About 12 years ago, I attended my first PVF Roundtable meeting in Houston. You have to understand; I am not from around here, as they say. I had heard about the industry legends who attended these meetings — Sydney Westbrook, Ron Merrick, Morrie Beschloss, Owen Doss, Jim Owsley, Tom Petit, Don Caffee, Gary Cartright, Sheryl Michalak and her dad Bob Ryan, to name a handful. You could have fielded an all-star team with that lineup.
I met a lot of incredible people with years of industry experience I could begin to learn from. I could not have hit pay dirt any better than this. Yes, I could learn a lot from all 40 people in this room at the Hess Club. We met for dinner every three months at the Hess Club and enjoyed guest speakers such as Bob Tippee, Dr. Economides and John Hoffmeister.
Along the way, the PVF Roundtable began to evolve. There was no longer an effort to be involved with specs or industry part numbers. We focused on a gathering of the people who made the PVF industry strong. Our meetings began to grow in size and a buzz began to circulate throughout Houston about these networking opportunities.
We grew from under 100 attendees to 200 and then 300. At the magical 300 number, we had to leave the Hess Club. Since then we have tried out or outgrown the JW Marriott, Westin and Westchase Marriott. We are now split time between The Bell Tower at 34th and Norris Center for our meetings, which have eclipsed 550 at times.
The proudest accomplishment for me is we have never forgotten the legacy of the PVF Roundtable. Past Presidents Sydney Westbrook, Ron Merrick and Danny Westbrook created a lifetime of business partners, colleagues and true friends by establishing this group. Previous board members were industry veterans such as Jim Owsley, Dennis Fikes, Owen Doss and Tom Petit.
As only the fourth person to be named president of the PVF Roundtable, I believed we needed to establish more structure as we grew in membership (currently more than 200 member companies). The board of directors completed a rewrite of our bylaws, developed a strategic plan and identified our mission. In addition, we battled for several years and dozens of appeals with the IRS but finally were able to create the PVF Roundtable Charitable Foundation as a 501(c) 3. All donations for scholarships are made through this organization, allowing for tax deductibility.
It has become an incredibly big deal as our Don Caffee Memorial Golf Tournament and Trout Blast Fishing Tournament are generating large scholarship donations from the most generous members and sponsors anywhere.
I was sitting at a table with Petit and Doss at the 2018 golf outing and asked them if they could remember the near fist fights that broke out at our meetings because we could not decide how to spend the $12,500 we had collected for scholarships that year. We had a good laugh and then we realized that in 2019, we were awarding $250,000 in scholarships to seven different schools. Our scholarship program has grown to include five trade schools.
Volunteers and Sponsors
The backbone of the PVF Roundtable are the volunteers. Our all-volunteer board of directors dedicates large amounts of their time to our organization. They do this without any pay or reimbursement of expenses. We all work for companies generous enough to allow us this opportunity to serve the industry in these roles.
Many of the board members hold crucial committee chair positions responsible for our golf and fishing tournament, scholarships, marketing, membership, banquets and young professionals. In addition to the board, we are blessed with dozens of volunteers from many different member companies allowing their employees to donate time to help us raise scholarship money. The all-volunteer PVF Roundtable could not accomplish our goals without the dedication of those who participate.
Our organization also has been blessed with the support of many sponsors of our events. Title sponsors for golf and fishing have included City Pipe, Primus Pipe and Tube, Weldbend and WOI. Member companies can find many opportunities to advertise with attendees at our events. Our quarterly events draw on average 450 attendees, while the golf tournament exceeds 300 and the fishing tournament is approaching 400.
These all have been supported enormously by member company sponsorships. We even had the good fortune to have Weldbend sponsor our dinner and guest speaker Mike Rowe last October; Ferguson Cares donated the services of Terry Bradshaw the previous October. Both events enjoyed record attendance.
As I said before, our scholarship donations for 2018 were $250,000. This brings our lifetime donations to $775,000. We had set a goal in our strategic plan of donating $1,000,000 by 2020. I believe we will reach that goal this year, ahead of schedule. These are life-changing amounts of money for the students receiving scholarships. Our rules to the schools have been simple — all funds must be spent on tuition, books, fees and supplies.
Our funding has been aided by several large individual contributions by Ferguson Cares, MRC Global and Weldbend. We believe that corporate support is strong based on the needs of our industry for trained, skilled employees. Our website (www.pvf.org) lists and highlights all the sponsors associated with all our events during the year. Anyone visiting our site will see all the generous sponsors making all this possible.
I often hear from members who want to know where do we go from here. My response is that we keep growing. We will continue to get the message out about the networking opportunities we offer. We must ensure everyone is aware of the excitement generated by the Young Professionals PVF Roundtable group, which holds quarterly meetings for many of the younger PVF industry employees. This will be the next generation of leaders in the PVF market.
We have listened to the members and changed our meeting. Most valued the networking time over the guest speakers. This is why we moved to three networking meetings and one sit-down dinner with a speaker. Another change occurring after rewriting our by-Laws is a rotation of executive board positions. Last year, Sheryl Michalak was replaced by Ginger Retovic as secretary/treasurer; this year, Harold Armstrong was replaced as vice president by Joe Costanzo.
We plan to continue raising money for scholarships, expand the list of schools receiving funds and be responsive to our membership in meeting their networking needs. Our membership is still the best deal around. Dues are only $850 per year and include four tickets to each of the quarterly events. Few other industry organizations offer four networking events per year for their members. Join us — see what everyone is talking about in the PVF industry.