The RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind., played host to a packed house Monday (Aug. 4) night, as around 430 people strolled through the display areas before gathering in the “Boots and Betty Ingram Hall” for dinner followed by the formal recognition of the 10 inductees representing the class of 2008.
It marked the second time the ceremonies had been held in the just over year-old hall situated along the Indiana Toll Road in Elkhart County. Monday’s attendance was only eclipsed by last year’s induction that coincided with the dedication of the 80,000-square-foot facility, according to RVBusiness.com which reported on the event.
“This is the second largest group we’ve ever had at the induction ceremony, which was started in 1997, and last year there were a lot of people that were involved in the construction,” said Al Hasselbart, historian and spokesman for the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc., noting that several new features had been added since last year highlighted by the collection of vintage RVs purchased from David Woodworth.
Five of the new hall-of-famers represent the RV industry. They are:

  • Wilbur Bontrager, chairman of Jayco Inc., Middlebury, Ind., a past chairman and current board member of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
  • Donald Magary, an RV industry media specialist from Website Management, Tempe, Ariz., who has been a strong promoter of the RV lifestyle as a writer and editor in the RV industry.
  • Darryl Searer, chairman of Ultra-Fab Products Inc., Elkhart, a veteran industry promoter who has served on the RVIA Public Relations Committee, as president of the RV Aftermarket Association and, currently, as an RV/MH Heritage Foundation board member.
  • Wade F.B. Thompson, co-founder and chairman of Thor Industries Inc., Jackson Center, Ohio, having built his company into America’s largest RV and small bus manufacturer. Thompson has also been a strong supporter of industry training and educational programs and the Go RVing initiative.
  • Donald W. Wallace, retired founder of Lazydays RV Center Inc., Seffner, Fla., the largest single-site RV dealership in the nation. An early promoter of the Go RVing campaign, Wallace conceived and built the nation’s first RV supercenter.
    Those named from the manufactured housing side of the hall of fame were: Edward Hussey Jr., the late William Kormeier, the late William H. Turney, Frank Walter and Gordon Collins.
    While the evening’s spotlight was directed at the hall’s latest luminaries, the Heritage Foundation also honored its past. Emcee Lon Larson, newly elected chairman, Jerry Pickrell and Heritage Foundation President Carl Ehry paid tribute to past chairmen Vern Sailor, Warren Jones and Roger Reynolds.
    In an emotional presentation, Joe Altman honored his brother, Dave, who passed in January. Dave Altman, a renown California dealer and industry proponent, was chairman of the foundation during the drive to build the new facility, and the hall now features a “grand staircase” at the entrance dedicated to his memory.
    Inductees Look Back and Ahead
    While the event focused on honoring achievements and milestones, many of the new inductees alluded to the economic downturn that has impacted both industries. Wallace, who retired last year, provided some inspiration, and some levity to the proceedings.
    “I guarantee the RV industry will not stay like this,” he said. “People will absolutely not give up what they enjoy, and they enjoy RVing.
    “The customers will bring us out of this. One of the main things to remember is that you still need to take care of one customer at a time, especially now, since it may be the last one you see for a while.”
    Searer, who related that he began in the industry in 1958 working for his father, noted, “The industry is seeing a lot of challenges right now, but we will progress and become back bigger, better and stronger.”
    Thor, parent to some of the more prominent builders in the RV industry, was well represented as around 50 people were on hand to honor Thompson. He dedicated the bulk of his speech to commending the company’s key personnel while also recognizing the other members of the “original four” that started Thor, including Peter Orthwein, Walter Bennett and Larry Huttle.
    Bontrager attributed the company’s longevity to Jayco’s workers while giving homage to his deceased father, Lloyd, also a hall inductee. “I am very humbled to be honored alongside my father,” Bontrager said.
    Magary, a 25-year RV journalist who now oversees an Internet services network, emphasized the “friendships” formed over the years in the industry. “To join this group of pioneers, entrepreneurs and visionaries provides a deep sense of humility and pride,” he said.
    All speakers commented on the professionalism and opulence of the new facility. Hasselbart, who reported that attendance was averaging around 100 people a day, six days a week, added that “there are still a lot of things to accomplish.”
    With two phases now complete, he said the next fund-raising project is focusing on adding a manufactured housing hall and a convention/conference hall with seating for up to 1,000 on the east side of the facility.