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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Thank you, Mrs. Unger - the NMJL Annual Meeting

A lot has happened in my mahjongg world since I last posted.  I went to a tournament last Sunday and came in fourth!  More about tournaments in a separate post.  This post is reserved for the Annual Meeting.

It was such a thrill to attend the League's annual meeting.  I met two friends, Shelley and Christina, in the lobby of the venerable 250 West 57th Street, where the League has had its offices for umpteen years.  We rode the elevator to the 6th floor and entered the three-room office where we were warmly welcomed by Marilyn Starr, Secretary of the League, who made sure we were bona fide members by checking our membership numbers, and then, to our surprise, we were ushered into the office of League President Ruth Unger herself!  (I was reminded of Wayne's World - I'm not worthy!  I'm not worthy!)

Mrs. Unger was SO GRACIOUS!  She said she was so pleased that we had taken the time to come for the meeting and she always enjoyed meeting members. 

The meeting was brief, and took place promptly at 9:00.  We were joined by Vice President David Unger, Ms. Starr and Adela Strano, board Secretary.  The minutes of last year's meeting were read, along with confirmation of the board of directors, who were elected last year and serve for two years.   Mrs. Unger was presented with a computerized list of 4200 proxies, all of which were signed and returned by members.  She laughed about how the proxies used to be in shopping bags and how the Secretary had to type the list manually. 

After the minutes were read and adopted, Mrs. Unger read her report.  She remarked about how the League has grown and now has over 300,000 members, and these are only the people who buy their card from the League.  It doesn't included those who purchase a card from retail outlets.  (And, BTW, you can now get a card on - but it is ALWAYS BETTER to get it from the League, either send a check or buy on their website, because then you become a bona fide member and your dues help fund the many charities that the League supports) 

After the report was read, we had a lovely chat.  Mrs. Unger said how happy she was to see so many young people playing, and men, too, we added.  She said that there are many husband and wife players and they register separately, each with their own card and online account.  The online presence of the League has grown, but they still insist on having a live person answer the telephone if a member calls.  Since this was the time of year when people are renewing their membership, the outer office was filled with boxes of envelopes from all over the country.  And I know you are dying to know, but, alas, we didn't get a "sneak peek" at the new card  :-[  But Mrs. Unger assured us we will love it.

We discussed tournaments and the possibilty for a national league championship.  Mrs. Unger said it would take an enormous amount of work to implement something like that, but that it was worthy of consideration.  Wouldn't that be great!  I asked if the League had any sort of tournament rules sheet that people could refer to if they wanted to start their own private tournament.  Yes, they do, and it is available on written request.   And I was granted permission to publish it on this blog, which I will do in my next post on tournaments.

We also discussed a very obscure mahjongg point of reference.  It seems that some fancy mahjongg sets have jokers which, instead of saying "Joker" say the names of the grandchildren of the set owner.  Well, it turns out if a player has an exposure with a joker that says "Sandra" and another player redeems that joker but then makes an exposure with a joker that says "Rupert" everyone knows she has another joker in her hand.  So make sure if you redeem Sandra, you expose Sandra the next time.

Upon leaving, we admired the display of vintage mahjongg cards and tiles, and you can see the blanket that proudly hangs on the wall of the League Office.   I took the picture with my phone, so it's not the greatest quality, but you can see that it is a quilt made from mahjongg tournament T-shirts from cruises over the years and was presented to Mrs. Unger and the League.

As stated, the meeting was brief, as everyone had to return to the work at hand.  In fact, we were only there for about a half and hour, though we could have stayed and chatted much longer.  We had planned to meet another friend, Arlene, in the lobby, but when she wasn't there at the appointed time we thought she would join us upstairs.  She hadn't come by the time we left, though, which was a disappointment.  It turns out that she had been running late and must have stepped off the elevator on 6 just as we had left.  She had her own chat with the League board, and it appears in the comments section below.

Thank you, everyone, for reading this, and I hope you've sent in your money for your card and the Internet game.  The League has been doing their great work since 1937, as you will see below, and it was an honor and a thrill to pay them a visit.


  1. Here is Arlene's report, posted in full:

    Linda and Shelley,
    As you were getting on the elevator, I must have been getting off on the 6th floor of the FISK Building. When I rushed into the the National Mah Jongg League headquarters at 9:30 a.m. they told me the meeting was over and my friends had just left. I was touched that Ruth Unger, President, and David Unger, Vice President, invited me to sit down and talk a few minutes. I told them there was a mini-emergency regarding my cooperative’s insurance claim for “tornado” damages. Explaining there were freak tornadoes in Queens on September 16th of this year. David Unger surprised me by asking, “Was it a tornado or a macro-cell burst?” I said yes it was 125 mile an hour macro-burst, but it is hard enough for most people to grasp there really was a tornado in Queens, no less an even more exotic climatic event as a macro-cell burst.

    Anyway getting back to the League since I have experience working in not-for-profits as a director, board member and member, I had a preconceived idea of what the League’s annual meeting would be like. I expected it would be just starting as the location of the meeting was changed from a local hotel to the League’s headquarters. I realized most members did not live in New York City could not attend, but at least a few hundred local people would attend and would take awhile to walk down 57th Street. Ruth smiled a little and reminded me that “The League’s members have only one thing in common: the love of playing Mah Jongg.” The organization helped them play, but was not critical to their lives, such as a health organization would be. Most members trust the board and send in their proxy votes. It seems only the four of us came to this year’s meeting and only three made it on time.

    After digesting this information, I told Ruth and David Unger how happy I was to thank them in person for all their work and especially that the League gives so much of what it collects to charities. The League gives the donation to their Foundation and the Foundation makes the contributions. Ruth said they give to many different types of charities, but the two fields dearest to them are autism and breast cancer.

    Both Ruth and David Unger serve the League and Foundation for charity’s sake. The League itself is run on a tight budget with a small full time staff supplemented with seasonal workers who help with 1.) Getting-out the mailing to groups and individuals so they can renew their annual membership or sign-up as new members, 2.) Collecting and recording of membership dues and proxy votes, as well as the online game registration and filling catalog orders, and lastly, 3.) Mailing out the new annual “card” at the end of March and continuing through April. In the League’s front office there were four young women working sitting at a table which had a pile of opened registrations and self-addressed envelopes.

    NMJL Membership is now around three hundred thousand. A membership fee is either seven dollars for a regular card or eight dollars for a larger card. Many subscriptions come through group orders from formal organizations, such as women’s clubs, synagogue sisterhoods and informal groups, such as Linda Fisher’s players’.

    Before I left I talked with Marilyn Starr who has many duties including being Board Secretary who also does many office activities, types and is usually the first person you talk with if you call the League. Marilyn was the person I talked with on Thursday, and she transferred me to Adela Strano, Board Treasurer who told me the Annual Meeting venue had been changed from the hotel to the League’s office. As I left Marilyn said, “I hope I see you at next year’s NMJL’s Annual Meeting at 9 A.M. sharp.” Perhaps she will.


  2. Linda, I love this. Are you a journalist in real life? You wrote a really great account of the meeting. I am so envious you got to go and meet everyone.

    OK I confess to being a tiny bit disappointed that the meeting didn't take place in a huge auditorium with hundreds of Maj Ladies and lots of ceremony. Still it sounds like a great event and I'm happy I got to experience it vicariously through you. Thanks!

  3. Thank you, Amy. I would love to be a journalist, but I'm more of a hobbyist writer. Maybe when I retire in six years, six months and seven days (but who's counting?)

  4. Mrs.Unger, Happy New Year