By Kim M. Wahlgren
December 1999/January 2000
It started with 25 students at a federal penitentiary. Over the years, it has traveled to downtown Memphis, to Mississippi and back. Among its participants it has inspired hard work, dedication, friendship, practical jokes and even romance. Twenty years later, it has become a wood flooring institution — the NOFMA/NWFA Professional Installation School (or, as it is referred to for short, the NOFMA School).
At its beginnings in 1979, the school was a joint venture by the American Parquet Association and NOFMA. Twenty-eight students paid $125 dollars for a three-day school, and only those sponsored by member-manufacturers could attend. NOFMA’s technical leadership was provided by Manager of Inspection and School Services Howard Brickman, and Claude Taylor, Roland Holder, Bill "Mac" McLaughlin, Dick Hradecki, Harold Reid and Eldon Robbins were among the early instructors.
At the second school, the 22-year-old Daniel Boone was a student. "I remember my first class like it was two hours ago," says Boone. "My instructors were Roland and Mac. They made a big impression on me by the way they handled themselves and the love they had for the trade."
Today, as the NWFA’s director of technical training, Boone is one of the leaders of the school, along with NOFMA’s Mickey Moore, who took the NOFMA position in 1981.
The instructors and students work hard all day during the five-day school, and along the way, they’ve bonded during the off-hours, as well.
"We’d go out to the Shelby Restaurant and everybody would eat fried catfish and have food fights. A lot of bones went to the dumpsters those nights," Moore says. "The only reason we quit was because the place burned down, then the Rendezvous took over as the instructor place (in the mid-80s)."
Gray Moulthrop, NOFMA’s chair of the school committee since almost its beginnings, has been to every school. ("Patsy [Davenport] and I are the only dinosaurs who can claim that," he says.) He recalls a legendary evening when Mac was elected the Fred Astaire of Beale Street: "It was about 2 a.m. in Rum Boogie," says Moulthrop, "and he was the dancingest fool you ever saw. As big as he was, you name it, he could dance it." Other memorable moments? "When Warner Tweed was so interested in looking at a California hippie that he got hit with a mallet, and also the year that Bobby Millner had to bail people out of jail."
The Rendezvous years lasted until the Convention Center was torn down, and the NOFMA school headed south in 1998 to Sam’s Town in Tunica, Miss., for two schools. At the first Sam’s Town school, the night at Rendezvous was replaced by a reception and an impromptu sing-along session with David Ford and his guitar. (To the tune of the Mousketeer theme song, the students sang, "Who’s the leader of the school that’s made for you and me? M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-O-R-E.")
These days the school is back in Memphis and a bus transports the whole school—instructors and students—down to barbecue at Rendezvous and then blues on Beale Street. Many NOFMA school regulars say it was on that night during the last school that the most memorable event occurred—a wedding. Student B.J. Jackson of Burruss and her fiancé met a judge at Rum Boogie’s and decided to get married on stage during the band’s break with most of the NOFMA group as guests (Dick Hammond of Alto US gave away the bride).
Whether in the classroom or out, one thing is sure: "The enthusiasm of the people who put the NOFMA School on is genuine," says Moore. Adds Boone: "There’s a real good bond from a lot of the instructors to a lot of the students—that’s a memorable thing that’s always stuck in my heart."