Serenaded by an impromptu bagpiper, a record crowd of 325 people was on hand last night (Aug. 3) as the RV and manufactured housing industries officially inducted 10 new members into the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind.
The event also featured a State of the Hall of Fame address by President Darryl Searer, who reported the facility is in “the best shape it’s ever been in.” Its debt has been pared down to $1.4 million – compared to $5.5 million just three years ago – income is up 3% and expenses are down 8%, said Searer, who also bestowed the Hall of Fame Spirit Award to Don Magary in recognition of his contributions to the hall’s website and public relations efforts.
Of course, the highlight of the evening was the induction of the Class of 2015 into the Hall of Fame, including: Bert V. Alanko, MBA Insurance; Patrica A. Fiederer, Latham Oneota Homes; Sherman Goldenberg, RVBusiness Magazine; Paul E. Hanser, HWH Corp.; Jerry W. James, Franklin Homes, Inc.; Joe Kelly, Iowa Manufactured Housing Association; Richard A. Mendlen, Manufactured Housing: Marlene A. Sine, Marlene Sine & Associates, Inc.; Bill Thomas, Bill Thomas Camper Sales; and Robert West, Affordable Community Living.
After a short biography detailing their professional accomplishments was read, each had an opportunity to address the audience. All universally thanked the Hall of Fame selection committee, their colleagues and their spouses.
Goldenberg, the publisher of RVBusiness and Woodall’s Campground Management magazines whose longtime journalism career includes the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette where he covered “everything from triple murders to old men with small dogs,” likened the RV industry to his fraternity days at Indiana University.
“In a sense that so many people – high-powered execs and line workers – in this industry are eligible members of our fraternity. All you have to do is tell the truth, work hard, help make a profit and when called upon look out for your fellow man,” said Goldenberg, who cited the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s report when talking about the competitive friendships that permeate the RV industry in northern Indiana.
He then concluded his remarks by saying he “didn’t know how to play it straight” and, catching everyone by surprise and in a nod to a tradition fostered at the RVBusiness annual party during the National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., welcomed a bagpiper to join him on stage for the playing of “Amazing Grace.”
Other inductees from the RV industry included:
• Hanser, who founded Moscow, Iowa-based HWH Corp. around a kitchen table in 1967, was lauded for a career as an engineer, inventor and innovator, including the use of computerized hydraulics to level RVs. He said it was “divine intervention” that led him to where he is today, especially in the late 1960s when he sat across the table from officials from Winnebago Industries Inc. “I went up there and found out they wanted leveling system. I didn’t know what it was – I didn’t even know what a motorhome was – but I said, ‘Hey, I can do that.’ That’s how it all started with Winnebago,” Hanser said. “So, as you can see, I have to think a lot of people along the way. Yes, I’m an inventor and I’ve invented a lot of things. But you know with inventors there are a lot of rough edges that you’ve got to fill in, so I have to give a lot of credit to the other folks here.”
• Alanko, who remarked his career even outlasted David Letterman’s, said his induction is a reflection of MBA Insurance’s successful RV rental program and how it has served as a de facto market expansion program for the RV industry. “One usually receives these honors at the end of their careers. You get a gold watch and a ‘don’t let the door hit you on the way out,’” said Alanko. “But I’m really hoping this isn’t the end of my career because I’m just having too much fun. This is a fun industry with fun people. Our customers are fun. Their customers are fun. It’s just fun, and to be getting this kind of honor for this kind of fun seems unbelievable.”
• As the first RV industry woman manufacturer’s agent, Sine introduced thousands of products to the industry by educating and training others on how to promote products to the distributor, dealer and consumer. In her more than 50-year career, she volunteered thousands of hours to serve and support many industry associations. In addition to being a manufacturer’s agent, she’s also an aftermarket parts and accessories store owner and develops new products for the industry as a supplier. “What a career this has been – love what you do and do what you love,” she said. “To me, every product was a challenge so I always wanted to do my best for the supplier, the distributor, the dealers, and the consumers. They are all part of us. I have been so fortunate to be a part of this amazing industry.”
• As founder of Bill Thomas Camper Sales in St. Louis nearly 50 years ago, Thomas has been a leader in the St. Louis community helping organize and manage the Missouri RVDA and St. Louis RV Dealers. He has held virtually every elected position in the RVDA including a term as national chairman, is cofounder of the RVDA Education Foundation and is a recipient of RVDA’s highest honor, the prestigious James B. Summer Award. “The things that I’ve done are so minute compared to what this RV industry has done for me and my family. It’s just amazing,” Thomas said before addressing his wife. “Over half a century ago, because it doesn’t sound as long, there’s a reason I’m standing here tonight. It’s because a girl changed her name to Nancy Carol Thomas. She’s the reason.”