WIT Club – Past, Present & Future
WIT Club – Past, Present & Future
By: Sue Ann Jaffarian
At the 2021 Grand National Rally, I had the great honor of sitting down to coffee with four of the charter members of Winnebago International Travelers (WIT)— Helen Jette, Bob Schoening, and Rudolph and Bodil Lange. With us was Denise Hagen, Winnebago’s Community Marketing Manager.
We met at the newly renovated and reopened Winnebago Visitor Center. If you have not visited the Visitor Center lately, definitely go by and check it out! They did a marvelous job displaying memorabilia and information, plus have Winnebago clothing and other items to purchase.
How WIT Club Began
WIT has been and continues to be an important part of the Winnebago lifestyle, seeking to unite Winnebago owners in a spirt of friendship, adventure, and a love of travel. It came into being around 1968, when a group of Winnebago owners decided to form a club. But WIT soon became part of Winnebago with the first official Grand National Rally in 1969 – the same year as the first moon landing. While the world celebrated one giant leap for mankind, WIT was celebrating one giant leap for Winnebago owners.
The first national WIT rally was held in 1968, organized by a WIT member who put out the call to everyone to meet up in Forest City, IA. The next year, Winnebago took over the organization of the rally and GNR was born. Early GNRs had no hookups, just water spigots here and there. It was a far cry from the wide array of services we enjoy today at the rally grounds, but in speaking with the charter members, there was no shortage on fun in those early days.
In the early days, GNR attendees received patches for attending and wore them on white jackets. Most of the charter members still have their jackets. As we sat around chatting over coffee and pastries, the four charter members talked with great affection of their years with WIT and the many rallies and trips they have taken and the friends they made along the way.
Carrying on the WIT Legacy
There are only twenty active charter members left in the WIT Club and four made it to GNR in 2021. The day I met them, all were proudly wearing neon green polo shirts and caps printed with WIT Charter Club on them.
Helen Jette, who is the president of the Charter Members Club, had just purchased a new Minnie Winnie and picked it up from Lichtsinn RV while at GNR. The Lange’s have had several RVs over the years and have enjoyed many years of family travel. Bob Schoening currently owns a 2001 Ultimate Advantage. It is his favorite of all his prior RVs, but he also loved his 1985 Elander. He and late wife Dorothy attended their first GNR in 1974 in their 1974 Brave.
These four fun WIT members have put a lot of miles on their RVs over the years with many more miles to come.
One of the most touching things during my time with Helen, Bob, Rudolph, and Bodil, was learning about the bottle of Crown Royal donated by charter members Frances and Melvin Gaither. It is kept in a wooden display cabinet in the Visitor Center, to be opened by the last charter member. On the display is written: Last one out turn out the lights and have a drink for all that went before. Hopefully, that bottle will not be opened for many years to come.
The Future of WIT Club
Winnebago is not just celebrating WIT’s past, but planning a bright future. Denise shared with me some of their plans, many of which have already been implemented.
“We've been working on a new look and membership kit over the past year which was introduced in spring 2021. We added value to the membership by introducing a kit for all new and renewed members that includes a member ID with lanyard, a decal, and a logo thermal tumbler along with a membership guide which promotes other benefits available.”
Denise also shared that she and her team are continuing to research new benefit ideas that will appeal to the wide range of WIT members. They have met with club and chapter leaders this past summer to learn more about the needs of the groups and how Winnebago can support their events.
Soon WIT will be introducing some new group guidelines designed to make managing a club easier for those who want to continue a structured club or chapter. Chapters and their rallies will continue to enjoy Winnebago’s support, including sponsorship, event support, and/or Winnebago merchandise for giveaways.
Denise said, “I'm excited to evolve the club benefits to make it more attractive to all types of RVers and see the product focused interest groups continue to grow. Owners are bonding over their love for a particular Winnebago model and forming friendships like no other while sharing ideas of how to make the most of their RV experiences.”
As more people are purchasing RVs of differing sizes and styles, one thing remains the same, we all share the love of travel, camping, and the outdoors. Every time I talk to members of various chapters, I hear the same thing about how being a WIT Club member has enriched their lives and the lives of their families over the years. It definitely opens you up to new places and people and new ideas. It certainly had done that for me.
WIT is more than a club under the Winnebago umbrella, it is a family that is ever growing and expanding. The WIT Charter Members are our elder statesmen. They paved the way for the rest of us for the past fifty years. And will continue to do so until that bottle of Crown Royal is opened.