There are only a few absolute constants in life, and one of those is change. Our beloved Escapees RV Club has seen a lot of key changes in our forty-five years of supporting the RV community! As we look forward to the next decade of serving RVers, here are some interesting things we’ve seen change over the years.
Remember the 70s and 80s when everyone had a landline phone? You could pick up the phone and call Grandma across the country almost as easily as call your neighbor. If you didn’t have the time or funds for long-distance calls, you could drop a letter in the mail instead, right? For people on the move, like RVers, these were much more difficult tasks.
In 1985, in response to this need, Escapees launched a voice message service for our members. Instead of friends and family trying to track down which payphone or campground their RVing loved ones were nearest, they could call into Escapees headquarters and leave messages for our members that would be passed along when the member next called us. This began with our Member Services Team taking the calls and transcribing messages, then later evolved to each member being offered their own voicemail number they could share with loved ones and check at their whim. This service was discontinued several years later when cell phones became accessible and affordable to the general public, making our voicemail system obsolete.
Around this time, we announced another new service for our members, aimed at supporting them as they traveled all around North America- a new, club-owned and managed mail-forwarding service! Prior to this, RVers were having to spend considerable amounts of time coordinating when they would be at what address so they could pick up important mail from family, friends, and service providers. With this new mail-forwarding service, Escapees would collect and sort all mail sent on behalf of members and hold it, awaiting notice from our members to have their one package of mail forwarded to their next address. This was a huge game changer for Escapees members! This program has shifted over the years to accommodate the rise in junk mail, the advances in email and online account management, and to keep up with technology, but the core of the program remains the same- supporting traveling RVers through offering permanent addresses for their use.
As technology progressed, we were able to set up a system similar to the voice mail service for members using email instead! In the 90s, personal internet and email use was becoming more and more accessible to those who had stationary homes. Internet service was tied to permanent addresses, and personal email accounts were tied to your internet service. Any time you moved or changed internet providers, you changed your email address, too. As you can expect, this wasn’t very helpful for RVers. After working with our own local internet provider, Escapees announced that we could offer our members personal, permanent email addresses they could access no matter how often they traveled! RVing members could check their email from a public library, internet café, campground business office, anywhere they could access the internet. This made keeping in touch with loved ones and professional contacts so much easier. It was awesome! As with the voice mail service, the advent of consumer technology led to the discontinuation of this program. With AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail, and now Gmail, Ymail and more available for free to everyone, our program was no longer needed.
Speaking of technology, it has been amazing to watch how social media, discussion forums, websites, and more have helped the RVing community grow and expand. What began as in-person gatherings for RVers expanded into online discussion forums in the 90s and into social media in the 00s. We still thoroughly enjoy a cozy chat around the campfire with friends or a bustling rally with hundreds of fellow RVers, but being able to continue those connections online between gatherings has been a game-changer in strengthening and deepening the relationships within RV life!
We’ve shared many times that Escapees was founded as a way to bring the RVing community together. Community has remained our primary focus year after year, and has been the driving force behind each of our benefits and services for the last forty-five years.
Members first gathered in 1978, which quickly led to our Escapades. A mix of formal and informal gatherings took place every year, growing in size and frequency with each one as the club attracted more and more RVers. It was clear that RVers were eager and ready for more opportunities to come together. In 2004, we launched HOPs as a way for RVers to get together and share experiences in unique, interesting locations throughout North America and beyond. For many years, these two programs provided the majority of our club’s in-person gatherings, with the club’s newsletter being the main way people learned about these opportunities.
In 2015, Escapees leadership recognized a significant shift in the RVing community- more and more families and solo adventurers were hitting the road long before retirement age. As they explored campgrounds, BLM land, and more, they weren’t encountering many others like them, at their same phase of life. Xscapers, a new lifestyle group of Escapees members, was announced at the 2015 Escapade in Tucson, Arizona, and caters to the needs of working-aged RVers. While this group is open to all who are interested, the events, called Convergences, and resources created for it focus on the unique needs of this demographic.
As demand for Convergences grew, our team recognized a need for events that were active and budget-friendly like Convergences but that offered more activities during the day like HOPs. In 2019, Hangouts was launched, offering a compromise between two the existing event programs. It was an immediate hit, selling out most events within a day or two of tickets becoming available. The pandemic and related travel restrictions put this program on hold for a few months in 2020, but it came back strong and has continued thriving since!
Remember that newsletter we mentioned earlier? Throughout Escapees history, consistent newsletters have been vital to keeping members informed of club activities, events, benefits, and more. What began as a typed multipage letter mailed to members in the 70s and early 80s evolved into an 80+ page full-color glossy magazine shared with our members and beyond. Not only has the magazine grown, but so much has changed in the way we create it! “I remember the time before cell phones were widely available and affordable, when members had to use pay phones, calling cards and devices such as pagers and Pocketmail. The previous editor, Janice Lasko, would use this device as she traveled and edited the magazine from the road,” shared Tammy J., editor of Escapees magazine.
Though the magazine evolved from those early typewritten newsletters, and is still going strong, in the 2010s we brought back those original newsletters in a more modern form- email newsletters! These periodic updates have proven immensely helpful as our events offerings, benefits, services, and more have expanded. Though each issue of the magazine still includes a sizeable Members Section that focuses on many of the activities and benefits available to our members, these digital newsletters offer a more timely way to share announcements, reminders, blog articles, and more. In more recent years, we’ve even multiplied the newsletters, segmenting them by interest so that Xscapers, members, and non-members each have their own content catered to their needs. It has been fun seeing the community’s reaction to this revival of the past!
Some Things Stay the Same
Even as the club expands in benefits, events, services, and more, there is one thing that will always remain the same- our primary goal is to support the RVing community. We were created in 1978 to answer the need for community among young, working and traveling families. In 2015, we launched Xscapers to bring us back to these roots, supporting RVers who hit the road to satisfy their wanderlust long before their traditional retirement years. We’ve launched numerous services over the years to help RVers stay in touch both with each other and with the “sticks-and-bricks” world they left behind. And we’ve fought to protect RVers rights and privileges over and over again. How have we done this?
One of the ways we’ve accomplished this is through having leadership who not only are dedicated to serving RVers but who live the lifestyle themselves. Our club was founded by Joe and Kay Peterson who passed their leadership roles down to their daughter Cathie Carr and her husband Bud. When it was Cathie’s and Bud’s time to retire, they passed their torches to their son Travis Carr and his wife Melanie. Each generation of leadership has been active in the club long before leading it. Cathie, though already grown when her parents founded Escapees, spent much of her free time with club members in its early years, then quickly stepped into a leadership role when club growth made it necessary to centralize operations. Travis grew up in the club, to the extent that many longtime members fondly remember him participating in club events and activities as a child and teen. He and Melanie took on supporting roles in the club, and eagerly stepped into their current President and Vice-President roles when Cathie and Bud were ready to retire and spend more time exploring. Each generation’s love for this lifestyle and for our community have fueled their passion as they lead Escapees RV Club into the future.
As much as we cherish the Petersons and Carrs, we also know that we wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the dedication and passion of our longtime members. Twenty-five percent of our members have been part of this community for more than 10 years, helping us ensure the longevity of our club while also welcoming future generations of members, offering insight and advice as they get started in their own RVing adventures.
Another way we keep the Petersons’ hopes and passion for Escapees alive is through the Peterson Spirit Award. This award recognizes those who exemplify the principle on which our club was founded- caring and sharing. Nominees are submitted by fellow members, and the award is bestowed on members who go above and beyond to support their fellow RVers. Past recipients include members who have traveled across the country to help relocate another member’s RV, who have taken in fellow members during times of need, who have stepped up to emotionally and financially support fellow members during personal crises, and so much more.
We’ve just touched on a few of the interesting changes the club has seen in its first 45 years of life. If you’re curious to learn more about Escapees history, check out this historical timeline put together to commemorate the club’s 45th anniversary.