A scene of Intrigue and (fun) drama played out this morning (Sept. 24) when a crowd gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new 22,000-square-foot enclosed pavilion amid the sprawling Thor Industries Inc. exhibit east of the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc.’s Hall of Fame.
Because everyone knew that Thor President and CEO Bob Martin’s official dedication comments would mark the moment in history when publicly-held Thor’s donations had resulted in the significant expansion of a unique campus on the north side of Elkhart, Ind. – a virtual shrine, museum and rental facility for North America’s RV and manufactured housing industries to which Thor also added about a million square feet of asphalt.
But only one individual in the crowd of about 300 people outside the pavilion in the chilly morning air was completely unaware of the fact that the new pavilion was to be named the Peter B. Orthwein Pavilion — and that was Peter B. Orthwein himself, chairman emeritus of Thor Industries.
And from all appearances, Orthwein, a Connecticut resident who co-founded Thor in 1980 with partner Wade Thompson, was unaware of Thor’s honorable gesture until the very end.
“It was probably January that all the presidents got together and said ‘what do we do?’,” noted Martin who spoke with Orthwein and new Thor Chairman Andy Graves nearby. “We talked about moving our facilities, but we didn’t want to leave the Hall of Fame. So, Darryl (Hall of Fame President Darryl Searer) and I had started talking some five years ago about nothing quite as elaborate as this. But it was this vision of paving the area to replace the soggy mulch and putting up a pavilion. This is the result, and though we don’t own it – this is the Hall’s land — we did sign a multi-year lease for quite a few years.
“Last year, we were using generators and a tent for the Open House,” he added. “We had many things that added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars that we would put into this facility for one week, four days, once a year. We never recouped those costs. So, by doing this we’re able to have a facility that we can use for our Open House that we now have a guarantee to use for many years — this is our show. So, it’s an investment for Thor, but it’s also for the community and for the Hall. They now have an opportunity to use this not just for our show but for other events, including the Power Breakfast and all the charitable events that happen out here that now actually have parking and a building that is pretty nice.”
After personally thanking Keystone RV Co. Vice President of Support Services Bob Petit, who led the project, and turning the microphone over to Searer for a moment, Martin unveiled the day’s best kept secret, a gesture for which Thor had retained naming rights and Orthwein was clearly pleased and moved.
“This, honestly Peter, was the plan since the day we did the building,” said Martin, gesturing to a mockup of a plaque that is to be placed in front of the pavilion. “We all wanted to honor you. So, this will be placed in the front of the building and it’s in honor of the invaluable leadership, vision, dedication, kindness and service that you, Peter Orthwein, has provided to the industry. So, this will be up here in your honor. Thank you very much.”
Orthwein, almost at a loss for words, then said the honor was undeserved. “But it means a lot to me,” he said. “This industry has been fantastic for me and it’s full of wonderful people and the Thor management team has been great. And so we appreciate all the good that they have done. This industry has given me back a hundred times more than I’ve given to them. So, I certainly appreciate it. Thank you very much.”