A refugee from Europe and a one-time production line worker who rose to become CEO for one of the nation’s most admired RV manufacturers were among the latest inductees into the RV/MH Hall of Fame.
More than 400 people attended the gala ceremony Monday night (Aug. 7) in Elkhart, Ind., where 12 new members were inducted into the Hall of Fame roster, which now numbers 278.
Southern California RV dealer Dave Altman emceed the program and recognized the donations toward the building campaign for the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc., which has garnered pledges to date totaling $10,751,000. A new, 100,000-square-foot home for the Hall of Fame is under construction along the Indiana Toll Road northeast of Elkhart and will partially open in October.
Among the major donors are Roger and Waneta Reynolds, $2 million for the library and endowment gift; Champion Enterprises, $1 million for the industry conference center; Thor Industries Inc., $1 million for the RV Founders Hall; Winnebago Industries Inc. and the Hanson Foundation, $1 million for the Founders Hall; the Go RVing Coalition, $400,000 for the sign and marketing program; “Boots” and Betty Ingram, $1 million for the Woodworth antique RV collection acquisition; and Floyd and Irene Younkin, $500,000 for the theater.
Each inductee in the 2006 class gave a brief speech, thanking family, friends and associates for helping them to succeed in their vocation. Inductees representing the RV industry included:
Leon Shahnasarian, a pioneer industry supplier from Instamatic Corp. in Elkhart, gave an emotional recounting of his arrival in the U.S. in 1950, calling himself a “refugee” from war-torn Europe. He and his father built on business relationships in Europe and introduced Swedish-made gas-electric refrigerators to the RV industry. He also located and distributed air conditioners, water heaters and space heaters to the industry. Shahnasarian feared because he had served the industry so long ago he had been forgotten by today’s selectors and thanked everyone for remembering his contribution.
Bruce Hertzke started on the production line at Winnebago 35 years ago and marveled then at the stories he heard about the industry pioneers. He is the current chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). Under his tenure as CEO, Winnebago was named by Forbes magazine as one of the 26 best managed companies in America and recognized by RV Business magazine as the most admired RV manufacturer. He called the latter the most significant because it recognizes all the Winnebago employees. Hertzke noted that he has met many people in the RV industry, and while competing with them he has still enjoyed their friendship. “It’s been a great ride and a lot of fun,” he said.
Mike Molino said he was “almost embarrassed to be honored for doing what he enjoys so much.” He is serving simultaneously as Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) president, president of RV Assistance Corp., vice president of the Go RVing Coalition, treasurer of the American Recreation Coalition and as a board member of the RV/MH Heritage Foundation. He called the Go RVing Coalition, which he helped to found, as his “crowning achievement” and thanked “the RV dealers of America whose contributions helped him learn about the industry.”
Tom Faludy thanked his two employers, Carefree of Colorado and parent Scott Fetzer Co., for letting him become active in association activities. Even as young man in the industry, his voice was heard. “People listened and gave me respect,” he said. “Ideas from all quarters can change destinies.” He has been a longtime industry activist and was one of the founders and the first chairman of the Go RVing Coalition, serving from 1995 to 2004. He thanked his coalition successors. “You guys are taking it farther and further than I could ever have imagined,” he said.
Crosby Forrest, owner of Dixie RV Superstore in Newport News, Va., is one of the founding members of the RVDA, and a longtime RVDA board member, serving as chairman in 1978 and 1979. He brought the biggest laughs during Monday’s ceremony when he explained how he met his future wife when both were teenagers. He said some observers might consider him eccentric but he has served as a mentor to fellow RV dealers from coast to coast. He said “a strong family is the foundation for success.”
Randy Thompson, an RV dealer from FreedomRoads LLC in Lincolnshire, Ill., said election to the Hall of Fame “was a humbling event for this old country boy.” Thompson said he “surrounded himself with exceptional people” during his 35-year career as an RV dealer and thanked his many associates in his 20 Group for serving as his “unofficial board of directors” while supporting and challenging him. Thompson has served as director and past chairman of RVDA, director and past chairman of the RV Assistance Corp. and was director and first chairman of the RVDA-RVIA Service Technician Certification Board and is recognized as a major catalyst in its creation. He is a contributing founder of the RVDA Education Foundation.
Joseph P. Hayden Jr., a housing finance and insurance leader from the Midland Co., Amelia, Ohio, has been a leader in retailing, financing and insuring RVs and manufactured housing for more than 50 years. His company is believed to be the first vertically integrated company focusing on finance of industry products. He served on the board and executive committee of Fannie Mae from 1969 to 1991.
Inductees from the manufactured housing industry included: Rollie Bannister, a housing community developer from Bannister Properties, Raleigh, N.C.; Harris “Butch” Berg, a housing manufacturer from Wick Building Systems, Mazomanie, Wis.; R. James Scoular, a housing community operator from Iseman Corp., Sioux Falls, S.D.; Donald C. Westphal, a housing industry consultant from Donald Westphal Associates, Rochester Hills, Mich.; Ronald Younkin, a housing community operator from the Greenlawn Companies, Columbus, Ohio.
Prior to the induction ceremony, Mark Gilmore, director of museum services for ICON Exhibits, outlined some of the proposed features for the new RV Hall of Fame Museum. The museum will be developed along the theme “The American Journey” and provide “visitors experiences that engage people of all ages,” he said.
Gilmore said the exhibits will make people feel like they’re going on a vacation as they cross a bridge over flowing water, hear birds sing and the sounds of a family camping. Cinema-size murals 8 feet by 35 feet will depict typical camping scenes, as they view a mix of RVs from yesteryear as well as today. “We hope it will bring back fond memories,” he said.