however, there were a few who also strongly felt that the time was ripe to try at least one of our meetings out of the academy.
As the ARO membership began to increase, particularly of non-clinician researchers, it became clear that another meeting was necessary for catering to a big segment of the membership. As I mentioned above, the idea met with considerable opposition from both clinicians and non-clinicians, who felt that we did not need another meeting to attend. However, I (and a few others) believed that if ophthalmology could have a successful midwinter research meeting in Sarasota for a number of years, we should be able to do something similar. I also liked the idea of breaking away from the winter doldrums to sunny Florida’s sand beaches and having a meeting of our own, not worrying about the clinical relevance of our presentations &emdash; science for the sake of science, so to speak. When Bob Butler became president, I began to sound out possible supporters, but many more skeptics, even among the council members, were opposed to the idea. Following one of the council meetings I remember spending hours walking around the indoor pool, convincing Vicente Honrubia until I became dizzy. Bill Stebbins wrote me a three-page letter (and many more shorter ones) on why we could and should have our own meeting like that of the Association of Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO). Hal Schuknecht gave his blessing in his no-nonsense three-line letter, saying that it was about time.
When I became president I was more than ever convinced that we needed our own scientific meeting of the highest quality to ensure the survival of the organization. But to have the meeting in a hotel we needed some backup funds, in case not many showed up. At the end of June 1975, the ARO treasury showed a positive balance of $1,050 and by the end of 1976 we would have, at best, about $3000 - hardly a fund to cover the expenses of organizing a meeting at a hotel. As secretary-treasurer I had tightened our belt as much as I could and used my departmental funds for mailing and telephone. I don't believe my boss, Dr. William Saunders, realized that he was funding the ARO's future. I am grateful that he had a blind trust in me.
The next big problem was finding the right hotel. Since I knew very little about convention hotels, I requested a packet of information from the Florida office of tourism. It didn't take long to realize that most of the convention hotels on the beach were out of reach for our meager budget. However, one place caught my eye, a small hotel with adequate convention facilities for ARO called the Happy Dolphin Inn in St. Petersburg Beach. The brochure depicted a hotel with a beautiful beach front and swimming pool, but most impressive was the low cost of the rooms: $15-$23. I thought it was a typographic error or else they must have sent me somebody else's brochure. So I called George Singleton at the University of Florida in Gainesville, the former chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology, to see whether he could check out the place. He promised to take his sailboat to St. Pete Beach during the weekend and have a look. The next Monday, he called me back to say we couldn't afford not to take this hotel and described it as the perfect place for us. When I called Dutch Pfeifer (Director of Sales at the hotel) to reserve our dates for January 1978, I learned that there was no charge for the convention rooms and in house audiovisual equipment. When I showed the brochure of the hotel to Bill Melnick, I knew we were going to have winner.
I had calculated that it would cost around $5,000 to have the meeting and that we could raise about $3,000 through registrations. Still, I had to secure some cushion money in case the meeting folded due to poor attendance. I talked to Dr. Harry Rosenwasser, at that time the medical director of the Deafness Research Forum (DRF), and he gave me his assurance that if I needed money they would help me out. Although it turned out that the ARO did not need his help, we are eternally grateful to him and to the DRF for their willingness to support this young organization.
At the ARO Council level, we discussed a number of options for independent meetings: 1) parallel meeting with the academy or one of the senior societies; 2) meeting hosted by different institutions rotating around the country (similar in concept to the European Inner Ear Biology Meeting); 3) entirely independent meeting, similar to ARVO. At this point I was able to persuade the reluctant council to try one midwinter meeting. The final decision was to have one Midwinter Research Meeting on a trial basis, but to maintain the joint Research Forum with the academy for the time being. If it failed, we could tell ourselves that at least we gave it our best shot.
While a white sand beach and warm weather are nice, I always believed that high-quality science is the ultimate selling ticket. However, opinions were divided as to how we would go about organizing the meeting. Some ideas suggested were tutorials, invited speakers, keynote speakers, and mini-symposia. Because the meeting should be a forum for the membership, we felt that we should have two categories, contributed papers and invited papers in special workshops. We selected three topics for the workshops: the eustachian tube and middle ear (chaired by Charley Bluestone), differential characteristics of inner and outer hair cells (chaired by Vicente Honrubia), and current investigations of the vestibulo-ocular reflex (chaired by Owen Black). The program committee members were on the phone a lot to urge members and non-members to submit papers, and finally we had 36 contributed papers and 47 invited ones, ensuring at least 83 participants.
Now we had a scientific program, so the next task was to get members to go to the meeting. I thought we needed to have a sexy printed program that would appeal to the members. We went overboard printing the programs and also printed abstracts. I
have always had trouble remembering all of what I hear during a meeting, and having an abstract already available before and during the meeting helped me understand the contents of a talk and retain its highlight later. With my non-English language background, I appreciated this benefit more than anyone. We mailed programs with color brochures of the Happy Dolphin Inn to all members and to all major institutions, and registrations started to come in. The special room rate for the annex across the street ($15.00 a night) was a bargain for those on a shoestring budget, which helped to bring young scientists and graduate students. Bill Clark still has a receipt to prove it.
Because many useful discussions, exchanges of information, and even a few important deals are generally made in the bar and hallway and around the coffee table or swimming pool, we made sure that a long lunch hour was protected and that the atmosphere would be informal. We even decided in the council that no officers were to wear ties or jackets during the meeting to emphasize informality and help create a relaxed atmosphere. However, Vicente Honrubia, then El Presidente, wore a tie and jacket during the opening ceremony. For that he was presented the Spanish Tuxedo Award &emdash; a T-shirt printed with a dinner jacket and black tie. The relaxed atmosphere at the Happy Dolphin Inn became the hallmark of the ARO midwinter meetings. The thought of the Happy Dolphin Inn (later the Dolphin Beach Resort) evokes tender emotions in me even today.
To facilitate mixing, we even set up a bar in a room that had access to the beach and invited many overseas guests and anybody who came along. The regular customers included Ruedi and Ici Thalmann, Kent Morest, Tom Van De Water, Steve Juhn, Bob Kimura, Ivan Hunter-Duvar, Raul Hinojosa, Norma Slepecki, Joe Zwislocki, and Joe Miller, as I recall, and many more. This arrangement was a great success, and this tradition lasted until we moved to the Holiday Inn Surfside in Clearwater Beach.
Harold Schuknecht was the first guest of honor. Although I had nothing to do with the selection, it pleased me immensely because he was one of my mentors, along with Bob Kimura, during my fellowship at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and was one of the co-founders of the ARO. The award ceremony was held during the banquet, and Juergen Tonndorf presented the guest of honor's life history. Entertainment was provided by Chuck Berlin with his dazzling piano play. To my delight, Juergen also became a guest of honor two years later.
The first midwinter meeting was a great success by all measures. It was obvious that those who attended liked the meeting, and they voted to continue it. At the final tally, 163 had registered, and our income (including the sale of abstracts) was $2,724. Our expenditures were $3,147, and only $422 was needed from the ARO treasury to cover the deficit. To cut costs, members had paid for their coffee and extra projectors and slide trays had been brought in by Glenn Cohen from the Florida Institute of Technology. Cesar Fermin, then a graduate student under Glenn, was our chief projectionist, and Bill Melnick was our light man.
At the end of the first day of the meeting, we knew we had a winner, and a tally of the questionnaires reaffirmed that knowledge. There was an excitement in the air and the glasses of pina colada at the pool side or mugs of beer at the beach bar only added a sense of new camaraderie and fellowship that we had never experienced before. Before the end of the meeting we had a two year contract with the hotel. Thus, ARO acquired a new identity. The midwinter meeting had given new life and meaning to ARO's existence.
From the early days, ARO developed a special relationship with NINCDS/NIH, which has played a critical role in providing much-needed funds for most of the workshops we have organized. The NIH staff such as Earleen Elkins, Marilyn Semmes, Jack Pearl, and Christy Ludlow, have become old faithfuls and have made themselves available during the meetings to talk to, and directors have honored us by addressing the midwinter meetings: Dr. Don Tower in 1980, Dr.. Murray Goldstein in 1984, and Dr. Katherine Bick (Deputy Director) in 1984. Dr. Goldstein will address us again this year. The director of the Communicative Disorders Program, Dr. Ralph Naunton, who had served as a member of the council, attends faithfully and has addressed the ARO membership on the funding situation at NIH.
ARO also has established a special relationship with the DRF because Dr. Harry Rosenwasser, former Medical Director, was always interested in young investigators and enjoyed meeting them. He was very proud of those young investigators who received DRF grants. Dr. Rosenwasser has retired, and poor health prevents him from coming to the midwinter meetings anymore, but even today he is very much interested in what is going on in ARO. His successor, Dr. Walter Petryshyn, has become a regular attendee and has made himself available to answer questions from members concerning the DRF seed grants. These are added advantages ARO enjoys for young (and sometimes not so young) investigators,
The original idea of holding workshops came from Owen Black, who attended the Neuroscience Meeting and was favorably impressed by their symposia. During the past ten years the ARO has held 27 workshops, which have consistently been highly informative and an exciting part of the meeting. They have become an institution. A few of them have been published in journals as a compendium, but some have ended up as books: the biochemistry symposium organized by Dennis Drescher resulted in Auditory Biochemistry (published by Charles C. Thomas, in 1985), and the symposia on Biology of Change in Otolaryngology organized by Bob Ruben, Ed Rubel, and Tom Van De Water will be published by Elsevier and will be out soon.
During the next ten years, the midwinter meetings grew rapidly, beyond anyone's imagination, and proved that such a meeting was (and is) critical in providing a much needed forum for many investigators, young and old, who represent fast-growing divergent fields of science. Membership has grown from 136 in 1974 to 668 in 1987, including 88 corresponding members from all parts of the world. ARO has truly become the single largest scientists' organization in otolaryngology today. More important, ARO belongs to the young scientists. None of us (Tonndorf, Schuknecht and I) who initiated this organization in our wildest dreams imagined the magnitude of the impact the ARO would have.
In closing this review of the birth of the ARO, I cannot list all the numerous individuals who have unselfishly helped to make this organization grow strong. However, there are a few who deserve special recognition. ARO would never have gotten off the ground without the leadership and support of Juergen Tonndorf and Harold Schuknecht, who played critical roles in the founding of the organization and established its direction. Both served one year as council members and then voluntarily resigned in 1974 to make room for the newly created president-elect and a council member. ARO salutes them for their foresight and leadership. Another person who played an important role is Bill Melnick, who served as my sounding board for ideas and stomping board for frustration. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.