MartinFest '99

Reprinted from: Purple Martin Update 9(2): 12-13

Chuck Abare
17835 Oakdale Road
Athens, AL 35613

On June 27th, 1999, the Victor Stoll family held a get-together of about 100 people in the small town of Finger, TN. However, it wasn't just any get-together, it was the second annual gathering of Purple Martin fanatics from all over the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada. The event was dubbed "MartinFest '99," but originated in 1998 when a few martin landlords decided to get together at the Stoll farm and view the largest martin colony in the world. They not only went to visit the colony site, but also to meet each other and put faces to the emails and postings they had been reading for some time. You see, these people all got to know each other from the Internet through the Purple Martin Forum, the largest, interactive web site devoted to Purple Martins (see page 6). Those who attended in 1998 had such a good time that they decided to make it an annual event, inviting any and all who wanted to come.

The hosts of MartinFest '99, Victor and Esther Stoll of Finger, TN. Victor is the proud landlord of North America's largest Purple Martin colony - 548 breeding pairs in one yard!

Throughout the entire spring, anticipation was building for many Forum participants. Although many of these folks did not yet have active colony sites of their own, they were just as enthusiastic as those who did. General information, directions and appropriate phone numbers were posted on the Forum and the stage was set for a gathering that became known as "MartinFest."

The weeks leading up to the 'Fest' were filled with lots of organizing and planning. Without the help of Steve Stoll, Victor's son, this event probably would not have been the huge success it was. Although Kent Justus from Little Rock, AR and I did the initial coordinating, it was Steve that saw to it that many of the things were in order for the crowds that were there. Many a phone call had to be made to Steve to see to it that items such as tents, chairs, and port-a-johns, were not only acquired, but also set up. Parking room had to be made for the cars and he saw to it that a good bar-b-que house was selected for the food.

Victor Stoll's farm is located in the small rural community of Finger, TN, about an hour east of Memphis. Victor is a well-known figure within the martin community because his Purple Martin colony site is the largest active one in the world. In 1999, his yard attracted 548 nesting pairs of Purple Martins!

MartinFest was scheduled to begin on Saturday morning, but Victor invited anyone who wanted, to meet at his site on Friday evening to watch the martins come in for the night, and to meet the folks they had been talking to all this time on the Internet.

When people started to arrive on Friday night, the first thing everyone noticed when driving up the road was the large quantity of Purple Martins swirling around and over the colony site. There were gourds and houses everywhere, and all were loaded down with martins. Tents were set up near the barn with a throng of people sitting in chairs or just standing around, chatting and generally having a good time. Folks had started arriving around 5 PM and a slow, but steady stream kept coming in till dark. Cameras were at the ready, with flashes going off, not only taking pictures of the birds, but also of each other. As each new person arrived, the questions and guesses as to whom they were murmured through the crowd. That evening, many a name and face were placed with ever mysterious email addresses. After everyone had spent some time chatting, it was decided to head back to the hotel rooms at the nearby Americana Inn in Henderson, TN, and get ready for the day that was to follow. About 20 MartinFest attendees took to the balcony of the Americana, to continue to talk martins, well into the night.

Saturday broke with a constant drizzle of rain. People started arriving right at 7 AM. Victor was showing the excitement of having so many people coming to visit and view his colony site. The coordinators of the event were already busy setting up tables under the carport to keep out of the rain. A guest book was placed on one and made ready for signing. Name tags were made available for attendees to hang around their necks. Door prizes were put on display. A large map of the U.S. and southern Canada was placed on a tripod and pins were set in a box so people could place a pin in their hometown indicating where they had traveled from. Pins were placed in the map from as far away as Ontario, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, North and South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Delaware, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and many points in between.

In spite of the rain, the crowd continued to grow and at about 10 AM, it was announced that James R. Hill, III (a.k.a. "Jamie"), Founder of the Purple Martin Conservation Association) was giving his martin slide show at the church so all could get out of the rain. Cars were lined up, filled, and then driven to the church for the show. Before any slides were shown, Jamie made the presentation of the PMCA's '1998 Landlord of the Year Award' to Kent Justus of Little Rock, Arkansas. Kent was given the prestigious award for creating the hugely-popular and instructive, Purple Martin Forum, the educational vehicle that had brought us all together. What better time to get the award than surrounded by a hundred friends all wishing him congratulations. In his
acceptance speech, Kent announced that he would soon be handing over the administration and day-to-day operation of the web-based Purple Martin Forum to the PMCA. After that, Jamie dazzled everyone with his great photography of the Purple Martin's life history.

When Jamie's presentation was done, the cars were filled again and returned to the Stoll farm for lunch. Four tables were filled with bar-b-que, potatoes, chips and buns, and just about everything one could want for a good old southern bar-b-que. While having lunch, it was another chance to sit and quietly talk to one another about each other's own martin situation. Many of these people traveled a long way to attend this event and there was obviously a lot to talk about.

Nearly everyone took the time to talk with Jamie Hill and Victor Stoll, asking many questions and getting answers from a couple of very knowledgeable and gracious experts. Others chatted with some of the Internet celebrities that were all about. Everyone almost forgot about the very reason they had gathered for, the martins. Smiles were abundant as one looked at the people sitting around enjoying themselves.

Soon after lunch and the delicious desert of homemade ice-cream, folks flocked around the carport where dozens of door prizes were awarded. Prizes ranged from pellet guns and T-shirts, to handmade jewelry, and hand-crafted bluebird and wood duck boxes. Prizes were given to the oldest and youngest martin landlords, to the landlord who traveled the farthest to attend MartinFest '99, and to the landlord who had been unsuccessful the longest in his or her attempt to attract martins.

The rain persisted into the afternoon, but the amazing thing was that the spirits of the people could not be dampened. Everyone continued to laugh at the weather and to enjoy each other's company. The crowd especially enjoyed the large, Purple Martin tattoo Kenny Kleinpeter of Baton Rouge, LA, was sporting on his shoulder and the starling head mask Johnny Jones of Chapel Hill, NC, wore. Doren Claire of Ocklawaha, FL, dazzled the techno-weenies among us with his Sony digital camera and generously sent many of us home with a floppy-disk scrapbook containing digital highlights of the day. These digital images, and those captured by others, enabled attendees to post MartinFest photos to the Forum by that very evening, making it possible for those who couldn't attend to enjoy it vicariously.

Johnny Jones of Chapel Hill, NC, entertaining the crowd by sporting a head mask of his favorite bird, the Starling. Another MartinFest '99 attendee, Kenny Kleinpeter, of Baton Rouge, LA, proudly displaying his Purple Martin tatoo.

At one point, Jamie and Victor retired to the Stoll back porch where Jim Daly, of Warrenton, MO, videotaped a one-hour interview Jamie conducted with Victor. The idea was to capture and preserve Victor's feelings and ideas on a hobby that he had spent the better part of a lifetime pursuing. Victor's dedication to his beloved martins is a large part of his daily life and his desire to help other martin enthusiasts by sharing his knowledge and experiences is very important to him.

While this was going on, people sat outside in their lawn chairs, under the tent, watching the antics of 548 pairs of martins feeding their young. Towards the end of the day, people started to thin out. One by one, the cars loaded up with Purple Martin maniacs saying good-bye to new-found friends and heading back towards their homes. Many of the non-martin landlords left the event with a new resolve to try even harder to establish a colony site of their own. A few of us stayed well past sunset and watched the skies clear, and the full moon rise, silhouetting hundreds of martins roosting on the outside of their overcrowded houses and gourds. It was a spectacular ending to a fantastic gathering of martin friends.

Slowly, in the dark, every last one of us left the Stoll farm and its martins behind, but took with us a new outlook on the hobby of martin landlording. Armed with a new understanding, we each left, determined to make even a stronger commitment to the passion that brought us all together for a day of camaraderie and friendship. Those of us who attended this great event can't wait for MartinFest 2000!


Chuck Abare is a Mechanical Design Engineer and works for a company that designs and builds computers. He lives with his wife, Betty, in Athens, AL. For forthcoming information on MartinFest 2000, check out the PMCA's Purple Martin Forum.

Copyright 1999 by Purple Martin Conservation Association. All Rights Reserved.

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