James B. Summers, a prominent force in the early days of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) and an esteemed voice for the RV industry, died Sunday (Oct. 3) in Columbia, S.C. He was 89.
Summers’ death came on the eve of the RVDA’s Convention/Expo in Las Vegas, an event he helped to originate more than 30 years ago.
“With Jim’s passing, RVDA and the RV industry have truly lost one of our great leaders,” said RVDA President Mike Molino. “He established a number of RVDA programs in government relations, dealer-manufacturer relations, and professional development that will serve as a lasting legacy to his memory. Jim was a valuable mentor to many, a dear friend and great American.”
Following an 18-year business career in the RV industry, Summers joined the RVDA as its executive vice president in 1976 and remained there until his retirement in 1986. This 10-year period saw the consolidation of RVDA’s two offices to the Washington, D.C., area and creation of the first RVDA convention, according to the archives of the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum.
“These two moves truly brought RVDA into national prominence. He accomplished this with very little money in RVDA’s treasury,” noted Dave Altman, in his 2001 nomination letter on behalf of Summers for induction into the RV/MH Hall of Fame. Summers was subsequently inducted into the Hall in 2002.
Undaunted by the oil crisis of 1979, which nearly killed the RV industry, Summers worked with David Humphreys of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and helped create the American Recreation Coalition (ARC) to bring the many voices of outdoor recreation together to make the case that outdoor recreation is essential to the health and well-being of the nation and its people.
Summers helped channel the ideas of volunteer leadership into creating a Management Education Program for RV dealers. Under Summers’ tenure, RVDA and the Spader Cos. signed several agreements to bring education to dealers. The most notable arrangement was for the administration of RV Dealer 20 Groups.
He helped establish a communications network of state directors, and he reached out to dealers in Canada and arranged for an exchange of representatives at board meetings.
Summers created “Legislative Leadership Conferences” to help dealers understand the political arena.
When Summers retired, the association established the James B. Summers Award in his honor and made him the first recipient.
Summers retired to Columbia, S.C., in 1986 to pursue his primary passion of golf fulltime. Having been taught the game at the age of 6, he continued to play avidly well into his 80s. He married Elizabeth J. (Betty) Daratt in 1948. They remained devoted companions for nearly 62 years. He also leaves a son, James B. Summers Jr. (Sherry) of Libertyville, Ill., and three grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending. Donations in Summers’ memory may be directed to Hamilton College Annual Fund, 198 College Hill Road, Clinton, NY, 13323
Summers was born and raised in Syracuse, N.Y. He graduated from Hamilton College in 1943 and served in the Navy during World War II. He served 27 months at sea aboard the USS Hogan, a high-speed destroyer mine sweeper. He participated in six invasions in the Pacific.
Following the war, Summers began a long career in sales and the transportation industry at Oneida Products in Canastota, N.Y. In 1959, he accepted a position as general manager of Superior Coach Corp. in Lima, Ohio, rising to vice president of sales and group vice president, marketing of its parent company Sheller Globe Corp. He helped build the company into the largest school bus, funeral car and ambulance manufacturer in the world and established its motorhome division.
In 1974, Summers left the corporate world and joined with two colleagues to start a new company, NBS Inc which designed, manufactured and sold a variety of novel household products. Two years later, he moved to Washington, D.C. to become the executive vice president of RVDA.
Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition, said today upon learning of Summers’ death, “Many of us were greatly saddened by the news of Jim Summers’ death. Jim was irrepressible, committed to the RV lifestyle and the Great Outdoors and a champion of teamwork to take on the projects that would make a difference. He was centrally involved in the recreation community’s response to the energy emergencies of the 1970’s and a champion for the creation of the American Recreation Coalition, to unify interests ranging from NASCAR and the RV industry, ski areas and Disney, recreational boating and park concessioners to argue at the highest levels of government that people need recreation, and the government shouldn’t try to decide on whether some forms of recreation were better than others. His energy, his positive outlook, helped build a team that not only protected recreation from threats of gas rationing and penalty taxes but opened the door to an new era of recreation promotion involving scenic byways, better campgrounds on federal lands managed by concessioners, a warm welcome to RVers and others who wanted to be volunteers in parks and better funding for interpretation and visitor centers. He was equally at home talking with RVers are rallies and members of the president’s cabinet – because he was a passionate believer that the Great Outdoors was great for Americans of all ages, all backgrounds.
“Jim’s spirit remains with us in awards presented in his name and our vivid memories. He was one of the original members of the American Recreation Coalition board of directors. We’ll miss him, for sure.”