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Escapees RV Club History: Roots Run Deep

Part 1: Escapees Club History

By Cathie Carr

The First Generation- Serendipity at it's Best!

Against all odds, like a seedling on a rocky cliff, a dream can take hold and bloom. And that is exactly what happened for Joe and Kay Peterson, co-founders of Escapees RV Club. They were just 43 years old when they began full-time RVing. It was 1972, six years prior to the formation of Escapees.  They still had two of their eight children living with them when they hit the road. They had no idea they would end up pioneering a path for hundreds of thousands to follow.

Kay and Joe Peterson, co-founders of Escapees RV Club. They began RVing in 1972, six years before they created Escapees RV Club.

In the 70’s there was very little written to assist those who had the nomadic itch. In fact, it was a time when naysayers were literally blaming the destruction of the American family on an expanding “mobile society.” I remember my friends looking at me with dread, and worse, their parents looking at me with scorn. Unfortunately, moving from a nice home in the Southern California suburbs into a 26-foot Airstream trailer wasn’t considered cool in 1972. 

While some branded us as trailer trash, at age seventeen I recognized that our lives were quality rich.  My friends followed my adventures with cautious interest and more than once offered condolences for what they perceived must be sheer torture. After all, I was trapped in a camper with my little brother! I, on the other hand, saw it as a serendipitous crossroad. I veered left and never looked back.

The most subtle yet critical lessons took place during those early travels and it set my course for life. Sharing and caring was one of those lessons. It’s funny looking back on it now. My brother and I assumed everyone picked up trash at rest areas, planted gardens when space permitted, and invited complete strangers over for a coke and a game of chess. Volunteering, making friends quickly, and reading a map were survival tools we took for granted, but something that my parents (Kay and Joe) instilled in us early on. They were as embedded in our habits as my dad’s daily nap and my mom’s incessant tapping on the Smith-Corona.

Speaking of that Smith-Corona, it took up a ridiculous amount of space on the dining room table. We all griped about it but it all finally made sense to us when Kay published her first book in 1977, entitled “Home Is Where You Park It.”

The book became so popular among RVers that it was revised and republished six times over a 25-year period. It was revered as being the most inspirational “how to” book on the market, offering solutions to the most challenging concerns full-time RVers faced during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

Chapters were dedicated to traveling with children, working on the road, parting with treasured possessions, living in small quarters, determining a reasonable budget, finding places to boondock, staying in touch with family and friends, handling medical emergencies, getting cash and mail, dealing with insurance and all the other things that today we take for granted.

Home is Where You Park It

 

 

The book title, Home Is Where You Park It, was a catchy phrase that became popular among full-time RVers. The uncopyrighted title was later commercially tweaked to “Home is where we park it.” To this day it is used on T-shirts, ads and RV products.

During this same period, Kay had written a series of articles on full-time RVing for Woodall’s Trailer Travel magazine. The articles were so well received that the editor asked if both Kay and Joe would be willing to do a monthly question and answer column for their magazine. 

One of the first questions they received was if there were any national RV Clubs specifically geared to full-time RVing. Serendipity once again played its role. When they explained they didn’t know of any, they in turn asked their readers if anyone would be interested if they started one.

With a few dozen positive responses, they went to work on their first newsletter. And the word spread.

Kay and Joe were always quick to admit that when they started the Club they had no grand visions or detailed five-and ten-year goals.

In the History of the Escapees Club, Kay wrote:

 “We were simply two working travelers enthralled with the RV lifestyle who wanted to make RVing the best it could possibly be for ourselves, our friends, and our fellow travelers.”

Escapees RV Club History: What's in a Name?

The first order of business was selecting a name for the club.

Many suggestions contained the idea of freedom in the name. A synergistic value that to this day cements us all together.

However, the decision was made to go with a suggestion that charter members, Harry and Peggy Lewis #22 came up with. “Escapees: Club for full-time RoVers” became official. It was later shortened to Escapees RV Club.

Harry Lewis, SKP #22. Harry and his wife Peggy are credited with creating the original name for Escapees RV Club.

Sharing and Caring

While two of the most important components full-time RVers were looking for was the ability to share questions and solutions and to make strong connections with other people living the RV lifestyle, we believe it was the all-inclusive and notably altruistic principles nurtured by Kay and Joe that make Escapees RV Club exceptionally unique.

“Sharing and Caring” became the club’s official motto. Despite the simplistic cliché some might consider it to be, in its core principles resides the essence of all Escapees stands for, both then and now.

It was easy to see why it was so important in the early years. Remember, there were no computers, internet, cellphones or roadside services. If you broke down on the side of the road for instance, you were often at the mercy of others. You could be sure that if a fellow member saw an Escapees sticker on your rig, they would drive across three lanes of traffic or go 10 miles out of their way to come back and help!

Today, even though roadside assistance can get you out of a jam, it doesn’t compare to the comforting hug or the emotional support you receive from a member of your extended family.

Take Charles Zinna or Gretchen Mattison, who just received the Peterson Spirit Award, as an example. The highest form of sharing and caring comes when someone goes out of their way to help you over a rough spot.

Escapees all-inclusive and notably altruistic principles, introduced by Kay and Joe, and underscored for the past 40-plus years are clearly alive and well! Sharing one’s time, talents, and knowledge continue to be the fundamental ingredients that cement us together today. A member said it best when they wrote:

We belong to many clubs, but we are Escapees.”

The Second Generation: Standing Strong on Core Values

In the late 1970’s, Kay wrote:

“I believe there are two kinds of people. Having discovered a marvelous recipe, one kind of person guards the secret carefully, and the other shouts it from the rooftop. I belong to the latter group.”

Through word of mouth alone, the club continued grow.

By the 1980’s, Escapees was 10,000 member-families strong. While many volunteers helped in a multitude of areas, the administrative workload became too heavy.

In 1982, I was hired as the Club Secretary. I began to oversee book orders, general inquiries, and membership records. In 1985 I was promoted to Club Administrator. My first major challenge was to design a mail forwarding service specifically geared to member needs. The mail service proved to be a huge benefit and quickly became the largest private mail-forwarding service in the country.

The 80’s were also fast-paced and challenging. Escapees unique park system was expanding under the direction of Bud Carr, the club newsletter morphed into a full-blown magazine, national events were in full swing, chapters and rallies were doubling in number, and more services were continually being added.

Cathie Carr, SKP #3 and daughter of Escapees RV Club co-founders, attending the club's first group rally, Escapade.

By the 1990’s, we were no longer the small support group we once were.  We were now a full-fledged support network. With that came more and more responsibility.

By the late 1990’s, I, now CEO, took a strong position on RVer advocacy. It was an arena that the club had rarely dabbled in, but suddenly, with the growth of the RV industry, spotlights were targeting full-time RVers and some of the most basic constitutional rights were in jeopardy.

Stringent mail-forwarding regulations that would stigmatize RVers, new licensing requirements created undue hardships, unfair taxes were levied, strong boondocking restrictions were being pushed on the legislative level, and even full-time RVers’ right to vote was being denied!  It ended up being a decade of battles and Escapees RV Club proudly took the lead.

But it was through the loyal and persistent support of the membership at large that brought victory on each of those fronts.

Despite the heavy workload, Bud and I enjoyed having our children take part in volunteer projects like highway clean-ups and felt proud as they protested alongside us at the State Capital when RVers were in jeopardy of being disenfranchised.

We loaded up in the RV during every chance we got to see America up close and enjoyed beyond measure the fellowship at rallies and events.

All three generations have worked together and traveled together as much as possible.

Bud Carr, wife Cathie, and son Greg help with the Escapees RV Cub highway cleanup project, a volunteer effort that continues to this day.

The Third Generation: Passing the Torch

With each dream attained, a new goal is set. But despite strategies, plans and agendas, no journey comes with clairvoyant vision. The founding, formation, and continuation of Escapees has been a wonderful journey with no end in sight.

As I reflect on the beginning days, I see Escapees like a simple trickling creek cutting its way through earth and stone. Each year the stream grows stronger. New waters emerge and collect into one. Its course becomes more deeply engraved and its destination more clear.

Long before the Presidential gavel was turned over to Travis, he and his wife Melanie, made monumental steps to ensure Joe and Kay’s legacy, and the solidarity of the Club, would not only be preserved, but brought back full circle.

Melanie Carr (SKP# 7), Shawn Loring (SKP# 76442), Travis Carr, Kay Peterson (hidden), and Bob and Molly Pinner (SKP# 73997) celebrate the appointment of Travis to Escapees RV Club president at the 2016 Escapade in Essex Junction, Vermont.

Travis witnessed firsthand the hard times presented in the mid-2000’s when both the economy and the industry took a sharp downturn. When Travis and Melanie both joined Escapees’ staff a few years later, the economic slump was still in full-force. They accepted each challenge presented at board meetings and began to quickly develop new concepts to help us thrive once more.

They first advised us to drop the club’s dues in half and eliminate enrollment fees. This meant a deep cut in revenue for a while, but in turn it gave folks on tight budgets a break and encouraged prospective members to give us a try. 

Membership growth immediately began to climb again, something that had not happened for nearly a decade. New growth not only gives us a stronger voice when advocacy issues arise, it also allows us to sustain our budget and still offer the most complete network of quality services at the most competitive prices in the industry! 

Shortly thereafter, they pushed to overhaul the Escapees website, bring Escapees Boot Camp online, and most notably, add a new arm to the club specifically geared to younger working RVers. In just four years, this unique lifestyle group called Xscapers, has grown to more than 11,000 strong to become a leading association for working-age RVers in the nation.

Part 2: Back to Our Roots

By Travis & Melanie Carr

The Beginning: Finding our Place in Escapees

When we started working together at Escapees in 2011, we had no idea how emotionally invested we would eventually become. Our roles started small, Travis mowing lawns, moderating forums and Melanie starting the organizations social media accounts. Slowly, as we started to get more involved with the club, Travis started piecing together memories from his childhood and connecting them to his journey with Escapees.

Through attending Escapades and visiting campgrounds, visions of watching his parents and grandparents flashed through his mind. All of the hugs, handshakes and laughter around the campfire felt all too familiar. We quickly realized that there was something deep beneath the surface of Escapees.

Over the course of the next couple of years, we would identify just what the pieces were that made the organization so special; the values and the members. When we started serving on the Board of Directors, it was clear that members were the number one priority when decisions were being made.

We watched and learned as partnerships that stood to bring in a lot of profit were turned down because they weren’t in the best interest of members, and we felt the passion and thoughtfulness that went into making the club the best in the industry.

Knowing the principles that we needed to uphold, we started to work towards fixing issues that we felt were crucial to the club’s longevity and improving existing member experience. It was an exciting time as we got to take a large part in bringing existing member services into the modern digital era. This started with a complete redesign of the online member experience.

However, the biggest piece we felt was missing, was the diversity and inclusiveness of all generations. While on the road, we would meet up with new friends, those who were working from the road or raising families, and ask them if they had heard of Escapees. Too often the answer was the same; “that’s a club for full-time retired RVers” or “they just don’t provide anything for me.”

Looking back to our roots, we realized when the club was started, it was comprised of couples and families working from the road. It became clear to us that the organization had shifted with its membership into catering to mostly retirees, which meant we were not meeting the needs of all RVers. 

Xscapers was born to meet this need and caters directly to working-aged RVers through resources and community events, ultimately to strengthen the Escapees membership as a whole.

Escapees and Xscapers RV Club History
Bud Carr, Cathie Carr, Kay Peterson, Melanie Carr, and Travis Carr at the launch party for Xscapers. This event took place on March 8 at the 2015 Escapade in Tucson, Arizona.

Stepping into Leadership: Looking to the Past

When we first stepped into the roles of President and Vice President, we felt proud to be given the honor of carrying forward the Escapees legacy and traditions. We took a step back and asked ourselves, “what exactly does it mean to be an Escapee?”

Sure, Escapees has a mail forwarding service, bi-monthly magazine, parks, educational seminars, supports a non-profit adult day care residential program and many other great services. And, these are probably the reasons many of you found Escapees or why you joined, but is this really what it is all about?

We dug deeper into the past by examining the history of the club and those who paved the way before us.

While we are so often credited for a lot of pieces that helped move the club forward, the truth is, we had a pretty awesome playbook to follow. Joe, Kay, Bud, Cathie, Escapees staff and most importantly, the members all have a tremendous amount of experience we have heavily relied on to help guide us towards making decisions and improvements.

To this day when we find ourselves with questions or inspiration, we dig out the history books, makes some calls and look to the groundwork that has previously been laid in search of answers.

Kay and Joe, founders of Escapees, carved the way to freedom and lit the path for others along the way. Kay captured hearts through her inspiring words and had a way of turning strangers into instant friends. By fostering a foundation of caring and sharing as the core principle of Escapees, she created a bond that cements us all together as family. While Joe was most remembered for his quick wit and endless stream of jokes, he was secretly the catalyst behind it all. He used to laugh and say, “It takes a big man to stand in the shadow of such a small woman.” And, of course, everyone got a kick out of that, but the truth is, without him Kay may never have taken that first step. 

Cathie and Bud were instrumental in growing the club as you know it today. Cathie has worked endlessly to protect the RV lifestyle. Without her, Escapees wouldn’t have a mail service and without her, RVers would not have the same rights they do today.

She continues to work hard to protect and take care of our organization and community. Bud’s passion and dedication to protecting the integrity of the club has never gone unnoticed. Many know him as the person to thank for the Escapees campgrounds you utilize to this day. But, most importantly, he has been just as involved in every decision and conversation alongside Cathie. Even though they are both “retired,” they continue to serve on the Board of Directors to help shape, change and move the club forward.

Last, but certainly not least, we look to the long-time members. They are the true backbone to the organization and without the continued support and dedication shown by them, we would not be where are today. It’s crazy to think that up until a few years ago, Escapees relied almost solely on word of mouth for growth. That fact alone is such a powerful statement and testament to what an amazing community they have helped to create. We never get tired of hearing people say:

“We came to Escapees for the benefits, but we stayed for the family.”

It is the characteristics and traits of every person listed above that have brought Escapees to life over the past 41 years. The club has grown to become one of the largest in the world and has fostered a sense of family like no other.

The answer to our question “what does it mean to be an Escapee” has become clear as day. Escapees is a community we can call our own, that goes wherever we go. Whenever we see that SKP decal, we know our community, our family is here, and we are home. The realization of all of this is what would ultimately drive our leadership values and goals as the new President and Vice President.

The Future: Built Upon the Past

While Kay and Joe may not have had any official grand visions or detailed five-and ten-year plans, they did have one simple goal that still stands true today.

“We were simply two working travelers enthralled with the RV lifestyle who wanted to make RVing the best it could possibly be for ourselves, our friends, and our fellow travelers.” – Kay Peterson

As we enter our 42nd year, we can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are as committed as ever.   The Escapees organization has become one of the largest and most active RVing communities in the world, with 70,000-plus members, over 100 employees, and thousands of volunteers sharing their time and talents to ensure that Escapees remains true to its founding principles of sharing and caring.

Escapees RV Club: A Total Support Network for All RVers

Attendees of the 2019 Xscapers Convergence in Moab joined the #trashtag movement by collecting many bags of trash found scattered across public lands in the area. Photo credit: Robert Fruth

A total support network for ALL Rvers is more than a tagline.

Throughout the course of Escapees history, the Peterson-Carr family has never faltered on its pledge to the members of the Escapees Club and its partners. It has been a natural tact as each generation takes the reins, following the same oath to protect and preserve the club’s fundamental values.  To this day, the Escapees community feels a whole lot more like family than friends.

We believe that Escapees RV Club remains unparalleled and that it is through intense and conscientious networking that the Escapees RV Club has discovered its ultimate success.

We believe that the ideal network is not hierarchical, but rather, all the pieces are interdependent. Everyone must play a part. It’s a collaborative effort built on earnest relationships with members who support each other. It is made up of honorable partnerships with industry associates who share only the highest ethical standards. And, it is led by passionate, inspired leaders willing to dedicate their lives to a legacy that helps others discover and follow their dreams. 

To honor the passion of Joe and Kay Peterson, the Peterson Spirit Award was established earlier in 2019. This is a program that allows members to recognize each other for exemplifying “caring and sharing,” a core value of our club. While this award is a direct reflection of the Escapees founders, Joe and Kay, it also represents every Escapees member that sets the example of what it means to be an SKP.

Escapees RV Club Future

The needs of the RVing community are constantly evolving, and we vow to continue to evolve with them. So, what does the next five and ten years look like? Well, we can’t say exactly what the future will hold, we do know we will continue to improve our core services and benefits. We will continue to strive to make the Escapees magazine the best in the industry, grow the Escapees Parking options, improve and expand Mail Service opportunities, and build our resources and education. We will continue to grow our partnerships, as they allow us the opportunity to provide our members with services and discounts that we are not able to provide ourselves. Advocacy runs deep in our roots and will continue to play an important role in our identity. Most importantly, community will continue to remain our number one priority. This means growing our event opportunities and allowing you to connect with your Escapees family.

We hope that you will continue the journey with us and trust that we will uphold the values of those set before us. We have set inflexible guidelines to ensure that we always stay on the right path, in which we are confident to always be upheld. 

  • We promise to be honest in everything we do. We will always put what is “right” and most beneficial for RVers and our Escapees family before becoming the largest or most profitable.
  • We promise to always remain inclusive. It doesn’t matter what your race, religion, political views, income, rig type, if you are a weekender or a full-timer. If you have a passion for travel and respect for others, you will always be welcomed with an Escapees hug and have a place to call home.
  • We promise to continue to seek new services and benefits to simplify the RV lifestyle, without jeopardizing our values or moral compass. All while providing a welcoming and friendly experience from Escapees staff.
  • We promise to continue the long history of protecting your rights and advocating on behalf of all RVers. While we may not win every battle, we will do our best to ensure that this lifestyle is never hindered.
  • Lastly, we promise to keep the legacy in which Joe and Kay set forth and to carry the torch that will lead the way for the RV industry. To maintain our caring and sharing attitude and to keep community as the heart and soul of Escapees RV Club.
Travis and Mel

Authors

Cathie Carr

Cathie Carr has been intimately involved in the RV lifestyle for over forty years. She was one of youngest full-time RVers working as she traveled when her parents, Kay and Joe Peterson, launched the Escapees RV Club. She was hired to help with its administration in 1983. Her first major challenge was to create a mail-forwarding service that catered to the specific and unique needs of RVers. Today it is the largest mail-forwarding service for RVers in the nation.

Travis and Melanie Carr

Travis is the grandson of the Escapees Founders Joe and Kay and no stranger to the RV lifestyle or the club. Melanie was introduced to the lifestyle at a young age through family vacations and has always had a passion for travel.
In 2015, Travis and Melanie founded a group within Escapees called Xscapers to better cater to the working-aged RVer. They now represent the third generation of family leadership as the President and Vice President of Escapees RV Club.

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13 Responses to “Escapees RV Club History: Roots Run Deep

  • Excellent article. Thank you so much..
    I am a resident of Rainbows End, Livingston, Texas. Still traveling to work the summer season in Branson, MO. and always happy to come home to Texas in the Fall.
    I have personally experienced having a fellow Escapee stop to see if I needed help on the road. ♥️Dottie Wakley

  • Ken Yetman
    4 months ago

    What is the governance of Escapees RV club?
    Is it’s nonprofit? How are board members chosen?

    • Georgianne Austin
      4 months ago

      Escapees RV Club is a privately held company run by a board of directors, elected by the shareholders. The mandate of the board is to preserve the values of the club, as established by Joe and Kay Peterson in 1978.

  • Joe & Kay have left all of us with a standard which our club will always be able to look up to. Joe was a dedicated man of action and Kay was the most caring person that it has ever been my good fortune to know. Like many of us in the 90s, we joined the club mostly for the mail service and the magazine. Kay entered our life at a time when our family was in need with genuine caring even though we had never met. That day changed our view of Escapees in a way that will be with us all of our lives.

    Thank you all for this article as we must all work to demonstrate to the newer members the kind of support and caring that our founders had for us.

  • Joyce Space SKP #61818
    4 months ago

    This is a great summary of the history of Escapees and so well written. Larry and I were so fortunate to have known both Kay and Joe so “experienced” much of the history. I loved Kay’s book Beating the Odds which tells so much more of their lives and shows what Kay overcame to become the person we knew. I recommend people read it to get to know those wonderful people even better.

  • Harold Wright
    4 months ago

    Well done. Nice to see the story from start to now with a look to the future.
    A great organization with a lot of great people, services and information. Not only for full timers, but also good for us part timers as well.

  • Al Atlansky
    4 months ago

    Loved reading about “our” history! (I’m just a “family” member.) So much I did not know about! I did have the honor of knowing Joe & Kay by emails. Though brief your narrative speaks to a determination of love and care. Of honesty and hard work.Of intellect and foresight. Escapees fulfilled a need in America and Americans to see, feel, touch and behold a world of adventure before them. A new way to not just survive but to thrive. Discovering that a good life is not about acquiring toys. Life is about interdependency. Needing each other and each other helping each other. Kay Peterson’s words of wisdom, knowledge and care instigated a movement. That movement continues to this day through the hard work and care of her family. Within them there is a trust and a determination to extend knowledge, hope and discovery of our monumental country. A country like no other. Impossible to see it all in a lifetime. Impossible to meet and greet all the lovely diverse people within. Between your fabulous informative, caring magazine and your events, “Escapees” is bound to thrive! I do realize that behind the scenes is much hard work! I was shocked when Kay gave me a personal tour of the “Mail Service” in Livingston, Texas. Proud of her daughters work. That building containing all the electronic, mechanical, computerized machines and conveyors was mind blowing. The “Care Center” for Escapees illustrated the love and care that Kay Peterson truly felt toward her beloved “babies” us.

  • Larry Francis
    4 months ago

    I loved Joe’s stories. He always had one waiting to be told. And Kay always exuded the love of live and the people in it. Then came the next generation… Kathie and Bud. And I truly enjoyed my occasional visits with them, usually at an Escapade or a Fun Days gathering.
    One time during a conversation, I asked why something had been dropped from the opening ceremony. The response was that it offended someone… I said, “Now you have a problem, dropping …. offends me”. This brought up one of Bud’s famous grins and next year it was back in the opening ceremony.
    I have never regretted our LifeTime membership as an Escapee.
    As one Hugger to Another, God Bless.
    Larry of Larry & Donna Francis SKP27024

    • Vicki Carrico
      3 months ago

      Bob & Vicki Carrico. SKP#44785
      Thank you for the wonderful privilege of reliving past experiences through this article. It would be fun for those of us who grew older and wiser with Escapees to share experiences. One good example is the “mail forwarding” system which had it’s own ZIP code, 77399, which was not recognized by the USPS until, was it 2015? Many of us have home bases now but still travel occasionally. We rely on our favorite address, 136 Rainbow Drive #3671, Livingston, TX 77399-1036. We have made many lasting friendships through this beloved family.

  • H Allen and Donna Wrigley
    4 months ago

    As new “full timers” and Escapees members, we particularly enjoyed the interesting and well-written Club History of the wonderful Carr-Peterson family, and many others behind this amazing organization, both then and now. We had suspected that this was an enterprise that many took “pride in ownership” of when we first encountered the patient, kind and informative staff in Livingston, during our initial stages of becoming members.

    Thank you all for making Escapees the wonderful, helpful, and influential organization it is today.

    Donna and Allen

  • wonderful Article, Great Adventure, Keep up the Good Work.

    Ron Bessette Escapee #128070

  • Ken Yetman
    4 months ago

    Who are the Escapees shareholders? Does the company produce an annual business report and is it available to the public?

  • Enjoyable updated summation of the history! I joined Escapees in 1995 and I remember some of these milestones when they were being accomplished. When I became a full timer/lifetime member, I didn’t miss many, if any, Escapades/Fun Days between 1997 and 2007, and always loved seeing Joe and Kay at these events! I continue to think of Kay’s beautiful spirit, fun accent, and valuable lessons on an almost daily basis, as I was an impressionable 27 year old when I went on the road the first time. I took so much of what she said to heart. You all have done a wonderful job transforming the club over the years and I can’t wait to get back on the road in 2022 with my husband, Dave. Thank you for all your hard work!

    Karen (Steflik) Sheff, SKP#39630

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