The Potomac Valley Guppy Club formed in 1960 in northern Virginia to serve the greater Washington DC metropolitan area. During its first decade the club conducted itself informally, and no documents exist from that time. The fact that many of the founding members hailed from the defense and intelligence communities has resulted in much light-hearted speculation about those “dark years.” In July 1970 the club published its first issue of Delta Tale, a publication that was to continue until 2010 at varying intervals until the website took over the critical function of club communications. In 1972, the club changed its name to the Potomac Valley Aquarium Society to reflect the expanding interest in different species of fish. In 1975 the club introduced its Breeders Award Program (BAP) and then in 1982 a Horticultural Award Program. The BAP has enjoyed periods of intense activity interspersed with periods of inactivity, but the HAP never received many entries and eventually was abandoned. In 1982, the club lost its long-time meeting place at the Coca Cola Bottling Plant. Meetings were moved to the Jefferson Fire Station in Falls Church, VA, and then temporarily (after a roof collapse at the fire station) to the Westover Baptist Church in Arlington while the roof was being repaired. In 1984 meetings were moved to the John C. Wood Facility in Fairfax where they remained until the move to Green Acres School in 2009.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the primary focus of monthly meetings were Bowl Shows (initially called Table Shows), presentations, and mini-auctions. Species featured at monthly bowl shows varied but always included classes of guppies which would draw 50 or more entries. Once or twice a year there would be full day Fish Shows typically held over 2 days. Eventually the Fish Shows were expanded to include all-day auctions on Sunday and formal presentations.
PVAS was incorporated as a not-for-profit 501(c)7 nonstock corporation in 1985 for its 25th anniversary. Monday night monthly meetings gave way to Saturday afternoons in 2009. While many long-time members opposed the transition, it was crucial to making the club accessible to working professionals unable to attend on a week day night. A new logo designed by Jennifer Williams was also rolled out in preparation for PVAS’s 50th anniversary in 2010 which was celebrated with a number of activities including a party at The National Aquarium in Washington, D.C. and the release of a DVD with the (almost) full suite of Delta Tale publications. Delta Tale is now available in the Resources section of this website.
Through the early 2000's the club continued to host a Fall Fish Festival, and then joined forces with the Capital Cichlid Association and the Greater Washington Aquatic Plant Association to host AquaFest in odd-numbered years through 2013. The launch of the All-Aquarium Catfish Convention in 2004 marked a quantum step forward increasing the club’s profile to an international plane. The Convention, affectionately referred to as CatCon by members, continues to be held every other year on even-numbered years at the Hyatt Regency Dulles over three to four days. The convention revolves around a full program of internationally acclaimed catfish aficionados with many other activities such as field trips, collecting trips, Spree on Three, raffles, a banquet, and the PVAS Fall All-Day Auction.
50 YEARS OF PVAS:
SOME FACTS, MEMORIES, THOUGHTS, AND OTHER ASSORTED STUFF
a humorous account of PVAS written by John Mangan on the occasion of our 50th anniversary
It was a dark, stormy night sometime in the year 10 BD (Before Delta Tale). A group of mysterious hooded figures gathered around a table in the bowels of an obscure government building. The Soviet Union was a threat that was growing by the day. It was the mission of these mysterious men oppose it. But how? They needed a way to move about freely without being noticed. "We need a cover" whispered one of the figures, "but what?"
"I know", hissed a voice from the darkest corner of the room. "We will form a club."
"But what kind of a club?" asked the first voice.
"A guppy club" the second sneered in reply. "The Soviets wish to develop a strain of super guppy*. We will call this club the Potomac Valley Guppy Club and use it to trap the Soviets and ultimately defeat them." (*Note: it is rumored that this was the ancestor of the so-called Moscow guppy. O.K, I just now started the rumor, but they have to start someplace).
What, you don't believe this? Well, it could have started that way. At the time that I joined the club there were a large number of members that were very involved in various aspects of national security and intelligence. It was common to see conversations stop when someone new approached a group. Unlike the speculation above, this is a real fact that can be verified by the few other "old timers" still around.
The real origin of the club and its first ten years are actually something of a mystery to us. I don't know of anyone that has any type of written record from this period of our history. There must have been some form of communication among members, at the very least, to them of meeting times, dates, etc. Could it be this was classified information passed on in code at secret drop sites? That's as good a guess as any (well, maybe not as good as any, but I'm sticking with it).
Enough of this speculation, or Paul is liable to say "why did I ask this idiot to write an article?" and just throw it in the trash without reading any more. I'll move on to things that are known. The rest of this article will be based on facts I've dug out of old Delta Tales and assorted things shaken out of my memory. It is not meant to be a definitive history of PVAS, just a collection of interesting (I hope) stuff. It will be, more or less, in chronological order. There are a few things I don't remember the exact dates of, but I will attempt to put them in roughly the right spot, So, here we go:
July, 1970: the first issue of Delta Tale is published, printed in an 8 x 11 format. The club is known as the Potomac Valley Guppy Club. Membership is $5.00 per year. It was mailed to members via first class postage for 18 cents. You will all soon have a chance to own a copy of this for yourselves. Gerry Hoffman has scanned a copy of every Delta Tale that he was able to find onto compact discs which will be available to all PVAS members. I would highly recommend reading "So you want to make a fish pond: or How to make a S2 fish pond for $907.59" in this issue.
July 1972: a proposal is made to change the name of the club to the Potomac Valley Aquarium Society. Besides the obvious change from "guppy" to "aquarium" note the change from "club" to "society". The reasoning for this at the time was that there would be at least 3 "clubs" within the ''society". These would be a guppy club, which would retain the name PVGC so there was no need to change the relationship with the IFGA (the national guppy group); a cichlid club; a general aquarium club; and others to be added later as interest arose. Each "club" would have its own meeting and report to the general membership at the "society" monthly meeting. This idea didn't seem to go very far. I was able to find a few references to the cichlid club a few issues after this but nothing about any others.
August 1972: the name change to PVAS becomes official.
Volume 2, #10: not dated but probably Oct. 1972? The infamous Delta Tale cover with the drawing of a cichlid eating a fancy guppy. No, it wasn't my idea. I wasn't even a member then. Although it does sound like something I might have done if I had been editor back then. Needless to say this caused a huge uproar.
Volume 3, #4: mailing is changed to 3rd class. It now cost 8 cents to mail an issue. this did not last long though. Starting a few issues later the cost jumped up to a whopping 10 cents.
Feb. 1974: Delta Tale's size is changed to 7 x 8 1/2". With the exception of the Oct.1974 issue it would keep this format until recent times.
1975: Breeders Award Program started. This program has had a roller coaster of an existence. At times it has been extremely active and popular only to pretty much disappear then explode in popularity again at a later time.
October 21, 1979: the day I joined PVAS. I was sitting around the house feeling somewhat bored and started reading the newspaper. Well, there in the classified ads in the Washington Post was an ad for a fish auction. I had never been to one before, so with nothing better to do I decided to check it out. At that time the auction, as well as meetings, were held at the Coca Cola bottling plant on Seminary rd, in Bailey's Crossroads. Two things happened that afternoon that changed my life in large ways forever. First, I bought 3 raffle tickets for $1. I then proceeded to win a 5 lb bucket of Tetra Min and a power filter (don't remember what kind). Feeling somewhat guilty about getting all this for a dollar I decided the least I could do is give the club a little support by paying for a membership. Little did I know what this would lead to. Let this be a warning to others. This is how they suck you in. Is it just a coincidence that I won two big prizes for a dollar at my first auction and nothing else in 30+ years, or does that opening paragraph begin to sound a little more believable? The second life changing thing that happened involved what I bought in this auction. There were 2 pairs of goodeids in the auction, one redtail and one bluetail, and by the end of the afternoon they were mine. I had never seen goodeids before and had very little idea what I was bidding on. The only thing I knew was the very little I had learned about them in my ichthyology class a few months before. I had learned that, unlike most live-bearing fishes, goodeid babies were actually attached to their mother by an umbilical cord-like structure much like a mammal. I had found this very interesting and finally had a chance to see some. The rest, as they say, is history (and a whole other long story).
May, 1980: This is the first mention I can find of Ted Herndon as the Delta Tale printer. From the way issues looked I believe he was the printer long before this, but I don't know when he started. Ted deserves a mention in any history of PVAS. He was not a member but played a large part in the success of the club. When he first got involved with PVAS, Ted worked in the basement of the Pentagon as a printer for the government (here we go again with the government connection). He would work early mornings in the Pentagon, then in the afternoon and evening do printing work from a small printing business he had set up in his garage. At some point he met PVAS member Pat Mahoney, who also worked in the Pentagon (am I starting to sound a little less crazy?). I don't know for sure how they met, but most likely it was from Pat needing some official work-related printing done. Also, somewhere early in their relationship, Pat and/or his wife Maggi (also a very active PVAS member) did a favor for Ted. I don't know the exact details, but from what the Mahoney's told me I know that they did something to help Ted's daughter with a school project. Ted was extremely grateful for whatever it was they did. To show his gratitude he would do printing work for PVAS at, or very close to, his cost for many, many years (he was still doing this for us around early 2000 when he retired due to health problems). If you wonder why some old issues are printed with colored ink, and various color covers, Ted would use leftover ink and paper from other printing jobs for our stuff to further save money for us. As time went by Ted slowly bought used printing equipment being retired by the Pentagon until he finally had enough equipment and business to leave the Pentagon and open his own printing business, Top Cat Printing, in Manassas Park, VA. When I first took over as Delta Tale editor (more about that later) Ted was still working for the Pentagon, and on his way home from work in the afternoon would stop by my store in Vienna to pick up and drop off Delta Tales or other PVAS printing. Even after he left the Pentagon he would drive from Manassas to Vienna to pick up and deliver stuff to me. Remember, this was work he was making very little money on. Ted was a huge friend to the club and an important part of our history. We probably wouldn't have been able to put out monthly Delta Tales as long as we did without his generosity.
May, 1980: my first article appears in Delta Tale. It was a reprint of the first part of a series of articles called "Ichthyology Made Easy" that I had been writing for a group called the National Aquarium Club. This group was a national group, much like ACA, AKA, etc., but it covered everything, not just a specialty. The group had dissolved sometime shortly before this, and the rest of this series was published exclusively in Delta Tale.
Spring Show 1980: also a first for me. This was my first experience entering a fish show. I entered two fish and won first and second place in the "other livebearers" class with a redtail goodeid (which also took best in class livebearer) and a butterfly goodeid. I've used this story many times over the years to encourage people to participate in shows. It proves you don't need experience to win. We've got our bowl show coming up at the July meeting, so keep this in mind and participate.
June 22, 1980: the first PVAS spring picnic. These were held for a number of years. PVAS would supply hotdogs, burgers, etc., and members would bring other various side dishes. Due to work and other commitments (several years in a row it was on days I was out of town) I never made it to one. Everyone always seemed to have a good time though from what I heard, in spite of most of them being on rainy days.
Feb. 1982: due to new management at the Coca Cola plant we lost our long-time meeting place. After 15 years of friendship they would not renew the agreement to use their meeting room and would not give any good reason. Meetings were moved to the Jefferson Fire Station near Loehman's Plaza in Falls Church, VA.
Unfortunately, a short time after this there was a roof collapse (I didn't do it) at the Fire Station and we had to move for several months to the Westover Baptist Church in Arlington.
Oct. 1982: somewhere around this time we tried to start a Horticultural Award Program (HAP), a program very similar to the BAP, but for plants. We struggled with this for a number of years. For some reason it never really seemed to catch on. Everyone seemed to think it was a great idea, but only a tiny handful of people ever actually participated in it. Anyone interested in knowing more about this (and maybe trying it again) is strongly encouraged to dig through the back issues to find out more.
Jan. 1983: my first official position in PVAS. My sister, Michelle, and I took over as the bowl show committee. This is another of those things that has had extreme fluctuations in interest over the years. Bowl shows used to be held at every monthly meeting. There were periods of time when there were so many entries that there was no room on the tables for them all. Then years would go by with almost no participation until a sudden reawakening of interest would occur. To try to build up interest I got approval from the board to give a 20 gallon tank as a prize to the person with the most number of bowl show points at the end of the year. This was tried for several years. It seemed to get a little more interest going but not a lot.
1984: Lots of stuff seemed to happen in this year. I started my first (of many, many) terms on the board. For many years board meetings were held a different day than the general meetings. They would be held at a different board members home each month. A great perk of being on the board was getting to travel around and see different people's fish rooms each month. I don't know where to fit this next story in, so I'll just put it here since I'm talking about the board meetings. This did not happen in 1984 and I can't remember exactly when it did happen (early 90's?). The board meeting for whatever month this happened was held at the home of Ray Hughes in Rockville. I was living in Vienna at the time, and Gerry Hoffman was living in Warrenton. We decided to car pool to the meeting along with at least one other VA board member (can't remember who). There was also another group from VA that car pooled to the meeting with Gene Aldridge (again I can't remember who else was in Gene's car). After the meeting, to make it easier for me to find the way home (I had never driven to the wilds of Maryland before) it was decided that I would follow Gene's car until we got back into VA and I knew where I was. Well it was dark and, I believe, a little rainy (wait a minute, where have I heard that before). Things went o.k. until we came to a bridge under construction (at the time I had no idea where this was, but looking back it must have been the "Cabin John" aka American Legion Bridge). As I said, it was very dark and hard to see. There were lots of barrels and cones due to the construction. We saw a sign that said exit and Gene went through an opening in the barrels that looked like an exit. So I followed. All of a sudden Gene's car comes to a stop in the middle of the bridge. Very slowly driving up behind him to see what was wrong we could see in the light from Gene's headlights that there was no more bridge in front of him. We had somehow driven over onto the new part of the bridge that was only partly built and about half of the PVAS board had come pretty close to driving off the edge. If Gene hadn't stopped I wouldn't have seen the edge either. So let this be a lesson - being on the board can be a very dangerous job. Thinking back I wonder, could this have been a KGB plot to eliminate the PVAS board? Once again facts seem to make my opening paragraph seem a little more believable.
Also in 1984: I also took over as Delta Tale editor. The first issue that lists me as editor is Jan. 1984. This was actually my "training" issue. Most of the work was actually done by Pat Mahoney who, as President, had gotten stuck with the job when the previous editor left. It should be noted that during this time period Delta Tale was not only put out monthly, but was put together with a manual typewriter. The term cut and paste literally meant that. Articles, artwork, etc., were cut with scissors and pasted (actually transparent tape) into the final format for printing. Near the end of this year the 'great goodeid war' started. President Gerry Hoffman made a small, insulting joke about goodeids. I, of course, responded with something worse. This was the start of a "feud" that took place in Gerry's President's column and my editor's column for the rest of Gerry's terms as President (and somewhat until this day). Being editor I had the advantage of always getting in the last word. I want to stress here that this was all in fun. Gerry and I don't actually hate each other. Ray Hughes wife asked him one time "why do these guys hate each other so much" after reading an issue. Gerry's side of the feud was later joined by George White in the many articles he wrote for Delta Tale. Again, I want to stress that George and I are good friends and all the things we said about each other were very tongue-in-cheek. With a brief break, which I'll talk about shortly, I continued as editor for about 13 years.
More stuff from '84: told you it was a busy year. Fish room tours were started. Each month a different member would open their fishroom for a few hours for everyone to visit. The very first one was the incomparable fishroom of Jim Long. This program continued off and on for several years. Mini-auctions also started at the February meeting of this year. In March, PVAS and Delta Tale were favorably reviewed in TFH. In April it was announced that we were losing the fire station as a meeting place due to renovations. In June we had our first, of many, meetings in the John C. Wood Facility in Fairfax City. 1984 was also the start of what would become AquaFest type weekends. After the Saturday fish show there was a dinner at a restaurant with an after-dinner speaker. The first one was Ed Taylor, who was a good friend to the club for many years. This format was followed for a number of years.
1985: PVAS 25th anniversary celebration. This inspired the creation of the infamous 25th anniversary coffee mug. They were very nice mugs, but it seemed at the time to take us another 25 years to finally get rid of them all. Another big thing about this year - in February we became PVAS incorporated after many years of trying.
Something related to our 50th anniversary meeting: sometime in mid-1986 Harry Chow became a member and in July gave a program about the National Aquarium. For the few of you that don't know, Harry will be giving the program at our 50th anniversary meeting about the history of the National aquarium.
Nov. 1986: the first Workshop Weekend with a full day of speakers on Saturday.
Dec. 1986: after 36 monthly issues in a row I begin to feel burned out and ask for a volunteer to take over as editor. After many months of asking with no response, I announce in Sept. '87 that I will be stepping down in December no matter what. In Jan. '88 President Gene Aldridge fills in as "interim editor" just as Pat Mahoney had been forced to do before I took the job. Gene continues until June '88 when Tom Hetzel takes the job. Tom continues until April of '89. There is no May issue and President Pete Thrift and Gene put together a June issue. There is no July or August issue. Pete puts out a September issue and another in January of '90. In March he announces he will publish issues bi-monthly. Pete continues until the Nov/Dec 1990 issue. With that issue I'm back. After a good rest, and now only publishing bimonthly, the job was fun again. Looking through the issues from this period I can see how I was now enjoying the job and having a good time with it. If you read through these issues carefully you will find many examples of humorous (at least I thought so) stuff mixed in here and there, some of it hidden so you need to look closely. For example, you can read about the real meaning of the 4th of July and find out when "international kiss your cat on the lips day" is, plus a lot of other assorted insanity (if I was sane I never would have taken the job back).
1989: fall of the Berlin Wall. This is true. I first heard of the fall of the Berlin wall as it was happening from PVAS member John Jessup. We were in the middle of an auction and had been wondering all day why John wasn't there. He was very active in the club and was always at the auctions to help with auctioneering, etc. If he wasn't going to be there he would usually let someone know. John finally showed up looking very tired. He told us that he had been called into work (remember my earlier mention of members being very involved in national security) in the middle of the night because of what was happening in Berlin and had been there all night monitoring the situation. At the time who knew just how the Soviets would respond.
1992: Our first (at least in our recorded history) woman President. Beverle Sweitzer starts the first of her two terms as PVAS President. Unfortunately, these were much less enlightened times than now. Beverle received a lot of opposition from a number of others who had a hard time accepting a woman in authority. Especially after she told them that beer would no longer be allowed at the auctions, which nearly caused a mutiny.
Sept. 1994: Delta Tale enters the computer age (sort of). I finally buy a computer and begin using it to help produce issues although they are still partly assembled by hand.
Jan. 1997: Delta Tale receives its first "face lift" in many, many years thanks to Christopher Wright. If my memory serves me right, Christopher was a professional graphic designer, and he volunteered to help update the look of Delta Tale.
May 1997: Once again I am forced to ask for a replacement. Not so much due to burnout as lots of other commitments. I was now working as a manager of a fish wholesaler and due to my schedule had lots of trouble getting to meetings. Monday was when most of the new fish came into the warehouse and if they arrived late, which was most of the time, I had to be there to put them away. I was also working part time doing product demos for Marineland on the weekends. If that wasn’t enough I was also editor of Livebearers, the journal of the American Livebearer Assoc. It makes me tired just reading that. I don't know how I ever managed to do it.
Jan. 1999: my last issue forever. With this issue I trained Andrew and Alysoun Blumhagen as my replacements.
My involvement with PVAS was very sporadic for many years after this, mostly due to having to work Monday nights (our meeting nights until recently).
Sometime around 2004 PVAS enters what I consider its second "dark ages" (like its first 10 years). There was no Delta Tale until Paul Lord brought it back last year, and few other written records that I know of, although, as I said, I was very inactive during this period. The one thing I do remember from these times was sometime in 2003(?) getting a phone call from Andrew. He had this crazy idea about putting on a catfish convention and wanted my thoughts. Hopefully we'll hear more about that part of our history from Andrew.
So, those are my thoughts and memories about PVAS (so far). Hopefully this will wet your appetite to dig through the Delta Tale back issues to learn more. Besides club history, they are also packed full of excellent articles well worth taking the time to read.
Looking back, I can say that dollar I spent back in 1979 was probably the best investment I ever made. In return I received not only a bucket of fish food and a filter, but 30+ years of friendships, fun, education, adventure and more.