Several hundred people converged Monday evening (Aug. 5) on the Northern Indiana Event Center in Elkhart, Ind., to observe the inductions of 10 new members into the RV/MH Heritage Foundation’s Hall of Fame. As part of the annual ritual, each donned a green jacket and, in turn, addressed the crowd before joining the audience for an impressive surf-and-turf dinner. (To view a slideshow of the event scroll to the “Industry Videos” section on the RVBUSINESS.com home page. Photos by Shawn Spence).
The annual event attracted industry leaders, along with friends and families of the inductees, who shared stories, laughed and even shed a few tears during the event. The 47th class included five inductees from the RV industry and five from the manufactured housing (MH) industry. There are now 419 members in the Hall of Fame.
Among the five inductees from the RV industry:
• Bruce Hopkins, RV Industry Association (RVIA).
• Randy Biles, Pikes Peak Traveland.
• Daryl Zook, KZ RV.
• David “Lance” Wilson, Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA).
• Jeffrey Few, Automation and Manufacturing Systems.
On the MH side the five inductees were:
• Richard Ernst, Financial Marketing Associates/FINMARK.
• John Carey, Modern Home Sales and Midwest Homes.
• Leo Poggione, Craftsman Homes.
• D. Raymond Broderick, Superior Homes.
• Walter Comer, Adventure Homes.
To kick the night off, RV/MH Heritage Foundation President Darryl Searer gave his eighth “State of the Hall” address, highlighting the fact that the facility was now completely debt free, and noting that phase one of a planned multiphase expansion project, funded almost entirely by Thor Industries Inc., was nearly complete.
Phase one of the expansion project includes a 22,500-square-foot pavilion and rally site, which was hard to miss as attendees arrived at the ceremony.
Searer explained that Phase Two will include a 60,000-square-foot event center, similar to the Northern Indiana Event Center, that will allow the Hall of Fame to host more industry- and community-related gatherings simultaneously. Fundraising has yet to begin for phase two of the project.
“Timing is everything and once they complete phase one I think that it will be time to start asking for someone to step up and help us with phase two,” he said.
Searer also awarded the 2019 Darryl Searer Spirit Award to Karen Redfern, vice president of the 21-year-old Go RVing marketing campaign that is co-owned by the RV Industry Association (RVIA) and the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), both of which were well represented at the evening event. The award is presented annually to recognize “a person for their outstanding contribution to the success of the foundation.”
Searer noted Redfern’s work with Go RVing and the industry at large, as well as contributions to the Hall of Fame that she helped facilitate, including the addition of a new digital high-definition billboard that has been placed along th Indiana Toll Road.
“This is an incredible industry, and I have enjoyed every moment of being part of the GO RVing team and creating what we did for the industry,” she said. “This has been a very easy job thanks to the people I have worked with, the product and the lifestyle that we offer. It’s also not hard to lead the incredible team that I have. Without them the Go RVing programs wouldn’t be what it is today.”
In their comments to the crowd, inductees thanked colleagues, family and friends for all they had achieved throughout their careers.
Hopkins, who has served the RV industry for decades — most recently as vice president of standards and education — helped establish many of the codes and regulations that the RV industry operates under and was recently honored with the National Fire Protection Agency’s (NFPA) “Lifetime Achievement Award,” as well as RVIA’s “Distinguished Service to the RV Industry” award.
Hopkins, in turn, told attendees that he was “the luckiest guy in the world.”
“I truly am a lucky person,” he said. “I really, really love this industry. I have been so blessed to be in a position to make a difference and bring safety to the industry, and what I’m most proud of is that I can continue forward.”
Zook, who founded KZ Inc., a Shipshewana, Ind.-based RV manufacturer now owned by Thor Industries Inc., explained that when he sold the company to Thor he stayed on for a few years, then stepped away after realizing his heart really wasn’t in it anymore.
“One thing I miss, very much, is my employees,” he said. “We had great times together.”
Zook mentioned that he modeled KZ RV around the principle of “building the best with the least amount of money.”
Wilson, executive director at FRVTA, said that he began his involvement in the industry by accident in 1971 after his father-in-law and mother-in-law bought a small RV business. He subsequently went to work for the company while volunteering with FRVTA for many years before being named executive director in 1993.
“No one receiving this honor gets it by themselves,” he noted. “They have so many other people that are important to them. Not knowing what an executive director was and ending up as one, was because of the leadership and the help of my mentors, people at the association and my family.”
Known for creating products that have pushed the RV industry forward, Few developed the first bolt-on hitch for towable RVs, eliminating the need for welders to install a hitch and creating a safer way to tow RVs. Now working with Lippert Components Inc., he said that he still works 45 hours a week and has fun doing it.
“They have breathed life into me,” he explained.
After growing up and enjoying the RV trips that his family took, Biles jumped at the chance in 1981 to own an RV dealership in Colorado, leaving a job behind in California and bringing his wife along for the ride.
He also highlighted some of the people with whom he’s had a chance to work with at the RVDA and RVIA.
Biles, speaking right after Searer’s lead presentation, addressed the industry’s generational changes. “I am really excited to start seeing history repeat itself with the influx of a new generation that is coming into our industry,” Biles explained. “We have some great opportunities ahead of us.”
He also pointed out the work that is being done to improve RV repair times and said that he hoped studies currently being conducted will continue to push the industry to improve even more on that end.