If you find yourself driving on I-80 in the northern Indiana city of Elkhart, you can’t help but notice the RV/MH Hall of Fame building. This beautiful structure is a living testament to the RV lifestyle and the people who dedicated their lives to the industry. While a monument to RVing may not have the same panache as the Baseball Hall of Fame or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, believe me, our industry’s digs are quite impressive.
For many years the RV/MH Hall of Fame was headquartered in a plain-Jane building in Elkhart and wasn’t exactly on many RV enthusiasts’ radar. Fortunately, a few industry visionaries, spearheaded by the late Boots Ingram and his wife, Betty, drove a plan to enhance the new facility that would proudly stand as a museum, library and conference center – and attract visitors itching to learn the history of the RV industry and its pioneers. Boots Ingram was always a big thinker. He started building trailers back in the 1960s and grew his business into a thriving RV manufacturing enterprise that was eventually run by his son, Tony.
While Boots and Betty’s dream eventually came to fruition through personal donations and arm-twisting of fellow RV industry entrepreneurs, the facility fell upon hard times after the recession hit in 2008. Mounting debt and limited revenue put the RV/MH Hall of Fame at risk of closing down for good. With the help of the Ingram family, along with the Hall’s board of directors and Darryl Searer, who has stepped in as the facility’s new president, a workable plan was implemented to keep the doors open.
While the future now looks much brighter, the Hall is not out of woods, yet. Substantial debt, which has been reconfigured, must be reduced and new programs are being planned to bring in much needed revenue. The Ingram family was key to the restructuring of the debt and has challenged the industry and its consumer participants to help pay down the financial obligation. The Ingram family will match, dollar for dollar, up to $100,000 to reduce the mortgage, as long as the donations are made by Aug. 31, 2012. MotorHome’s chairman and CEO, Marcus Lemonis, stepped right up as the first to make a pledge, offering $25,000. Don Wallace, the co-founder of Lazydays RV center in Tampa, Fla., matched Lemonis’ donation a few days later.
Hopefully, the $100,000 goal will be realized through the help of other generous industry figures and the private sector. A number of RV enthusiasts have made personal donations and others can follow suit by contacting the Hall of Fame online (www.rvmhhalloffame.org). Donations are tax deductible.
Keeping the Hall alive is certainly a big deal. Although I have toured the facility numerous times, I never tire of the exhibits. Strolling down the indoor highway of RVs takes the visitor through the history of the RV industry dating back when motorized vehicles were in their infancy. Most people who tour the facility are surprised to learn how creative and innovative the early pioneers were, especially since the designing and engineering of RVs was usually done on a scrap of paper rather than sophisticated computer-aided design software.
Future plans for the facilities are destined to enrich the visitor experience. The industry is now using the grounds for trade shows, and other displays and cultural events are planned. As a member of the board of directors, I can assure you these future plans are very exciting.
Thanks to the vision of the Ingram family and other industry friends, the RV/MH Hall of Fame will continue to stand proudly as a shining example of the RV lifestyle’s heritage.
While this facility may not pay homage to our favorite sports legends and rock stars, keep in mind that our lifestyle is much more personal, and we should let the world know.