Thousands of people named Jim Smith gather in Winston-Salem

Jim Smith Society members Enumclaw (from left), "Slim" Jim, Elkview and his wife Barbara and Sevierville tour the Reynolda House Museum, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (Walt Unks/Journal)

Jim Smith Society members Enumclaw (from left), "Slim" Jim, Elkview and his wife Barbara and Sevierville tour the Reynolda House Museum, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (Walt Unks/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Tour groups are a common part of the Reynolda House Museum of American Art landscape, but some visitors on Wednesday afternoon may have sparked a serious case of déjà vu for the other guests, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Most of their nametags said “Jim Smith.”

In fact, even their T-shirts said “Jim Smith.”

If you had called out for Jim Smith, more than a dozen people would have turned around.

But it was no practical joke. These Jim Smiths and their spouses – lovingly referred to as “Gems” – are in Winston-Salem this week for the Jim Smith Society’s annual Fun Fest.

The Jim Smith Society’s only membership requirement is that your name be Jim Smith or some variation. Most of the members share the formal name of James Smith.

The international group boasts nearly 2,000 members, including a few women. More than 50 people from across North America are attending this year’s gathering.

They meet once a year, but they stress that the event is a fest, not a convention. Their only purpose in meeting is to connect with other people named Jim Smith and to tour new areas.

After all, their motto is “We don’t shun fun.”

“We just have fun getting together,” said Jim Smith from Eden, N.C., the society’s president.

Jim Smith from East Berlin, Pa., said it is better than a family reunion because there is no arguing.

“Because we’re not related,” added Jim Smith from Enumclaw, Wash., with a chuckle.

The group checked in to the Village Inn Event Center in Clemmons and took a special day trip to Charlotte on Tuesday, but they will spend the rest of the week touring sites in the Winston-Salem area, sharing meals and playing “Jimgo” – a variation of Bingo that requires winners to call out “Jimgo!”

Vera Smith and Jim Smith of Charlotte coordinated this year’s event. Vera Smith said they chose Winston-Salem because of the points of interest in the city. They really wanted visitors to get a sense of North Carolina culture and history. The fest attendees will be treated to barbecue and shag music this week as part of their Tarheel experience.

Though they share the same name, the members do wear nametags throughout the week. They just list their cities of residence in front of their names. For example, Jim Smith from Eden is known as Eden Jim Smith. It gets more complicated for the Charlotte Jim Smiths, since two of them attended this year’s fest, so Vera Smith’s husband goes by “Slim Jim Smith.”

“We don’t holler Jim, because if you do, everybody will look,” Eden Jim Smith said.

The society was founded in 1969 by a Jim Smith in Pennsylvania, and most of the current members found out about it from a friend or from a news article or broadcast.

Eden Jim Smith is a second-generation James Smith and society member. His dad heard about the society from another family member.

Enumclaw Jim Smith learned about the group when his dad sent him an article from Parade Magazine in the 1980s.

Then there’s Jim Smith from Saylorsburg, Pa., who in 1969 received an application in the mail at his East Stroudsburg University office after a society member saw his name in a wedding announcement in the New York Times. The professor thought it sounded like great fun, but his father-in-law said he was just losing $10.

“It’s the best 10 bucks I’ve ever lost,” Smith said on Wednesday.

Smith said he has visited places that he would have never seen otherwise thanks to the group.

Last year they met in Fairfield Bay, Ark. They traveled to North Vancouver the prior year. Next year they will meet in Black Hills, S.D.

Life is not all fun and games, though, for Jim Smiths. They do share some difficulties common to people with common names.

Slim Jim Smith, who traveled a lot for work, said on three separate occasions his hotel reservation was given to another person with the same name.

Several years ago the society members had trouble getting to their fest in San Diego because another Jim Smith was on the government’s no-fly list.

When they go out in public together, people sometimes ask, “But what’s your real name?”

“We’re certified Jim Smiths,” Enumclaw Jim Smith says.

They have the membership cards to prove it.

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