Villagers’ convertibles serve as catalysts for friends, fun, and travel.
Photos: Nicole Hamel
Members of The Villages Convertible Club believe in cruisin’ for the sheer fun of it.
“Our motto is ‘topsdown,’ so we go topsdown and go cruising,” says Frank Dolence, the club’s VP of trip planning. “The whole idea of the club is to socialize, have fun, take trips, meet people and make new friends. That’s why my wife Kathy and I joined it.”
Kathy, who serves as the club’s VP of communications, says they’ve made some good friends through the club.
“The people are wonderful. They are friendly and the meetings are very interesting and funny. When you go on trips, sometimes you don’t know everybody, but people in the club are so open to meeting others, that it makes it easy,” she says.
The club’s founder, Jim Judd, says he’s happy to hear that his vision for the group is still being followed. In 2009, at the club’s very first meeting, organizers suggested members meet up for occasional dinners at various restaurants, but Jim asked that trips be considered as another possible activity.
“I was new to Florida and felt like I really wanted to explore the area and see what was here,” says Jim, adding that when the organizers dropped out soon after that, he was left running the show.
He planned the club’s very first trip – a Gulf Coast adventure for 24 that included a remote beach, an archeological site, riverside lunch and a nature boat ride along the Crystal River.
When only 14 people (every member at the second meeting) signed up, Jim advertised the club and trip in the local newspaper to garner more interest. Within a few days, he had dozens of new members. Seventy-two people signed up for the trip, more than the one boat available could carry. The problem was rectified when the captain agreed to three separate two-hour runs to accommodate everyone. The trip was a success.
Jim says memberships began to spike after that. One hundred members belonged by the end of year one, and another 100 joined the next year. Today, the club is topped out at 780 members and nearly 400 convertibles of all kinds. And there’s a waitlist.
“What makes our club so unique over other car clubs in The Villages, is that we are so active,” Jim says, adding that they take anywhere from eight to 10 trips per month, including a monthly “dine-out” to a high-end restaurant, several day trips to nearby attractions, overnight trips to farther Florida destinations and to other states once or twice a year.
Jan Brown, the club’s current president, says some of last year’s trips were affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but by September 2020, members resumed small outdoor trips.
In 2021, things got back on track with monthly meetings and trips to places like the Barberville Pioneer Settlement and the ‘All About Elephants’ sanctuary in Williston.
Two bigger trips are also on the books: a three-day trip to southern Georgia dubbed “Georgia on my mind” 100 members are taking in October to see the plantations, museums and a winery, and one later in the year to Charleston, SC.
Frank says members usually take scenic routes to their destinations separately; but meet up to eat and for planned activities. At each outing, members are mixed up to ensure they meet new people.
“You do meet people, you do make friends and you do have fun, and that’s our whole goal,” he says.
Frank says people enjoy seeing them cruising down the road and pulling up to places in their convertibles, and sometimes they admire, take pictures, or ask members questions.
He says his convertible, a 2016 Mustang, attracts plenty of attention, but there are a wide variety of cars in the club. Jan has a Volkswagen convertible, Jim drives a passion red Nissan 370Z Roadster, and one member has a $110,000 Audi R8 Coupe sportscar.
There are some awesome cars, but people, not horsepower make this club special. “The convertible is a means into the club, but after that, it’s just all about fun and having a good time.”
Even so, some members show off their rides in parades or an annual car show at Sumter Landing.
Jim says the shows are fun, but fun and camaraderie are what drive the excitement he and wife Dee feel year-after-year. “We’re meeting new friends constantly, and the variety of activities we have keep everyone’s interest,” Jim says.
Same with Jan and her husband Steve.
“We don’t focus on the mechanics of the cars, but on trips, going places, doing things, and learning about Florida. A lot of places, we would have never gone if it weren’t for the Convertible Club and the research the club does to find the best trips for us is fantastic,” Jan says. “It’s all about enjoying the ride.”
The Villages Convertible Club meets at 10 a.m. on the second Thursday of every month (excluding July and August) at the Eisenhower Recreation Center.
For more information, visit thevillagescc.com.