EP Award Promo

Finding paradise in Central Iowa


Being a member of the Des Moines chapter of Parrot Heads in Paradise is not just about sipping margaritas, donning a Hawaiian shirt and relaxing to the sounds of Jimmy Buffett. The group follows its motto of “party with a purpose” with hundreds of hours spent organizing events and raising funds to benefit charitable organizations throughout Central Iowa.

“There’s a lot of good work being done, as well as a lot of fun,” said club vice president Scott Peterson, a manager at John Deere Credit in Johnston.

Founded with one club in Atlanta in 1989, Parrot Heads in Paradise Inc. has grown to include more than 200 chapters throughout the United States and in Canada, Europe, the Caribbean and Australia. Chapter members in 2003 contributed more than $1.6 million and 365,000 volunteer hours to charities.

Kara Hendricks, who works in the business office at the Des Moines Radio Group, has been to more than 20 Buffett concerts since 1996 and owns more than 30 of his albums. She co-founded the chapter four years ago after moving to Des Moines. She and her husband, Bill, were new in town and wanted to meet people who had similar interests. Because the closest Parrot Head chapter was in Cedar Rapids, she thought it best to start her own group in Central Iowa.

A web of Central Iowa Buffett fans allowed the group to grow from five to 160 members in just four years. The men and women range in age from early-20s to late-60s and are from a variety of occupations. Hendrickson says it’s a unique group of people, brought together simply because of their love of Buffett and his music.

“It’s been a great way for us to meet people that we wouldn’t have met otherwise,” she said. “Some of us say that if it weren’t for Jimmy Buffett, we wouldn’t know each other.”

Empty-nesters Marc and Tammy Hollander joined the Des Moines chapter close to a year and a half ago “in search of adult interaction.” Marc, director of sales at S&C Automotive Inc. in Urbandale, became the club’s director of communications and media relations. Tammy was honored as “Parrot Head of the Year,” adorned for the occasion with a coconut bra and a tiara.

“We have a riot doing this,” Marc said.

He used his media contacts to tout September’s Parrot Head Prom, which drew a crowd of more than 300 people, including visitors from other Midwest chapters, and raised close to $4,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association. At November’s annual Parrot Head convention in Key West, Fla. – Meeting of the Minds – people from all over the country were inquiring about the prom and its success.

Pam Leming, an X-ray technician at Mercy East Medical Clinic was introduced to Buffett’s music more than 10 years ago by her brother, and now her entire family occasionally travels together to Buffett’s concerts. She and her husband, Ron, joined the club in August 2000 after noticing an advertisement for an upcoming meeting in the newspaper.

“I figured I was destined to see it,” she said.

Leming is now the club’s charity coordinator, and assists with the half-dozen charitable events the Des Moines chapter sponsors every year. The success of the Parrot Head Prom has made her job a bit easier, as more local organizations began to hear of the club and its charitable efforts.

“Now they are getting to know us and know that we’re not just a bunch of old drunks,” she said, laughing.

Along with the prom, which the club is planning to reprise in 2005, members clean up a stretch of Interstate Highway 235 as part of the Adopt-A-Highway program, participate in the Des Moines Skywalk Golf Tournament, volunteer for Rebuild Together and raise funds and awareness for other charities such as the Ronald McDonald House, Animal Lifeline of Iowa and Blank Park Zoo. Parrot Heads in Paradise Inc.’s bylaws require chapters to sponsor a specified number of charitable events during the year, fulfilling its “party with a purpose” motto.

“The more charities we became involved with, the more people were taking our club seriously,” Hendrickson said.

But it always goes back to the music. For past events, the chapter has brought in Buffett tribute bands such as A1A, and other musicians such as the Sauce Boss, who makes gumbo while performing. And the group occasionally travels to Buffett concerts, along with Parrot Heads from dozens of other chapters.

Approximately 80 members went to Alpine Valley, Wis., this summer for a concert, arriving eight hours early among hordes of fans in flowered shirts and grass skirts.

“It would rival any Grateful Dead concert,” Hollander said.

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