Editor’s Note: The following article in the Elkhart Truth features a Q&A with Al Hesselbart, longtime historian for the RV/MH Hall of Fame who announced his retirement last week.
Question: You started as vice president and general manager of the RV/MH Heritage Foundation in 1994. Compare that organization to the one you are leaving now.
Answer: The organization I joined was an infant, disorganized foundation that had very little concept of where it was going. It was primarily a hall of fame to honor industry key leaders with little knowledge as to how to accomplish that. Carl Ehry and I conceived the idea of creating a museum to display the products of these leaders’ efforts. As we gained support and credibility in what we were doing, the support grew. Today the hall of fame, library and museum are internationally recognized as an appropriate archive of the two industries that, while not starting here, have been so prominent in Elkhart since the 1930s.
Q: What were the biggest challenges the organization overcame to get to where it is now?
A: Two hurdles had to be overcome in order to succeed. Number one was funding in order to pay the bills. As an unendowed foundation, this was critical. In order to justify the contributions, we had to create and promote a credibility and integrity that would be accepted by the national industry. That was our mission for the first five to eight years.
Q: What was the low point and high point of your time there?
A: The low point of my time was surely the first two years, when we never knew if we would get paid this week or not while we believed fully in the institution we were fighting for. The high point of my career has to be my selection to be part of the celebration of the RV industry centennial as a historian and my related invitation to speak at the outdoor lifestyle exposition in Hangzhou, China, on American RV history.
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