History of the Palm Beach Macintosh User Group

November 28, 2013 by  

The Good, Bad, and the Ugly (with certain names omitted for my protection)

The history of the Palm Beach Macintosh User Group was never boring. It ran the gamut from election rigging, screaming in the aisles, police interference, to the highest standards of community service, training and education. I know most of the names, but in order to protect myself from potential libel, the most controversial of those names have been redacted.

The Players

  • [Name removed 1] : PBMUG president in the early 1980s–up until about 1987 or 1988 when the PBMUG suffered its first schism.
  • [Name removed 2]: Controversial president in 1990s, who was removed by recall election.
  • [Name removed 3]: Riviera Beach police sergeant and PBMUG board member. Used police state tactics to prevent recall election from taking place. Later filled for in the remainder of [Name removed 3]’s term.
  • [Name removed 4]: Next-to-last president of PBMUG, who was a polarizing influence in those last heady years of the club’s existence.
  • [Name removed 5]: Last (as far as I know) and longest serving president/czar of the South Florida Macintosh User Group

My history with the original PBMUG goes back to about 1986 or 1987, when they were meeting at one of the outbuildings owned by Palm Beach Atlantic College. The group, which started as a user group supporting Apple II users, was a lively group of 40-50 people who were trying to learn more about their newfangled Macintosh computers, which, at that time, consisted of the 512KE and the Macintosh Plus, and followed soon after by the SE and beyond.

[Name removed 1] was the president. He was under the impression that he was “president for life” and ran the club with an iron fist. Many of the “hard core” were already there: Bruce and Joan Ellis, Norm Argus, Bill Stander, Max Tochner, Jim Graham, and many more. These members stuck it out for the longest, though at the end, other than Bill Stander and me, they were long gone.

We had access to several rooms in this building, which I believe may have been part of the old Stewart Pontiac dealership, which had been sold to PBAC for eventual expansion of their downtown West Palm Beach campus.

I’m not exactly sure of the sequence here, and I hope other old timers who may be reading this will help correct me. I think from the PBAC facility, we went, for the first time, to the Science Museum at Dreher Park. This was a nice-sized auditorium, with a capacity of over 100. [Name removed 1] brought his Mac SE with a black-and-white LCD panel that sat on top of an overhead projector, and for the time, that was really the bee’s knees. The fact that a little Mac could project its screen onto a screen big enough for folks in the back row of the auditorium to be able to read most of what was displayed on the screen was really something in the late 80s.

It was around this time that local Macintosh dealer and consultant Denny Lockridge joined the group. He immediately took over the Q&A session, bringing a much-needed clarity to that part of the meetings. Soon after, he began selling (all proceeds went to the club) the infamous Denny Lockridge “Gobs of Goodies” floppy diskettes, full of freeware and shareware software. His monthly presentation demonstrating the contents of those diskettes was a highlight of the meeting. Due to his contacts in the industry, he also was able to bring in many representatives from the best Mac-friendly companies of the time.

We were there about two years when the board of directors put a set of by-laws together and decided it was time for elections, as everything had been pretty much ad-hoc up until then. There were no real problems with candidates for the offices of secretary, treasurer, vice-president, and so on, but the run for the presidency nearly destroyed the group, as so often happens in these small social groups (and condo boards alike). [Name removed 1] was quite taken aback that someone had the audacity to challenge him for the office. That person was Denny Lockridge.

Election Crisis

The new by-laws had a provision for mail-in ballots, as many of our members were seasonal (this was Palm Beach County, after all). When the combination of in-person and mail-in ballots was tallied up at a board meeting, Denny was the clear winner. [Name removed 1] would have none of it, and declared the by-laws were not legal, whereupon he confiscated and allegedly destroyed the ballots. As you can imagine, the next meeting was a rather heated affair with folks on both sides of the issue screaming in the aisles and fistfights were barely averted. The age-old question of whether a family membership meant that everyone in the family could vote further divided the attendees. If memory serves, the board (and [Name removed 1] agreed to another in-person balloting at the next meeting.

At that next meeting, a new election was held, and Denny won again, though by a fairly tight margin. [Name removed 1] picked up his equipment and stormed out rather ungraciously, never to appear at a PBMUG meeting ever again. He was involved in the formation of the South Florida Mac User Group (SFMUG), but apparently left when he failed to be elected as president of that group (a Palm Beach County Fire Department Captain won that election). More about the SFMUG later. It was also here that Denny first uttered those famous (and important) words: “It’s just a club!”

When Denny took over as president of the PBMUG, we gained access to some really high-tech color display equipment. Denny always had the best stuff. There were also some left-over hard feelings, with wild accusations that Denny used the club to enrich himself (having access to the club membership roster for one example). He was also accused of using the Q&A sessions to profit himself (when complicated questions were asked, he asked the questioner to call him the next day). As it turned out, and something a lot of folks didn’t know was that unless Denny had to make a house call, or got far too many calls from the same person, he worked free of charge. Denny was responsible for putting together an active and involved board of directors, to whom Denny delegated most duties. Club meetings were fun again.

Antivirus Training 101

Soon after the election debacle, in the late 1980s or early 1990s, the auditorium at the Science Museum closed for remodeling. We were able to get use of a decent sized lecture hall back at Palm Beach Atlantic College, and that’s where we met for about a year. It was while we were meeting at PBAC for the second time, we had a presenter from a major Macintosh software developer, who came to demonstrate his latest products. Unfortunately, the floppy diskette he brought with him was infected with one of the early Macintosh viruses. He was doing the demo on one of Denny’s Macs, which had one of the popular anti-virus programs running in the background. The demonstrator inserted the floppy, a warning immediately popped up the screen, and the demonstrator, probably not knowing any better, clicked the “Ignore” button, which promptly infected Denny’s hard drive. Denny tried to stop the demonstrator, but he just wasn’t fast enough. Instead, Denny used this as an educational opportunity. He pushed the demonstrator aside and did an impromptu demonstration of his own, on how to eradicate viruses on a Mac. Fortunately, those early viruses were fairly benign and didn’t do the kind of damage that Windows viruses do these days, but if Denny hadn’t jumped in right away, more damage to his files, applications, or file system could have occurred. All in all, very amusing, and a very timely demonstration.

We Move Again and Farewell to Denny

We soon outgrew the lecture hall at PBAC, and sometime around 1993, found a new home at Palm Beach Lakes High School, where we stayed for about fourteen years. We used their large auditorium for most of our time there, and as the membership began to decline, we moved to the school library. More about that later.

Denny served for two terms as president and handed the gavel over to Bruce Ellis, a Mac consultant. Soon after, we were shocked to learn that Denny had suddenly died in his sleep of a massive coronary. I was on the board of directors by this time. One of the requirements of board membership was that the board member had to make their house available on a rotating schedule for the board meetings. I got nailed with this duty once, only about a month or two after I moved into my new townhouse. Eventually, Shirley Dellerson graciously offered her home for the monthly meetings, and provided many memorable meals in the process.

PBMUG Achievements

Things moved along quite well during those next ten years…mostly. We began doing an annual auction, getting great donations from Mac software and hardware companies, and people brought their own stuff to auction off. Eventually, this changed to a part-auction, part-flea market, and ultimately, a full flea market. I think we did this for four or five years. The proceeds from these auctions and other fundraising activities permitted us to supply about ten Macintosh Classics and some software for the Palm Beach Lakes High School computer lab. That only served to change the relationship with the school to one of “what have you done for me lately” as the evening faculty leadership changed and was charged with finding new revenue (see more later).

Controversy and Discord

As directed by the by-laws, Bruce had to step down as president after a set period of time, and Jim Grimes, a retired engineer from Pratt-Whitney took over. Membership began to decline as we moved closer to the year 2000. We were asked to move to the library, which we usually filled to capacity. Jim served for a couple of years, and was then replaced by a fellow from the Treasure Coast, [Name removed 2]. [Name removed 2] had his own ideas on how to run a club. By this time, my work took much more of my time, and I had to reluctantly resign from the board of directors. It meant I missed out on a lot of the “interesting” things that were going on at the board meetings. For one, [Name removed 2] had a real problem with inviting any speaker who made money from the Macintosh industry (software and hardware), which brought professional presentations from the top companies in the industry to a sudden end. In his view, this was the dreaded “commercialism,” and he would have none of it. Mind you, this was not the only reason for discord among the board and membership, but in the end, the membership called for a recall election. I can assure you that the meetings for the next few months leading up to the recall vote were every bit as lively as the election challenge between [Name removed 2] and Denny Lockridge some ten years before.

Recall and Police Intervention

It all culminated in the meeting where the vote was to be held. [Name removed 3], a sergeant with the Riviera Beach Police Department, called in a few favors and got one or more off-duty cops to stand in front of the door to the library. [Name removed 3] stood next to him and silently alerted the cop to anyone, including paid members, that he did not want to attend the meeting. When this happened, the cop advised the shocked club member that if he did not leave, he would be arrested for trespassing. As you might imagine, that didn’t go over very well! [Name removed 3] claimed it was just to keep the “troublemakers” out. Well, it sure looked like the troublemakers were almost all the ones who wanted [Name removed 2] out. Oh, forgot to mention, [Name removed 2] and [Name removed 3] were very good personal friends. When, despite [Name removed 3]’s best efforts to control the election, [Name removed 2] lost the recall election, they both departed the scene, never to be seen at a PBMUG meeting again. [Name removed 3], by the way, served out the remainder of [Name removed 2]’s term. Sadly, just a few years later, [Name removed 3] passed away from cancer. He was a young man, in his 40s or early 50s. Our next president was PBMUG stalwart, Bruce Ellis, and then by Bill Stander, before [Name removed 4] took over the presidency.

As a sidenote to this sordid affair, another of our members, [Name removed 4], was a member of the Palm Beach Lakes HS night school faculty (he taught Macintosh classes), but when he headed toward the administration area, [Name removed 3] gave the cop the high sign, and [Name removed 4] was barred from the school campus. This did not exactly place the PBMUG in the good graces of the PBLHS night principal and his staff! Soon after, and to be fair, probably coincidentally, due to budget cuts and so on, the PBMUG was advised they would have to begin to pay to use the school facilities (a rate that, with our dwindling membership, was exorbitant), and that we would have to purchase a sizeable liability insurance policy (the policy coverage and recipient of the policy’s benefits were subject to school board approval). We began a search for a new home.

We Move for the Last Time, and Downsizing

We found our final home at the old downtown West Palm Beach City Library, on Flagler and Clematis. There was a somewhat seedy meeting room in the downstairs area, off the Children’s Library, that we called home for the next two or three years. [Name removed 4] was president. He really tried to hold a dwindling membership together, but he was also a polarizing figure. Some loved him, and some, well, didn’t. He served for the maximum term, whatever that was, and then was replaced by Brian Bahe. It was around this time that I rejoined the board for the club’s final two years of existence. Brian and many board members were stressed out due to their interactions with [Name removed 4]. Personally, I never saw any of it, so I cannot personally attest to the actions described at board meetings and social gatherings with board members. We finally decided there was no good reason to keep the PBMUG going. The treasury was pretty much gone. We had anywhere from 5-10 attendees at the meetings, and maybe 25 paid members.

A Windows PC Saves the Day (sidebar)

I’ll admit I had some fun in those last few years. A Palm Beach Post reporter came in to do a presentation, but he didn’t have the right adapters to connect his PowerBook to our LCD projector (the last big club purchase). I had the right adapters, but didn’t have Adobe Photoshop on my laptop–at least not in a Mac environment. I had VMWare Fusion (a program that lets you run Microsoft Windows on a Mac, among other things) installed on my MacBook, and in that Windows XP environment, I did have Adobe Photoshop installed, meaning that a Windows machine saved the day at a Mac user group meeting. The reporter had a tough time, as he had never used Windows before, but I was able to quickly show him to substitute the Control key for the Command key, and everything else was pretty much the same as the Mac version.

Analysis

What killed the PBMUG? We had major membership drops with each personality clash. No one wants strife–especially if they have to pay for it (club dues). The recall election was nearly the last straw, but we were able to hold it together for a few more years. The things that really killed it were twofold:

  • The Internet. With the Internet, you don’t need to get into your car (and if you are elderly, as so many of our members are, you don’t need to drive at night) and go to some building, in a sometimes scary part of the city, to find out more about your Mac, which, if it’s a desktop machine, is probably sitting at home, so you hope you can remember what you need to know, and what you have to do before you get home again. Also, with the increasingly easy search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc., you can ask your computer questions directly. You don’t need to buy computer books, or read computer magazines (which is one reason those industries are really suffering).
  • Social Media. The younger generations do not see the need to get out and mix with people when they can do it from the convenience of their air conditioned home, in the privacy of their bedroom, using their iDevices or computers to get onto Facebook, Twitter, and any number of other social media sites. I think this is one reason kids really don’t want to learn how to drive. They don’t need to. If still living at home, they can always get Mom to take them where they want to go, and the parents don’t really fight it, because it helps keep their insurance costs down. Of course, down the road (if you pardon the expression), they are in for a rude awakening when they finally leave Mommy and Daddy’s nest and have to fend for themselves. Oh, wait! I remember now! Kids aren’t leaving home anymore (and for reasons I cannot fathom, the parents are permitting this)!

Sadly, user groups are increasingly irrelevant. Even Apple has turned quite hostile to user groups because they cannot control them, and as we all know, if Apple is about anything at all, it’s about control.

Epilog

From the ashes of PBMUG rose the Palm Beach Phoenix Apple User Group. Founded by an interesting German fellow and retired Apple dealer, Jörg G. von Veltar (known to everyone as JG) in 2009, the club has struggled to find an audience and a purpose. It has managed to keep 100-150 paid members, but only 10-20 ever come to meetings, and frankly (and as I approach 60 myself, I can say this with some authority), the meeting room has so much gray hair that it looks to me like God’s waiting room. You know you are in trouble when you give a presentation about how to find a job using LinkedIn, and one of the members gets up, stops the (my) presentation, and says “we’re all retired here—why do we need to know this?” I just wish I had had a cleverer comeback like “maybe you have an unemployed relative, and maybe you could offer them some advice based upon what you learned today.” Nope. I just closed the presentation and just burned. I almost expressed to the membership how I really felt, and nearly left for good, uttering the ever-popular (in some circles) verb and pronoun (and I’m pretty sure you know which verb and pronoun of which I speak–heck, you may have even uttered them yourself at some point).

JG has an ambitious plan to build a PBPAUG meeting building to help provide training and support services to the Palm Beach County Apple users community, but has struggled to obtain the necessary financial backing, and he might not if he cannot attract a younger and more active crowd. Maybe he has discovered a better mousetrap, but unless he can find some mice, his dream is in real trouble.

Please note that after five years, and as the PB Phoenix AUG struggles, it never struggled due to internal fights or strife, but instead due to a dwindling membership (as seems to have happened to most user groups).

JG and I constantly argue this point. I’m of the school that user groups are passé and have outlived their usefulness (yet I still attend PBPAUG meetings). JG believes that a large part of the community, in particular the seniors, really need the services of a user group, and there is a very valid argument for the need to support this admittedly limited (and often with limited resources) demographic. Unfortunately, most of these community members don’t know they need these services.

Sidebar: South Florida Macintosh User Group

I promised I’d get back to this one. Disgruntled former PBMUG members formed the SFMUG. It met at the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center at Southern Blvd. and Military Trail for a couple of years. They migrated to the Science Museum at Dreher Park for a few more years, before winding up at the Habilitation Center on 6th Avenue S. and Congress Avenue in Lake Worth. After several leadership changes, it was all but taken over by [Name removed 5], a Macintosh consultant. [Name removed 5] led the group as a personal fiefdom, permitting little if any dissent. Elected officers were not granted access to club documents. The treasurer did not have access to the bank accounts and financial records. In one case, I don’t think the treasurer was even on the bank’s signature card.

I mentioned [Name removed 4] earlier. He really had a knack for being at the right place at the wrong time. He had been elected to some office within the SFMUG, and he had the audacity to make a valiant attempt to perform those duties. Every month he insisted more and more, until at one meeting, [Name removed 5], working from [Name removed 3]’s playbook, had a rent-a-cop at the meeting room’s front door, hired solely to prevent a duly-elected club officer from entering the meeting room to perform his official duties with the common threat of rent-a-cops around the world: If you don’t leave, you will be arrested for trespassing. I think that’s when [Name removed 4] came back to the PBMUG where he was active until the end. In fact, the last time I heard, he was still running a Yahoo group for former PBMUG members, and to tell you the truth, I think far more folks loved him than otherwise, and I think it had to do with [Name removed 4]’s issues with people in authority.

As far as the SFMUG goes, I think the membership finally wised up and the club slowly faded away.