Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Volunteer workers show Detroit really does 'love a good [political] party']

"Detroit has a bad enough image -- deserved or not -- and we didn't want to see the litter pile up and make it worse." Frank Baressi, a recently retired $40,000-a-year engineer, holding a broom in one hand and a red dustpan in the other, explains why he and several other Detroit volunteers are out cleaning the streets in front of Cobo Hall. This is the place, after all, where hundreds of GOP convention delegates are forming their early impressions of the Detroit that has been proudly billing itself as "renaissance city." And the strike of city workers which ended just before most delegates arrived had left the entire area less than immaculate.

According to its convention logo, "Detroit loves a good party." So far the reaction from delegates here, who turn out in droves for every side event from the welcoming boat parade along the Detroit River to band and barbershop concerts on nearby Hart Plaza, seems to be that the city knows how to throw a good party as well as enjoy one.

About these ads

Though not much has happened so far in the way of decisive Republican business, delegates as tourists give every impression of having a good time. Hosts and guests alike sport white straw hats with red, white, and blue ribbons -- a special challenge for women with bun hairdos. "Reagan for President" shopping bags, and elephants in every material and size, are everywhere in sight.

But behind the prevailing festive air of entertainment and the well-coordinated flow of events lies a major job of planning. For the last several months Detroit's Civic Host Committee and the GOP National Committee have been plotting the details of everything from hotel assignments and transportation connections to food supplies and convention security.

To get the work done, however, they have relied heavily on local volunteers such as Mr. Baressi. There has been no shortage. When the Civic Host Committee put out a call for 3,000 helpers last spring, it drew 3,600 almost immediately and quickly announced no more names would be taken. Committee executive director Carol Gies says there have been complaints from Detroiters who applied to help out but were never called. The names of several hundred of these have been handed over to convention officials, who are expected to tap them twice in the days ahead to blow up the 25,000 balloons that shower down on delegates in the convention hall at peak moments of excitement.

One Detroit volunteer spent an entire day at Metropolitan Airport putting up welcoming and directional signs. "She spent most of her time there hanging over the sides of escalators to get the signs in the right places," says Mrs. Gies. Several other volunteers set out each morning from convention headquarters to deliver copies of the daily events calendar to each state delegation at its hotel.

Probably the convention volunteer job requiring the most mathematical ability was the one recently taken on by Marty McGhee, a young librarian who had been laid off by a Detroit advertising agency. After extensive calculations of the space, effort, and time required, she and a team of two dozen volunteers tried an assembly line system to stuff 4,540 canvas Detroit welcome bags with 20 pieces of literature apiece. Figuring just how much space each bag would need, they then dispatched a fleet of four trucks and six vans and were able to deliver the entire lot to delegates and alternates at their hotels within a six-hour span.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.