An audience of more than 300 celebrated the induction Monday (Aug. 6) of the 40th anniversary class into the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind. Four people from the RV manufacturing, distribution and promotion sector, two from the RV park and campground sector and four from the manufactured housing side entered the Hall, joining some 350 past inductees.
Keynote Speaker David Humphreys issued a call for greater industry unity, saying it is this sense of unity, embodied in the Hall of Fame, that distinguishes the RV industry from all other segments of the travel and tourism industry.
“They envy us, they want one (Hall of Fame),” said Humphreys, who served as president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) for 27 years before retiring in 2006.
The Hall of Fame serves many purposes for the industry, Humphreys said. Besides providing a “great consumer attraction,” the Hall of Fame defines an important message for the financial community, the media and legislators and “gives a sense of pride, unity and accomplishment” for the entire industry.
Noting the solid financial footing the Hall of Fame has achieved through the leadership of volunteer President Darryl Searer, Humphreys urged audience members “to give the same priority to the Hall of Fame we give to industry unity.”
In a behind-the-scenes look at the financial status of the Hall and its recovery from near insolvency just a few months ago, Searer declared, “The Hall of Fame has never been in better shape than it is today.”
Searer credited four persons or groups for the Hall’s recovery this year:
• The family of longtime Hall benefactor Robert “Boots” Ingram, which forgave some of the Hall’s debt and issued a $100,000 challenge grant earlier this summer that garnered nationwide support and exceeded the goal by $65,000.
• 1st Source Bank, which extended the Hall’s line of credit by $100,000 and lowered its loan rate by 3 1/4%.
• David and Sharon Woodworth, whose collection of vintage RVs is the focus of the Hall’s museum. The Hall still owes the Woodworths $975,000 for their collection, but the California couple has agreed to forgive $150,000 the Hall owes in interest and will accept a $600,000 payment.
• Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore, who agreed to wave the $108,000 owed to the city for city water and sewer services since the Hall opened five years ago.
Overall debt owed by the Hall has been cut by $2.5 million in the past year.
Searer ran down a laundry list of possible expansions for the Hall of Fame property but stressed that nothing will be undertaken to put the Hall further into debt.
William “Bill” Garpow, who concluded his two-year term as chairman of the board of the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc., welcomed incoming chairman Barry Cole of Los Angeles, representing the manufacturing housing sector, whose term begins today. Six new members will also join the board today, Garpow added.
Following are highlights of the acceptance speeches by the inductees from the RV industry:
• Bob Olson of Forest City, Iowa, chairman and CEO of Winnebago Industries Inc., noted that he started on the assembly line at Winnebago 43 years ago and thanked the industry in which he made countless friends, many of whom were his competitors. Since retiring in February, Olson and his wife have traveled the U.S. in their Winnebago motorhome. He called RVing “everything it’s cracked up to be.”
• Stanley Sunshine of Atlanta, chairman of Stag Parkway Inc., called himself “the classic middle man” in the distribution process serving the RV industry. He urged industry members to reach out to their customers and find new ways to do business and to “leave the campground better than you found it.” He engendered laughs at the outset when he called out four former Major League baseball players, Raphael Palmero, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, whose inductions into the Baseball Hall of Fame are questionable because of their steroid use, saying, “Eat your heart out!”
• Perry Yoder (deceased) of Middlebury, Ind., was a professional motorcycle racer before he entered the RV industry and used the same “courage and tenacity” he showed on the racing circuit to succeed in business, said his daughter, Holly Yoder, who spoke on her family’s behalf. “He led by example, showing every job was important,” she said. Yoder served the RV industry with four manufacturers and with L&W Engineering, a component supplier. In 1975 he patented a slideout mechanism for RVs.
• Edith Lane (deceased) of Deming, N.M., was a daredevil in her early years, being the first woman to parachute from a glider in 1930 at the age of 20. A single mother in later years, she took her two children RVing across the U.S. and later founded the Loners on Wheels club for single RV travelers, which now has chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada. Lane developed three RV parks targeting single RVers and was a long-time columnist on the RV lifestyle in national consumer magazines. Her children, Laurie Neff and Glenn Lane, accepted the award on behalf of their late mother, who died in 2000.
On the RV park side, Nelson and Mary Emily Jackson, founders of Ocean Lakes Family Campground in Myrtle Beach, S.C., were inducted posthumously. Speaking for the Jackson family was Johnny Williamson, their son-in-law and now chairman of the Jackson Companies. The Jacksons opened a 30-site campground in 1971 when they were 52 years old, and it has grown to more than 3,400 sites, making it one of the largest RV parks in the East. The Jacksons always stressed the role of families in the operation of their RV park, which they ran for 38 years. “They always said, ‘You have to love the people and your business will be a success.’ And ‘love the people’ they did. For 38 years they were Ocean Lakes Family Campground and ambassadors for the community.”
On the manufactured housing side, inductees were:
• Michael R. Evans of Aberdeen, S.D., Doug Gorman of Tulsa, Okla., Gerald “Jugs” Meuret of Wausau, Wis., the late Ellwood A. Titcomb of Lake Helen, Fla., and Mary Irene Younkin of Columbus, Ohio.