.

However, days later, it still can feel like I’m on a roller coaster that hasn’t quite stopped. Or in the case of the Buffalo County Fair, the 360-degree Fireball that took riders – certainly not me!!! – upside down.

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So was covering the county fair fun in general, or more or less fun than the past 20-plus fairs I’ve covered?

Ask me in a week or so when my brain is rested, the house is sort of clean again, the laundry is all done and the roller coaster ride truly seems to be over.

I’ve always had a need to organize things, plan ahead, create to-do lists and edit stories just one more time, if time allows.

I know that drives other people crazy. It even drives me crazy sometimes, especially when I’m focusing on planning instead of getting a good night’s sleep.

However, I know my age-related memory issues would be a lot more frustrating if I couldn’t count on having a written list of things I need to remember. Being so routine oriented eases my mind because I probably did things at the right time, even if I don’t really remember doing them.

After a very long week of work and facing the always trying Buffalo County Fair in the week ahead, it was nice to stumble upon one benefit of my plan-ahead personality this afternoon.

I found my stash of things I may bring to Greenville, S.C., Sept. 4-6 for the NFPW Education Fund Silent Auction that is a highlight for many of us at every annual conference.

I’m focused on it even more this year as the Education Fund director.

The silent auction is a critical fund-raising event for NFPW’s 501(c)3. The proceeds allow us to offer members professional development grants and also first-timer grants if they haven’t attended a conference before.

First-timer grants will pay the full conference registration for 14 members coming to the 2014 conference.

The Education Fund also supports our annual high school communications contest.

I knew that, as usual, I had put away in my spare bedroom several things with the 2014 Education Fund auction in mind. So, I went into the bedroom this afternoon to just take a look … and start figuring out if the things I want to take will fit in my suitcase.

I remembered several of the items. However – and this is where memory loss can be a good thing, sort of – I found other really cool things that I had forgotten until I saw them.

At least I think they’re cool.

I won’t spoil all the surprises, but here is one example. Sometime in the past 10 months, I found an NFPW purple handbag. I really hope that someone in Greenville will decide she can’t leave the conference without it.

It was one of those forgot-all-about-it surprises that seem to occur all too often these days.

I’m sure there will be many surprising items at the 2014 auction. There have been great events, memorable moments and many surprises at every NFPW conference I’ve attended – all but two since 1987.

I hope to share a bunch of them with you in Greenville!!

I took Mom and one of her friends to the Museum of Nebraska Art this afternoon. For those of you who were on the 2011 NFPW Conference pre-tour to Nebraska, this was the old Kearney Post Office building where we had our Sunday night supper seated in the largest exhibit space.

There were many interesting things to see, including “Regionalist Works of Grant Reynard,” who was a Grand Island native best known as an illustrator for many of America’s most well-known magazines during the first half of the 20th century.

However, we spent most of our time in the NFPW supper room admiring the “Stitching Time: Over 100 Years of Quilts in Nebraska” exhibit that featured 20 quilts on loan to MONA mostly from historical museums in central Nebraska, Nebraska State Historical Society, and the International Quilt Study Center and Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Although there were masterpieces of color and design, including geometric, traditional and other quilt patterns; pictures done in cloth; and a beautiful vase of flowers that could be considered fine art, I mostly think of quilts as common people’s art, history and poetry all in one package.

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Some were made only for display and some for use as bedspreads.

There was even a newspaper quilt by an unknown artist that was dated 1911 and kept under glass because, as could be expected, the newspaper base had not held up that well. It’s amazing that it and other household type quilts survived at all.

It was fascinating to look at the fine stitches and consider the choices of patterns and colors by the true artists. However, the most interesting to me were the crazy quilts.

These are the ones done by people who obviously grabbed scraps of cloth and other things around the house that had been kept because they were pieces of family history from old clothes, bedding and other sewing projects. The pioneer artists cut the scraps into unusual shapes to avoid holes and wear patterns, and put the quilt puzzle together in a way that suited them.

The “You are the Darling of the Earth Crazy Quilt” made in 1898 by Edith Withers Meyers was embroidered with names – primarily first names or nicknames – sayings and dates. I’m sure it all meant something to her, her family and neighbors at one time.

Today, it just seems like sweet foolishness.

But think a minute about what it means to the maker to have saved these pieces of history. Think about all the interesting, wonderful people you’ve met in your lifetime, just at NFPW and affiliate conferences alone. Wouldn’t you like some way to tell the world how much those people meant to you and how being with them, even if only a few times, enhanced the quality of your life?

Maybe a crazy quilt or written personal history or blog or albums filled with old photos aren’t so silly. Especially if many years down the road they give viewers or readers a reason to smile, even if those viewers have no clue about what they are seeing beyond knowing that someone cared enough to record some memories.
The Meyers’ crazy quilt made Mom, Ada Lynne and me laugh for one more reason. At the bottom was an embroidered message that was spelled wrong, but still reflected a thought we’ve all had at the end of a hard day or big project.

“done at lass.”

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Mary Jane Skala and I made our annual July 4 trip to the Sumner Rodeo Friday afternoon.

She sat in the stands soaking in the events and the atmosphere of a small-town rodeo in an outdoor arena along Highway 40 that has been organized and run by generations of the same local families for 63 years.

I enjoy going to the Sumner Rodeo because I like to take photos on my own time in my own way, when I don’t necessarily have to think like a photojournalist who is illustrating a story or providing a daily feature.

I always offer my “on my own time” Nebraska photos to my editors, who usually want my images of cowboys trying to hang onto bucking horses and bulls, sandhill cranes and other wildlife, or just pretty places in the country.

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Yes, I’m one of those people who does for recreation something similar to what I do at work. When I ask people I interview about their hobbies and interests, most either describe something similar to their professions or something 180 degrees different.

At the Sumner Rodeo, I know the people. I know where to stand to take good photos, while not blocking the view of people in the stands and, most importantly, not getting run over. I understand enough about the events to anticipate (as much as is possible with animals) where the action might be.

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In this case, Mary Jane and I like the same thing for different reasons. However, our paths part when it comes to other spare time interests.

For example, she went to the Indy 500 as usual for a Memorial Day weekend family gathering. I can respect the technology and talent that goes into building race cars and driving them fast, but I just don’t care to watch car races. Ditto for NASCAR – sorry, Hoffman sisters.

I’ll admit it here: World Cup or no World Cup, I find soccer boring. The field is too big and there isn’t enough scoring. There always are a few moments of excitement, but those are shown on TV as highlights after the match, game or whatever it’s called.

I like riding in boats to see beautiful scenery, but I couldn’t stand to be in a boat all day fishing. I love visiting mountains, forests, prairies and beaches, and taking long walks with my camera in hand.

However, I don’t want to camp in the great outdoors. On our drive to Sumner Friday afternoon, Mary Jane talked about having her camping gear in her car and just itching to use it in some remote place.

Isn’t it great that no two people are exactly alike in any way, including our talents and the things we love to do in our spare time?

That truth always is reflected in our NFPW Conferences. There are workshops specific to different areas of professional communications every year, along with opportunities to indulge various special interests in the pre-tour and post-tour offerings by our host affiliate.

The South Carolina members have a three-day post-tour planned to Charleston, but also day trips for the three pre-tour days, Sept. 1, 2 and 3, before we go into our Sept. 4-6, 2014, conference.

Each pre-tour day there are several choices of things to do to fit your interests. I chose ones that have “great photos” within their designs. I’ll see waterfalls and mountains, historical sites and botanical gardens, and even take a zip line through the trees.

I can’t wait, and I hope to see you there!!!

My habit of making plans weeks ahead of time for important events in my life, whether it’s for work, family responsibilities, Nebraska Press Women and NFPW activities, or just plain fun, is both a positive and a negative.

It can be stressful to micro-manage some things. I probably pack and repack a suitcase in my mind at least a dozen times before I go anywhere. And I tend to do that at night when I’m trying to go to sleep.

However, anticipating a wonderful event is half the fun.

So, after my shorter-than-intended Sunday morning walk – I tried to get it done as rain clouds approached, but called it a walk after he first hint of lightning – I looked at my calendar and discovered I will be flying to Greenville, S.C., nine weeks from today.

That’s a long time, when I think of all the things I need to do over the next nine weeks. But I also know how fast the last nine weeks of my life seem to have passed.

So, let the countdown begin.

I have signed up for a day tour each of the three days before Sept. 4-6 NFPW Conference meetings, workshops and banquets.

I love the pre-tours and post-tours our conference hosts plan for us each year. What a great way to see many parts of our beautiful, amazing country in just a few days. Each tour is just a sample of a place, but it’s enough of a serving to have me put nearly every place I’ve been with NFPW on my “must return someday” list.

Last year, a small group of us had an amazing pre-tour to the Tetons and the Idaho Falls area with NFPW President Teri Ehresman. And then a larger group took the post-tour to the Moab, Utah, area.

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Among the great things that happen at our annual conference and during the tours is you find people with similar interests. Katherine Ward and Jim Smigie of Delaware invited me on a photo adventure while in Moab, and we’re signed up for the same pre-tours in South Carolina this year, having made the selections based greatly on their photography potential.

As Education Fund director, I must remind everyone that July 1 is the deadline for first-timers to apply for a grant that will pay their registration fees for the 2014 conference. It is the last minute, but not too late to get the form off of the NFPW website, http://www.nfpw.org, under “resources” and get it in the mail to me.

In the works is a new feature for first-timers in Greenville, pairing them with mentors. We’ll start with POPPS members because we know most of them have been to many conferences and can answer all the questions related to attending one for the first time. Also, POPPS President Pam Stallsmith and I will look to match first-timers with a mentor who is in a similar area of professional communications.

Director of Fun Jill Miller also will have some special activities for our first-timers, and we all share a role in making them feel welcome from the moment they step inside the hotel in Greenville.

I’m certainly not a first timer, and I will be proud to receive my 35-year membership certificate at this year’s conference. Yet I’m as excited – maybe more so – to go an NFPW conference as I was the first time.

Two longtime NFPW members are spending this Saturday, this first day of summer, surveying heartache in northeast Nebraska.

Mary Jane Skala, the Cleveland native who moved to Nebraska two years ago and is the business/lifestyle reporter at the Kearney Hub, had a longstanding invitation from Mary Pat Finn-Hoag to visit her some weekend in Norfolk. They settled on this weekend.

Little did they know that a series of tornadoes would roar through northeast Nebraska the past two weeks, shattering farms and ranches, killing livestock, and devastating towns, none worse than the small town of Pilger east of Norfolk.

Many of you probably saw storm chaser video from last Monday of unique twin tornadoes following each other across that corner of Nebraska. That’s the storm that hit Pilger.

Thousands of Nebraska volunteers have been there most of the week helping to clean up. The focus mostly has been on Pilger and other towns. However, many rural residents also lost their homes and their businesses that night.

Two people died, including a 5-year-old girl whose mother remains hospitalized in a drug-induced coma.

A group from Kearney headed there this weekend with trailers full of supplies to rebuild miles of farm and ranch fences. Mary Jane’s trip that was planned as just a fun weekend with Mary Pat now includes a Mary Pat-guided tour of the devastation, plus a story and photos for the Hub of the Kearney area folks pitching in.

Many other parts of Nebraska have been severely damaged by a series of storms since Mother’s Day weekend that have brought tornadoes, straight-line winds of up to 100 mph, hail of all sizes and flooding rains. We desperately needed the rain in a state that was mostly categorized as being in severe drought going into this spring, but we’re paying a high price for the moisture.

There are millions and millions of dollars worth of damage to homes, farm buildings, grain bins, hail-beaten and windblown crops, and pivot irrigation systems. I heard one estimated that there are 1,100 pivots damaged or destroyed across the state, and that was before this weekend’s stormy weather.

My hometown of Wilcox, about 25 miles southwest of Kearney, is almost identical to Pilger in size, ag-based economy and small-town culture. Wilcox and much of south-central Nebraska was hit by a terrible straight-line windstorm a week ago today that caused a lot of damage, although nothing as heartbreaking as was seen in the Pilger area.

NFPW members who took the 2011 NFPW Conference pre-tour in central Nebraska will remember visiting the KAAPA Ethanol plant about 15 miles south of Kearney on Labor Day morning. One of its 625,000-bushel bins was bent over by the wind as if it had been kicked in its stomach.

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Another nearby elevator at Keene had several bins shattered and scattered all over the place.

On my Monday morning tour of the area to get photos to send back to the Hub, I made my way to Wilcox, where there was a lot of tree and roof damage, another bent grain bin at the co-op elevator and an upturned pivot irrigation system like so many others across the country. Corn had stripped leaves from the wind.

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I went the 11 miles south to our farm. On the road right outside the driveway, Southern Public Power District crews were replacing polls and wires that went down. My cousin’s boys were pickup up pieces of two small antique grain bins that had flown from one of their farmsteads across the road and into a field and the farm yard where I grew up, and where my sister-in-law still lives.

The crops looked better there, but there still was a lot of pivot system and farm building damage.

If anyone was in doubt, Mother Nature has made it clear that she remains in charge. Unfortunately, the forecast says the dark side of her may visit the central Great Plains nearly every evening in the coming week, with tonight into Monday having the highest risk.

It is good to be reminded sometimes that our days working as professional communicators, whether it’s at newspapers, in public relations, as broadcasters, in advertising, as authors, in various types of new media or combinations of those things, involve more than just endless deadlines, long hours, low pay and often unreasonable demands.

We also get to experience amazing events, outstanding people, history, culture and breaking news, and then we get to tell everyone else about it.

I was coming home to Kearney from just such an experience at this time last Saturday: the first Buffalo County Korean War Hero Flight. It had been three years since the fourth and last such flight to Washington, D.C., for World War II veterans.

Hub News Clerk Tammy Eaton and I were the reporting and photography team for that WWII flight. Also, Barbara Micek of Fullerton went along because of her longstanding interest in telling the stories of America’s veterans.

Last week, it was just me. It was long, exhausting work to do all three jobs – reporting, photos and video – by myself. I regret not having time to even share a coffee break with our NFPW headquarters staff. I just waved in their direction when we landed at Reagan National Airport.

Three things made my job doable.

First, I had run short profiles of all 25 Korean War veterans in the Hub before the Hero Flight started, and I had longer features about two of them, plus a war milestones piece and several other info box type things done in advance. They were ready to run in the newspaper while I was gone, so I could send to the paper just one story and a few photos at the end of the two days in D.C.

Second, the schedule and places we visited in Washington, including Arlington National Cemetery and the WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Lincoln and FDR memorials, were almost the same as during the WWII Hero Flight I was on. So, I knew where to stand and where to set up my cameras.

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The biggest benefit was getting an amazing work assignment and being around 25 veterans, their escorts (mostly a spouse, son or daughter) and Hero Flight leaders who were excited about going to Washington. Many of the veterans had never been there before.

They were willing to share their stories with me and our readers.

It’s an amazing thing to watch people who have held in their hearts the stories of such a life-changing event react to seeing their memorial. The conversations among the veterans were mostly private, but I could tell they were talking about things only another soldier who was in the Korean War would truly understanding.

Both the WWII and Korean War veterans were amazed at the receptions they received when they stepped off the airplane in Washington, and also having strangers come up to them at all the Washington sites to thank them for their service.

At Reagan National last week, Delta Airlines employees waved flags and cheered, along with travelers in the terminal. A group of transplanted Nebraskans also was there to greet them, and a guy played military songs and “There is No Place Like Nebraska” as a French horn soloist.

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I’m still catching up on sleep and laundry. Covering a Hero Flight solo was a big job and I’m not sure I’d be up to doing it again anytime soon.

However, in the middle of this experience and so many others during my 36-plus years as a full-time newspaper journalist, I had to smile to think about how blessed I’ve been to be in a profession that lets me do so many interesting, wonderful things.

Laughter was mixed with tears today as Pleasant View Christian Church members, past and present, gathered in the tiny wooden country church for a final service.

The congregation was organized in 1912 and first met at the Pleasant View schoolhouse that was just a half mile south of our farm. My older brothers attended it through second grade and kindergarten, respectively, but it has been gone for more than 60 years.

The next church was in the abandoned Ash Grove Store, and the current building was built in 1948 at the corner of P and 23 roads – church members say that stands for Psalms 23 – in south-central Nebraska’s Franklin County. It’s at least 11 miles from the nearest town, and on the opposite side of the section (640 acres of farmland) from the farmstead where I grew up.

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As my cousin, who grew up across the road from us, said this afternoon, whenever we came from the east, usually from having been to the county seat, the lighted cross above the church’s front door told us we were almost home.

It was a home away from home for four or five generations of some of the families. My Grandpa Potter and his three sisters were among the first members in 1912. My sister-in-law and late brother Glen were among the final handful of members.

Many of us moved far enough away as adults that we didn’t come back for Sunday services. Many with Pleasant View ties still live in the farming community, but they married into different faiths and attend churches in surrounding towns.

When I grew up at Pleasant View in the late 1950s through the late 1970s, it was a community center for church events, potlucks and ice cream socials, and also served as a polling place. Many of the members were actual kin and everyone was part of my faith and community family.

So, it was very hard to say good-bye to the church today. Even though I haven’t attended services there regularly in decades, I’ll aways be a Pleasant View kid because I took away from there the values and so many memories that helped make me who I am today.

We sang many of our old, favorite hymns, told stories, laughed and shed a few tears as a much-needed rain fell on the cornfields and parched pastures like a blessing … or maybe a benediction.

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Such communities, whether they are built around a church, a school, a residential area, or similar careers or interests, make our lives full and bring us together with the best people we’ll ever know.

That’s why the remaining Pleasant View members worked and prayed so hard to keep the church open, even when circumstances told them that it wasn’t possible.

It’s why people in small towns fight so hard to keep their schools and leaders of the National Federation of Press Women do our best to ensure that our organization is relevant and financially viable for decades to come.

It takes all of our current members, plus new members we must recruit to make that happen. Please think about what you can do to help ensure NFPW’s future.

I can tell from today’s experience, when people in a place or organization mean the world to you, it’s truly painful to say good-bye.

It was a bittersweet Memorial Day Sunday for me and my family at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hildreth, Neb., as Mom’s youngest great-grandchild, Ansley Elizabeth Garrett, was baptized.

This is the baby girl born May 6 who had a “not breathing” episode on her first morning home. Her mother, my niece Shelly, is a registered nurse and was able to start CPR immediately. Ansley had another episode at the Kearney hospital emergency room that morning.

After several days of tests identified nothing physically wrong with her, she was sent home with a heart monitor and medicine to treat acid reflux, which was her diagnosis by the process of elimination. She hasn’t had another spell since the first ones, and didn’t make a peep when the pastor sprinkled her head with water this morning.

The last time I was in the Trinity church was for my farmer brother’s funeral. Glen died a few weeks before our 75th anniversary NFPW Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., after 13 years fighting a blood cancer called multiple myeloma. We buried him on his July 21, 2012, birthday.

Glen loved little kids. He was a tease who was a great big brother and tormentor when I was growing up. His own three kids, Shelly, Sheila and Scott, adored him, as did the four grandchildren who were born before he was gone.

Those grandchildren were about 8, 5, 2 and 4 months at that time. Since then, each of his three children has had a child.

At the time of his death, Glen knew that Scott and his wife were expecting their first baby, but not the gender. Ryan Glen Potter now is 16 months old.

In March, Sheila had baby Owen, adding to a family with two girls. Then Shelly had Ansley, adding to a family with a son and 2-year-old Alexis.

Alexis is pictured here with here with my mom, her nearly 95-year-old great-grandma.

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So, as we celebrated so many recent additions to our family and especially our miracle baby Ansley, we talked about how much Glen would have loved to have all those little grandkids to play with and love.

I was asked to sit in for him in some four-generation Potter photos, which made me proud and sad at the same time.

As much as we enjoy our NFPW family reunions, also known as our annual conferences, there also are bittersweet moments. We welcome our first-time attendees and also have a memorial service to remember members who have passed since the last conference.

Those of us who have been members a long time and attend the conference almost every year celebrate the new generation of NFPW members and hope they catch our passion for our annual family reunions. However, more and more, the names read during the memorial services are friends, not just names.

As NFPW Education Fund director, I encourage any member who has not been to a conference to apply for a first-timer grant by July 1 that will cover all or part of the registration fee.

And all you regulars, think of someone who would be a great addition to our NFPW conference roster and invite him or her.

We’re the old veterans now who know almost everyone by name at our conferences. However, there is nothing more exciting than meeting someone new who, before he or she leaves, has decided to come to our NFPW family reunion again next year.

It’s planting season in south-central Nebraska. Farmers were delayed in getting their corn and soybean seeds into the ground because of cold soil temperatures, wet fields in areas that had severe weather in recent weeks or both.

Because of the cold soil and low temperatures around freezing here most of last week, some seeds may not germinate. That means farmers will have take the time and absorb the expense of replanting.

You would think that a newspaper writer specializing in agriculture, who grew up on a farm, would be crazy about gardening. Alas, I do not find it a leisurely pastime. I love the results, but I don’t care for the labor.

I’d rather support other area families who make all or part of their living growing fruits and vegetables by buying produce at the local farmers market.

I do have some blooming things around the outside of my house so that it at least looks like someone lives here. Most are perennials – mums, Indian blanket, butterfly bush – but I do plant one annual flower each spring.

Last year, it was pansies, which were a favorite of my maternal grandmother. Plus, Mom was given a single pink impatiens plant at church for Mother’s Day, so we planted it near my front door. It thrived last year despite my reputation for having a brown thumb.

I bought a six-pack of darker pink inpatiens Saturday and planted them today: One in last year’s location, three where the pansies were in 2013 and two in a big pot for Mom to have as a house plant.

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Now, I’ll deal with my own impatience in waiting for them to grow. I put them into very dry soil on an extremely windy day, so who knows if their roots will take hold after the trauma of having been transplanted.

It occurred to me while I was digging in the dirt that this is a good time to plant seeds for NFPW and affiliate members. Contact some people you know who would benefit from our outstanding national and state organizations. Do they need learning opportunities or networking? Are they looking for a contest to enter?

Planting seeds now, when we can talk about the successful launch of our online contest and plans for an outstanding 2014 NFPW Conference in South Carolina, could result in a harvest of new members down the road.

Meanwhile, invite someone to an affiliate meeting, if you have one over the summer. Send a note to a professional communicator complimenting him or her on a job well done. Schedule a gathering of NFPW members in your area and ask everyone to invite one new potential member.

With that seedbed created and periodic “watering,” relationships will grow and that could make a fall membership an easy sell. Remember that new members who join in the fall can get the fall months included in their 2015 membership, and they will be qualified to enter the contest and attend events at the member rate.

With a little attention and care, today’s tiny plants will be in full bloom and ready to pick before we know it.

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