A few weeks ago, a package showed up from ANA Headquarters containing my ANA 25 Year Membership silver medal and pin. It's impossible to open an article of mail and from it receive a bucketful of cold water to the face, but if such things could happen, I now know what it would feel like. I'm 35. I haven't even been shaving for 25 years, and I've been shaving for a really, really long time. Could I really be a 25 Year ANA member?
So I sent away for the pamphlet. I digested it like a thousand termites intent on tearing down a doghouse made of cedar shakes, ripped out the back page membership application, and sent off a check from my mom for $11 to join up. The Big Kids' Almanac of Everything and the pamphlet both said you had to be 11 to join. I was at least six months away. I don't think I lied about my age, but I sent in the form and hoped against hope that I wouldn't be rejected for being underage. When my membership card arrived, along with my first issue of The Numismatist, I was overjoyed. I can still remember sitting at the kitchen counter with a glass of milk and reading it, cover to cover, then going back and reading it again.
The ANA still brings me that kind of joy. Its convention is one of the highlights of my year, the only can't-miss coin show, the convention that allows me to see old collector friends that I've known for two decades or more. In fact, there are people I see at ANA shows that I consider extremely important friends, close confidantes, long-time pals, whom I've never seen anywhere BUT an ANA convention. That's pretty powerful stuff.
The ANA has given me moments that I count among the highlights of my life. The Summer Seminar has been transformative for me, enabling me to meet some of my closest friends and learn more about coins than some collectors learn in a lifetime. Receiving the ANA YN of the Year award looked pretty fancy on my college applications. Their Heath Literary Award is literally the only award of any kind that I've ever won that is on display in my home.
I was an underpaid radio DJ the first time I taught at the ANA Summer Seminar, a single week spent teaching after five years when coins had become backburnered during college and the start of my media career. That week made me fall in love with numismatics again. It is no coincidence that exactly two months later, I had packed my bags and moved to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. It was at the ANA Seminar that I realized I was no radio jock. I was a numismatist.
In short, the ANA has been a really big deal in my life, and I am forever in its debt. I wouldn't be who I am today personally, professionally, or intellectually without it.
So the organization has gone through some tough times now and again. They are not run with the ruthless efficiency of a championship major league baseball franchise. Their institutional memory was once decades long, when a few folks hopped from office to office, filling every job in the building because their love of the organization mattered more than their particular qualifications for the position. Before HQ moved to Colorado Springs in 1967, the club was run out of Lew Reagan's briefcase. Afterwards, it was run out of the minds and hearts of men like Ken Bressett, Ed Rochette, Ken Hallenbeck, and others, folks who also experienced a transformative relationship with the nation's largest coin club. That generation moved on, in time, as generations do, replaced by people who had their own ideas about expanding, improving, and modernizing the services of the organization.
Boards came and went, as they did before, and as they will in the future. Some board members were elected year after year, enjoying their picture in the magazine and their sinecure atop the coin field. There were those who had ideas for the future, while others had memories of the past. Some were leaders, some were there for the hors d'oeuvres. Life went on, and the organization was, for the most part, none the worse for wear.
But modernity happened. The staff grew, requiring someone who knew how to be a boss and not just run a coin club. After the ANA's Greatest Generation had retired, the next wave had to feel around in the dark a bit. As history has indicated, their success rate hasn't been great. Despite this, the organization has persisted; the magazine has excelled; the museum has improved (those who doubt this never saw it 20+ years ago); and rank-and-file ANA staff members that most folks have never heard of have showed up, day after day, to do their jobs. While the board is fighting over ideas, and the members are rattling their sabres and declaring their unhappiness, these folks are showing up, making copies, putting books back on the library shelves, recruiting seminar instructors, returning emails, running coin shows, processing donations, selling magazine ads, updating the website, sweeping the loading dock, opening the mail. They're running the show, and doing a pretty damn good job of it. They're ensuring that the next 10 year old kid can send off for a pamphlet and have their life changed.
And that's worthwhile. That's what the ANA is there for.
Not a member? Go join: http://www.money.org/membership/join-the-ana.aspx