Retreat Forward, An Overview

News: Retreat Forward, An Overview

An Overview of the ATOS Retreat

Twenty representatives of the American Theatre Organ Society spent nearly 14 hours over two days in a corporate retreat, held September 20-21 at the Hilton Hotel at the St. Louis airport.


Board: Chairman Bob Dilworth; Vice-Chairman Bill Coale; Secretary Bob Evans; Treasurer Mike Hutcherson; Jack Moelmann; John Ledwon; Denise Andersen; Michael Fellenzer; Don Phipps. (Note: Jelani Eddington, Carlton Smith, Donnie Rankin and Dan Minervini had prior commitments on their calendars and could not attend. Special “review interviews” were scheduled to bring those four board members “up-to-speed.”)

Staff: Ken Double, President/CE; Rob Vastine, Marketplace; Steve Worthington, TO Radio; Greg Bellamy, Web/IT; Donna Parker, Membership; Mike Kinerk, Conventions.

Members-at-large: Richard Neidich; Russ Shaner; Mary Ann Dilworth; Nathan Avakian; Mark Renwick.

Consultant/Retreat leader: Dr. William A. Weary, Fieldstone Consultants.

Dr. Weary has more than 30 years in the field of corporate consulting with a specialty in non-profit institutions, mainly in education. He was recommended highly by officials of the Organ Historical Society, for whom Dr. Weary performed a similar task two years ago.


Dr. Weary immersed himself in all things ATOS for nearly five months leading up to the Retreat event. This included:

  • Extensive research through issues of Theatre Organ dating back more than 10 years;
  • More than 40 individual interviews with ATOS members, chapter leaders, current and former board members and others to get a “handle” on ATOS and its issues, and form an overview of the “umbrella” organization and how it is viewed by and how it relates to the members;
  • Further extensive research on ATOS Bylaws and Policies; past minutes of board meetings; research on the 2008 Members Survey; and the two failed attempts to institute a serious Strategic Plan;
  • Attendance at the 2014 ATOS Convention in Indianapolis, including attendance at the Annual Meeting of the Board;
  • A total of hundreds of hours of exhaustive study to prepare to attack the issues facing the organization in its search for survival and a future.

The Retreat, Day One:

Saturday’s session began at 8:30 a.m. and lasted until 5 p.m.

The 20 attendees were seated at four tables facing Dr. Weary, and during the course of the day, broke up into separate 5-person groups, with each group assigned a task or asked to answer certain questions. The groups changed personnel through the course of the different “breakout” sessions over the two days, thus everyone interacted with everyone else at some point during the retreat.

During these sessions – which totaled eight in all – the attendees were tasked with evaluating item after item relating to ATOS operations, functions, committees, and more.

Dr. Weary brilliantly steered these discussions and evaluations throughout the course of the day Saturday to allow for the attendees to ultimately give ATOS a grade for its overall operations. Of the 20 attendees, 17 gave a grade of “D.”

As depressing as that might sound, what developed almost immediately was a grasp of the issues and needs of ATOS management. Also, Dr. Weary stressed ATOS’ recent positives such as its strong financial base; its recent successful new programs; and the passion that led to the decision to actually have the retreat.

At 3 p.m. Saturday, following the fifth “breakout” session of the day, Dr. Weary began his formal presentations. The work of the day was then reinforced by Weary’s points, which began the process of establishing the foundation for moving forward. This is where the negatives began turning to positives; the issues turning to solutions.

The Retreat, Day Two:

Back to the “breakout” groups, which consisted of four groups of five gathered in the four corners of the meeting room. On the walls were placed giant “Post-It” notes. The assignment and resulting discussions found each group writing its conclusions on the walls. Once a particular topic was complete, all attendees then walked around the room, literally reading the walls, and writing down conclusions.

Day Two was much more focused on the future; on management structure; on organizational change; on putting ATOS in a position for the next 5-to-10-to-15 years.

Areas covered included:

  • Board functions
  • Board member qualifications
  • Financial management, investment practices and other funding issues
  • The proper placement of tasks, committees and assignments – a proper organizational chart
  • Staffing and the need for professional management in some areas
  • A thorough examination of the separation of governance and operations
  • A strong focus on the transition from hobbyist, fledgling organization to what Dr. Weary termed “a mature non-profit organization.”

Day Two concluded with an interesting, final “breakout” exercise.

Dr. Weary presented five different “Scenarios” written from the perspective of an observer in 2024, reflecting back on the board’s actions in 2014. These “scenarios” were basically five different options as to how the board would approach the future, ranging from status quo to some very aggressive ideas. This is where all the positive energy is now focused. The retreat made clear the path ahead with achievable tasks that can lead to greater success.

If there is one key word that focuses on the success of the retreat, it would be “consensus.” The attendees immediately grasped the issues, but more importantly eagerly jumped on the effort to find solutions. In so doing, the group quickly focused on the positive path ahead based on logical solutions to the issues. What could have been so negative was in truth extremely positive! The work now focuses on creating the next steps, both immediate and long term.

Why did ATOS embark on this Retreat and what does it hope to achieve?

    Previous attempts at Strategic Planning failed
  • A separate “outside set of eyes” (Dr. Weary) was needed
  • A cohesive effort was needed to define and address issues
  • A positive course of action was achieved by simple consensus.

To our members throughout ATOS, ask any of the attendees – and I encourage you to do so – and you will find complete consensus and an energized sense of accomplishment. And more importantly, a realization that there is a future for ATOS.

The process of Retreat Forward will be reported upon and updated regularly on the ATOS website and in the pages of the journal.

Ken Double, President/CE

(photos courtesy of Richard Neidich)