Interview by Rob Kurek, AMA Communications Director
We recently sat down with Joyce Hager, AMA’s longest-tenured employee and asked her to reflect on her time working for the organization. She officially retires August 4, 2023.
- What do you remember about your first day working for AMA?
We were located in a one-bedroom apartment located at McPherson Square in Washington, D.C.
- What was it like working in downtown Washington, D.C.?
I loved it! There were parks nearby and plenty of places to eat and shop. There was easy access by bus and then the subway.
- What did your friends and family think about you working for AMA?
It was always a good talking point. People couldn’t believe there was an association for hobbyists who flew model airplanes.
- Talk about some of the people you worked with in the early days.
When traveling to trade shows or the Nats, we had lots of volunteers. There were too many really to remember names, but two who stand out the most were Ron Morgan and Earl Witt. And I have to mention Dave Brown. He was AMA president at the time I was put in as interim executive director. But there were so many!
- How many trade shows and events do you think you have attended?
I would say 50 or more. The two biggest in their day was the Toledo Show in Ohio and the WRAM Show in White Plains, New York. You could hardly walk through the aisles. The members were friendly, and the vendors were great.
- Do any of them stand out for any particular reason?
Toledo and White Plains were the shows to attend. The aisles were always crowded, and vendors were eager to show off their new products for the year.
- What did you like most about working with members?
It was sometimes challenging working with various personalities, but I enjoyed meeting the members and talking about what they did for a living, family, just general discussion, even airplanes. Working with the AMA Executive council was challenging at times. My favorite expression when I would get a call on Monday morning from one of the Executive Council members (mainly Dave Brown) was that I felt like I had 15 husbands and, depending on who it was, determined how far from my ear I had to hold the phone. Patience was the key.
- Talk about some of the people you met along your AMA journey that stand out.
Ron Morgan and Earl Witt were individual volunteers who I worked with at the Nats. I learned a lot about the organization, what (model airplanes) can fly together and what ones can’t. For rules and regulations, deadlines, and why they exist, John Worth was my greatest mentor. I was his assistant starting in the 1980s until we moved to Muncie, Indiana, from Reston, Virginia. Frank Ehling and Bob Underwood were great mentors too. Both served as technical directors and were extremely knowledgeable about flying.
- What advice would you give a new staff member?
Learn as much as you can, and when opportunities open up, take them. You never know where it will lead you in your path at AMA or working elsewhere.
- You’ve been working for AMA since your teens. What advice would you give your younger self?
Always consider other opportunities within the organization. I had previously worked for a large department store and a collection agency, both very close to where I lived. I had a girlfriend who worked for AMA (Helen Edwards Costello) and she was the one who told me about an opening in the membership department, so I applied and got the job. The rest is history.
- What do you think members expect most from their organization?
Most members just want to fly their airplanes. I think that no matter what we do, many still look at us as an insurance company. I hope that changes someday.
- What’s a life lesson that you’ve learned from a long, successful career?
Boy, can the tides turn in a moment. Up until the move to Muncie, I primarily had one executive director: John Worth. Since being in Muncie, we have hired several and one served as an interim (Bob Underwood). Each person brings some expertise with them and in an instant can change the direction of the organization or how we were accustomed to operating, so express your views and be flexible.
- What’s the best advice you’ve received?
I received so much good advice from people on the Executive Council throughout the years, and here in Muncie. Tom Harris from Ball State started mentoring (executive director) Jerry Rouillard and then me, other coworkers, and friends. People need to remember there is more than one way to do most tasks.
- What are you going to miss most about AMA?
The people, employees, members, and visitors and being right next door to the best model aviation flying site in the world.
- What plans do you have for the future?
Relax, get organized, and volunteer at the Joe Nall Fly-in. Since my partner is a modeler, model airplanes will continue to be a part of my life.