Valley Mall Classic Car Group...Not just for show

Valley Mall Classic Car Group
Not just for show
by Brittany Lebling

As a staple of Hagerstown's summertime culture, Valley Mall's Classic Car Show offers a fun family-oriented evening for all to enjoy. The event's most admirable quality exists outside on Valley Mall's parking lot away from the hundreds of meticulously cared for automobiles. All proceeds from the car show are donated to the Dreams Come True foundation, which fulfills the dreams and wishes of terminally ill children.
Philanthropist Thomas R. McGeehee created the foundation with several partners in 1984 after feeling the rush of helping a 17-year-old boy with cystic fibrosis. McGeehee arranged for the young man, who loved the game of golf, to play a round with Fred Couples. In a poignant moment after the round, Couples gave the boy his driver club. When the young man finally lost his battle with cystic fibrosis, the driver was buried at his side. Over 22 years later, Dreams Come True has touched the lives of more than 1800 children.
Larry Sulser, president of the Classic Car Group for Children the past 15 years, may be the ringleader of the car shows, but he strongly praises and shows gratitude for his close circle of volunteers (especially the ladies with indispensable organizational dexterity), without whom he would feel lost.
To create this current empire of family fun-fueled charity, the Classic Car Group first had to find a suitable organization to donate toward. Larry explains, "When we started out, we were trying to find a [local] charity [where] the money would stay here in the area...with [Dreams Come True] most of the staff [are volunteers]...and that's one good thing because a larger chunk of the money goes to the organization. That's basically why we chose that, you know, instead of a national organization where you don't know where your money is actually going."
Larry Sulser and company are extremely happy to be donating to such a cause. He believes that it has become a fruitful and symbiotic relationship between the Classic Car Group for Children and Dreams Come True.
Perhaps the best feature of the car show is that along with monetary success, an intangible feeling of pride falls upon every volunteer and entrant. When asked why he became involved with the charity, Larry's face softened. "When I go home at night I know I helped somebody," he said. "I had three [young] kids of my own when I got into this. I have four grandkids now. We all feel good that we helped raise some money to help somebody."
After speaking to several attendees, it was apparent that most were there for dual reasons--not just to show off their accomplishments, but also to make a difference. The efficacy of their mechanical triumphs compels between 300 and over 500 people to participate on those balmy summer Saturday evenings. Although the donation charge for each car is only $2.00, this quickly adds up with the high volume of participants. One entrant spoke fervently, "The donations to Dreams Come True and other charities are probably the big reason that I come out here. I feel good about doing this, and it's [something that really draws me] to this place."
The beginnings of the Classic Car Group for Children are humble, starting out in the parking lot of the McDonald's on Wesel Boulevard. As word and interest quickly spread, Larry realized that they did not have enough room and spoke to the manager of the K-Mart just a few yards away with a much larger parking lot. The location was moved and Sulser's car show grew immensely.
"In one night, we went from 14 cars to 125, and it's just grown since then," he said. "[It's] changed me, it's changed all of us cause we're all volunteers. There are about 17 of us in the club and out of the 17 you'll see the same eight or nine out here every Saturday night; it's about dedication."
As the number of entrants swelled, they decided to move the car show's location to the Valley Mall parking lot behind JC Penney.
Upon arriving at the car show, it is likely that cars will be pouring in the entrance, one gleaming mass after the next. Families will gather in their usual spots, armchairs in hand, ready to answer any questions that passersby may ask. The atmosphere of the car show is extremely relaxed, perhaps partially due to the fact that only admiration, and not official judgment, occurs. When asked why they come out on the weekends, attendees usually respond with the phrase "good people," and that is surely an understatement. Maryland may be just below the Mason-Dixon line, but Southern kindness abounds as proud owners wax their cars with casual nods to friends and strangers alike.
Several owners keep the hoods of their cars open, hoping to bring focus to any newly added power, or just to show off what the cars have always been able to boast about. Yet this event is about more than just "bragging rights" to most entrants. It is a strong family tradition, which is illustrated by the variety of generations you will find huddled around one vehicle, everyone learning something from another. "People are more sociable around here, I think," said one participant when listing his numerous reasons for coming out.
The types of cars seen at the shows diverge greatly, and it is not uncommon to see classic structures from the 50s and 60s next to a brand new Scion. Curiously, these different schools of automobile coexisting do not seem to bother most. A young man spoke contentedly, "I don't care if there is an older car next to mine, I think that the differences are what makes this car show awesome, because anyone can enter. I like seeing older cars and newer cars." Most entrants bring out finished products--cars that are well rested in garages and only flaunted for "special occasions" as one person said. However, it appeared that the younger participants were early in the game of preparing their cars to be shown. When asked how much time they spent working on their cars, answers ranged from two- to an astonishing 10-hours per week.
Along with good people, the car show offers continuous tunes of the 50s, 60s, and 70s from large speakers at the back of the lot. This music radiates comfort and fun memories, and effortlessly circumvents dating the event to something old and moldy. Carnival-style snacks with economical prices are offered near the music stand, and include popcorn, snow cones, and beverages.
The Classic Car Group for Children has constructed a short list of rules, which parallel the values of the car show. The group asks entrants and participants not to bring alcohol or pets or do burnouts while leaving. Because the car show provides music for everyone, they also ask that there is no stereo playing while at the show. These few simple rules create a safe and worry-free atmosphere for everyone. In addition to general benefits, these guidelines signify the respect and esteem assigned to the charity's cause.
The car show, which began in April, runs until September 16, 2006 every Saturday evening at 5:00p.m. Thousands will be enticed by warm temperatures and friendly faces. However, those nights will be more than just a conglomeration of chrome, rubber, and leather-they will allow for the success of Dreams Come True, and in turn, the happiness of several extraordinary children. There cannot be a better reason to go out and have a good time on a Saturday evening.