Texas Cichlid Association Turns 20!
By Wayne S. Leibel
I have had a love affair with Texas and the Texas Cichlid Association since my first appearance at one of their weekend workshops way back in 1994 – nine years ago. In fact, so impressed was I with Texas and its wonderfully hospitable fish people that I seriously contemplated leaving the East Coast for Austin. Alas, the jobs for college academics are limited and nothing materialized, despite my best efforts. However, I have tried to get my Texas fix by speaking at regular intervals at TCA-sponsored shindigs, of which there have been many, and to which I have been frequently invited. Thanks!
Therefore, I was especially delighted to be invited to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the TCA June 6-8, 2003, at the Holiday Inn Select in Irving Texas. When I arrived at the location mid-afternoon on Friday, the showroom boasting well over 100 entries and numerous rental tanks, was already up and running thanks to the hard work of Page Ullman and staff. I was particularly happy to see my friend, Bob Randall, who had flown in from Minneapolis, Minnesota, helping out in the fishroom – talk about dedication to all things cichlid! In fact, Bob had also attended the TCA-sponsored FOTAS event the previous year and, like me, apparently could not get enough of the warm Texas hospitality. Yeehaa!!! John Hansen from Arkansas was also there setting up his display of cichlids for sale.
The show fish started arriving as day slipped into evening and the festivities commenced. I had been asked to share a humorous program as ‘kick-off’ speaker at 8 P.M., but we all decided that it would work better in the hospitality room over beer and good cheer AFTER the show entries had been benched. The Hospitality Room turned out to be a VIP suite that resembled, for lack of a better description, a bordello complete with Grecian pillars, white paneled walls, a hot tub, and a white piano! Somehow, my program “Unspeakably Bad Ideas in Fishkeeping” seemed appropriately projected on the wall near the piano, and the weird and wonderful stuff of our hobby through the ages best appreciated over beer, margaritas, Kathy Stearns’ 5-layered bean dip, and Kathy England’s scrumptious brownies. Attached to the main suite and bar area was an ostentatious sunken bedroom with huge bed and campy deco that came to be affectionately known as “The Love Shack”. I don’t know if it was every used (drat! pity!) but I do know that Hospitality Room hosts Keith Pearson and Larry Lampert had an adjoining room, or at least that’s what they told us (ahem!). If it was me… I would have slept in the Love Shack.
Saturday saw a power lineup of speakers including Ad Konings who kicked off the event at, gulp, 8:30 A.M. with a very cool PowerPoint generated talk, complete with mpeg video clips, on Nicaraguan cichlids. Ad, my roommate, expected no one to show at that early hour but, in fact, the room was full of nearly 50 eager pairs of ears, including mine, at that early hour. When he left our room at 8, I was still dead to the world, but quickly rallied under the shower and showed up on time for this ‘must see’ presentation. The talk was, as always, exceptional.
Unfortunately, expected headliner Toby Veal had to cancel at the last minute due to scheduling problems with a film crew from The Discovery Channel coming to see his facility in Tanganyika, but cichlids from Lake Tanganyika were admirably covered by Pam Chin from Sacramento, California. Pam and her husband run a hatchery that produces quality Africans from Malawi and Tanganyika, and Pam was here representing the American Cichlid Association. She is one of my favorite people in the hobby and a founding member, mover and shaker of the B.I.T.C.H. es, the Babes in the Cichlid Hobby whose antics and philanthropy are well known and appreciated throughout the cichlid hobby.
Pam’s talk was followed, after lunch, by a thorough and erudite discussion of water chemistry, nearly 2 hours long, by John Farrell Kuhns, who is well-qualified to discuss all things regarding water – he was responsible, for formulating, among other staple water conditioners, AmQuel, PolyAqua and NovAqua! Yours truly talked about strategies for breeding difficult South American cichlids, followed by the legendary Jack Wattley who held court to his many admirers on Discus.
Meanwhile, the judges, Messers. Konings and Leibel and Mme. Chin, were hard at work judging the strong show. There were many excellent entries, but outstanding among them was a piebald Red Devil (Amphilophus citrinellus) by Page and Colleen Ullman, which won Best in Show. Other division winners were Diane Stewart and Ron Trebor. The People’s Choice Award went to Cuervo Green, Kathy Stearns’ Green Terror (‘Aequidens’ cf. rivulatus) which also won its class. Special thanks to show co-chairs Marvin England and Page Ullman for a well-run show.
The banquet, serenaded by Norteno/Cujunto accordion music from the adjoining party on the other side of the paper-thin folding wall (I, for one, LOVED the music), was both fun and delicious. Kathy Stearns earned the appreciation of the wait staff by demanding everyone be served their own glass of ice tea as specified by the banquet contract. And they did! The show awards were given out by emcee Ralph DeBoard accompanied by digital photos of all the winners taken by Randy Rhoades.
At the conclusion of the awards ceremonies, Ad Konings held the audience in rapt attention with his second talk of the day on Lake Malawi cichlids. Ever the professional and gentleman, Ad simply cranked up the microphone/amplifier combo and spoke OVER the loud dance music whose bass lines literally shook the room. Personally, I thought it a fitting accompaniment to the talk (maybe better with his earlier Nicaraguan talk) , but I was apparently in the minority. I’ll take my accordion whenever and however I get it, even along with Ad Konings and a talk on cichlids!
The auction on Sunday started promptly at 11 A.M. and lasted until after 8 P.M. when the last bag was gaveled down, thanks to the auction talents of Kathy England, Caroline Estes, Larry Lampert, Alan Young, and Dan Young. I was particularly happy to see Alan Young, who unfortunately missed the entire weekend due to an unexpected death in his family – he drove back just in time for the closing hour of the auction. Condolences to Alan and his family.
David Andrews and Jim Lancaster chaired the auction and relied on a large cadre of runners and recorders to make things work. No-split direct auction donations to TCA brought in over $2000. In addition, the several silent auctions consisting of weird and wonderful fish-themed donations, and run by Diane Stewart, netted over $450 for TCA.
Although there were tons of workers, other stalwarts whom I remember consisted of, in no particular order, Colleen Ullman, Kathy England, Kathy Stearns, John Gilliam and his wife Amy, Daniel and Kassy Steelman, and Randy Rhoades who staffed the registration table and did all sorts of odd jobs as needed during the weekend. The adjoining vendor room was chaired by Phil Tucker, and donations were effectively solicited by Alan Young and Coleen Ullman.
If I have forgotten anyone, I am truly sorry, but, hey my memory is only so good past 50, and especially after all those scrumptious margaritas served up by Keith and Larry Saturday night in the VIP Bordello!
My only regret for the weekend? I was too busy to make my regular pilgrimage to Keller Farms, an experience I find way cool even after my many, many times there. What could be cooler than a fish store in a house? I love it!
In closing, I want to mention the superb tee-shirts that carried a message that I believe captures the spirit and intent of the Texas Cichlid Association after its first 20 years. The shirt, designed by Colleen Ullman and produced by Kassy Steelman, had a Altolamprologus calvus on the Texas State Flag – way cool! – but most prophetically, the pronouncement “Watch Us Grow”, was emblazoned below. Watch them grow indeed! This, their 20th anniversary event, was the largest, strongest TCA gathering that I have (yet) been privileged to attend!
Here’s wishing TCA another 20 years (at least) of continued growth and success, and the heartfelt hope that I will continue to be included on the”A-list” of visiting pitchmen, so that I can continue to watch TCA grow and thrive. Hey, if I can’t move to Texas permanently, at least I can visit… often!! Thanks for the hospitality! Rumor has it: ACA Convention in 2005. I certainly hope so!