This free event is open to anyone who has ever worked at KSC or CCAFS
BREVARD COUNTY • MERRIT ISLAND, FLORIDA – The 2023 edition of the Rocket Ranch Reunion is set for Nov. 18 at the Merritt Island Moose Lodge, and as always, this event is open to anyone who has ever worked at Kennedy Space Center or the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – now Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
This is a free event to attend with no admission, however, food and drink will be available for purchase.
“If you have not signed up on the website to get regular updates and reminders, you definitely should do so,” said RRR event organizer John Tribe.
“We are looking forward to seeing everyone and enjoying some time together to share our stories and celebrate what we have done in the Space Program. We have shirts again this year, and you can get your 2022 Rocket Ranch Reunion shirts HERE.
“If you’ve attended any of the previous eight reunions, you know the 2023 event will be something you will not want to miss – come join us for some fun and a great time connecting with each other,” said Tribe.
CLICK HERE for more information.
Rocket Ranch Reunion Can Trace its Roots Back to 1986
The Rocket Ranch Reunion really got its’ official start in 2014 with the holding of an event that would gather members of the various launch teams to visit and share their many memories, according to Bill Heink a co-founder of the event.
“It was not an original idea, and really all started in 1986 with a group of old ne’re-do-wells including myself, Bob Lang and John Tribe, who used to frequent the B&H store on north Merritt Island as a favorite after-work watering hole – pretty regularly, some of you may recall,” said Heink.
The 1986 event was a gathering that rapidly got the name of the “Great KSC RustOff.” So, you might ask – WHAT was the 1986 “RustOff” all about? Going back to those thrilling days of yesteryear, here is the story as told by Bill Heink:
I’m sure some of you remember, but in the Spring of 1986, most of us Shuttle guys had morale that was lower than a snake after the loss of Challenger in January. So later in the Spring, over after-work beers at the B & H, a bunch of us started talking about what we might do to collectively drag us all out of our despair, and someone (I kinda think it was Maria Metcalf) came up with the ridiculous idea of holding a competition to see who had the ugliest, rustiest, most disreputable pickup truck at KSC. After general agreement that it was a great idea (beer does wonders for gaining consensus!), we somehow conned Bob Lang and Gene Nurnberg into being the contestants, and the game was on. We papered KSC with Flyers announcing this great Friday afternoon party at the B & H and by the time contest time arrived, there were an estimated 400 people at the B&H! Owner Fred Jewett probably sold more beer that afternoon than he did in a normal six months!
The planned start time was 4 PM, and at 3:55 Lang and his rusty, cruddy, ugly old black GMC truck were there, but no sign of Nurnberg. We feared a forfeit! But at 3:59, from the south, we heard a roar that sounded like an M1A1 Abrams Tank, and Nurnberg and his old rust-riddled red and white Ford roared up, without a muffler of course — and complete with the right side bed panel — which was rusted away at the front right behind the cab — flapping wildly in the breeze. Game on for sure!
John Tribe and I had created detailed judging criteria in total secrecy and recruited some trustworthy (?) judges, including John Janokaitis (Sr.), Ted Carey, John Presnell, Dick Metcalf, and others — who did not get to see the criteria until that afternoon when we handed them a clipboard and told them to start judging. The criteria had some crazy stuff on it — in addition to just being an ugly and disreputable truck, the vehicle got 15 extra points for a gun rack in the rear window, 25 points if there was a gun in the rack, and 50 points if there was a pistol in the glove box.
I added the “(?)” about the judges being “trustworthy” because one of the high points of the afternoon was a little shenanigan that occurred during the judging. Judge Dick Metcalf was quietly pulling for Lang, so when he saw the gun criteria, he quickly went into the store where Fred was selling beer and asked Fred to let him have the pistol that we all knew was always under the counter. Fred, of course, said, “no way!” but Dick somehow convinced him, so Fred unloaded the gun and handed it to Dick, who quietly slipped it into Lang’s glove box without anyone knowing. Lang ended up winning, and I suspect that extra 50 points were the reason! Lang almost died when he saw a gun in HIS glove box.
Anyway, whether you were there or not, it was a stupendous affair, and about 400 people had a ball. I think most of us felt that it was one of the major turning points that got us all back in the groove after Challenger. And most of the attendees had such a great time that they urged us to do it again. Someday.
So nearly 30 years later, in 2014, most of that same group decided we needed to have a reunion of some of the old Cape and KSC gang before everyone died.
And we concluded that a good attraction would be to re-live the crazy Rustoff competition we’d held in the summer of 1986 and call it a “Rust Off Reunion.” So we gathered most of the Rustoff gang, put together a new planning committee, and held a Rust Off Reunion at the Merritt Island Moose Lodge on June 28, 2014, and most all considered it a grand success – with around 400 people in attendance.
Our attendance figures are always a guess because we decided at the beginning that we did not want to have to charge admission and therefore do not take reservations nor keep track of attendees. It would become the first of many such reunions.
But we needed another name for the reunions – because a “Rust Off Reunion” really did not capture our purpose.
So following the publication of Jonathan Ward’s great two-volume story about KSC and the Apollo Program, we decided that “Rocket Ranch” defined a common workplace, whether at KSC or CCAFS, so that became our name.
To date, all of our follow-on reunions have been held at the Moose Lodge on north Merritt Island.
At the 2014 reunion, we tried to do a program of sorts, featuring a video of the actual Rust Off competition, but our crowd was far more interested in visiting with their old friends than listening to or watching a program and just ignored it, so for future years, we agreed there would be no formal programs.
We also agreed to make and sell t-shirts commemorating each year’s event, and 2014’s showed pictures of the Rust off on the front and the logos of most of the 20 companies involved.
We’ve continued to do shirts every year since then, with a more or less generic logo each year but changes in color. And we estimated the 2014 attendance at over 400. By the time of the 2014 reunion, our planning committee had grown to Bob Lang, John Presnell, Harry Silipo, John Tribe, Bill Heink, Phyllis Jewett and Cindy Hintz.
Story continued below>>>
For 2015, the planning committee agreed to try a fall date rather than summer, when many old folks tend to leave Florida for North Carolina, so the reunion was held on November 7. By then, we were in agreement that using the “Rust Off” as a name in 2014 was OK for the start, but that now the more generic name of “Rocket Ranch Reunion” seemed better, with the intent that it was for all the people who had ever worked at the Cape or KSC. And we agreed to let the Moose sell food.
And since the recipe was available, it was also agreed to add Norm Carlson’s famous “Launch Beans” to the menu of available food. By the time of this reunion, we had added a new committee member, Gary Ray, and lost Harry Silipo, who was having some health issues. The actual 2015 reunion was a great success, with attendance estimated at around 550, perhaps even a little higher.
In the spring of 2016, the committee began planning that year’s reunion for Saturday, November 5. We soon added two new committee members, Roy Tharpe and his daughter Jennifer Tharpe but lost Phyllis Jewett, who had retired and was living the life of Riley.
Planning for this event went without many hitches. Our greatest concern about this reunion was that we might have more attendees than the Moose could handle. However, as it turned out, our attendance was smaller than expected and probably only totaled 350-ish. In the aftermath, the committee did a good bit of work on lessons learned, trying to understand our apparent low attendance, and pretty well agreed that we had just failed to adequately publicize it.
Bill had done much of the publicity distribution the first two years, and he feared that his and Mary Lou’s absence for much of the summer while traveling may have caused a failure in the publicity. All agreed that needed to be a priority for 2017.
The 2017 committee started meeting early in the year and enlisted the aid of the incoming Governor of the Merritt Island Moose, George Alden, to ensure that we had no snafus this year. He has been a great help ever since then, and we consider him a bonafide member of our team.
The committee also felt the need for some somewhat younger minds (not saying that most of us are old farts – but it might be!), and Mike “Mic” Woltman and John Janokaitis were invited to join the group, which they did. Mary Lou Heink and Kathy Wine also met regularly with us as more or less ex-officio members, but ones whose guidance was often very important.
The committee had a significant discussion about who our “target audience” needed to be, and it was agreed that no one would be excluded but that to avoid getting too large, we would aim for all the people who had worked at the “ranch” for a number of years, whether retired or not. With that in mind, detailed planning for the 2017 reunion continued, with only a few changes from the previous successful plan. The date was set for November 18, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and we have held the relationship with Thanksgiving ever since.
We also agreed to a formal “Mission Statement”: To provide KSC/CCAFS retirees and more senior current employees with an annual opportunity to gather together and renew old friendships in a social environment – at a relatively low cost.
And “renew” they do – this author’s favorite part of the reunions is wandering through the crowd, only to hear a sudden squeal behind me and turning around to see two people in a bear hug, proclaiming, “I haven’t seen you in 20 years!” THAT’S what it’s all about!
Attendance at the 2017 reunion increased a small amount to an estimated 400 – 450 attendees. All agreed it was an excellent event and that perhaps we should not focus so much on having a large attendance.
Planning for the 2018 event began in May of 2018 with regular meetings at the Moose Lodge. The Committee had also been considering the fact that in July of 2019, we would all be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first manned Lunar Landing and that some kind of a serious celebration was needed in Brevard.
If we’d been unable to find anyone planning such an event, this committee had even considered taking it on themselves. But after “poking the ant hill” quite a bit, a group was formed to plan such an event, and Thad Altman of the “Center for Space Education” at the KSC Visitor Center had committed his facility as a location.
John Tribe, Bill Heink, and Roy Tharpe volunteered to serve on that committee also and share with them our experiences at putting on yearly reunions. Charlie Mars agreed to head up that team, and “Apollo 11 Reunion” monthly meetings started in August 2018.
The RRR Team decided to continue our apparently successful schedule of holding our reunion on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and selected November 17 as the 2018 date. It was decided that Spring that the Reunion needed to have its own website, and Mic Woltman agreed to become the Webmaster and set it up as RocketRanchReunion.com.
It was also agreed that Bill would consolidate our e-mail lists and give that data to Mic so that all future mailings could be done using the website. Monthly planning meetings continued throughout the year and the reunion was another success. Attendance was estimated at about 450.
For 2019, Nov. 23 was set as the date for the reunion, with regular planning meetings on a monthly basis starting in the Spring. The reunion was a grand success, but unfortunately, neither of the Heinks were able to attend due to significant medical issues. Attendance remained in the 400-450 range.
Of course, 2020 was a difficult year for the entire world as the COVID Pandemic swept through. The planning committee had a few virtual meetings using Zoom, and finally agreed in early August to cancel the 2020 event. Even though the reunion date was still over three months away, the major question discussed by the committee was that even if somehow in the next month or two the world decided that the COVID threat was going away, would any of our normal participants want to take a chance and attend.
Chairman Lang reminded the committee that most of our attendees are in an older age group that is most threatened by COVID. The committee did unanimously agree to press on to plan a reunion for 2021. It was agreed the date would be November 20, 2021.
The planning committee started meeting in February 2021 with regular monthly meetings targeting the November date. For this year, the committee had asked former Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach to join the group, and he became a regular and productive member. The regular flyers promoting the event carried words that a last-minute cancellation could not be ruled out – if COVID decided to raise its ugly head again – as well as encouraging all attendees to get vaccinated. But while still being discussed weekly, COVID did not significantly recur, and the reunion occurred on schedule with an estimated 350 attendees.
The post THE TRADITION CONTINUES: 2023 Rocket Ranch Reunion Set Nov. 18 at Merritt Island Moose Lodge appeared first on Space Coast Daily.