ELKHART — For the past year, the RV/MH Hall of Fame & Museum has been looking for support from within the industry to help it weather the financial storm that has threatened the institution with closure. Tuesday, it got a boost from a company that has never built, sold or supplied a part to either a recreational vehicle or manufactured home.
Frontier Communications, headquartered in Stamford, Conn., presented the Hall of Fame with a $10,000 donation in recognition of the facility’s work to preserve the heritage, in particular, of the RV industry.
The telecommunications company decided to provide the assistance after reviewing the stories that surfaced last year about the fiscal turmoil that mired the Hall of Fame, said Chris Stager, Frontier general manager. Many local residents depend on RV manufacturers and suppliers for jobs, he continued, and Frontier saw a need to protect the industry’s history.
Surrounded by volunteers from the Hall of Fame, Maggie Wilderotter, chairman and CEO of Frontier, handed an oversized check to the hall’s executive director Tom McNulty during an impromptu ceremony inside the museum. The money will go into the general fund.
Wilderotter took the time to visit the Hall of Fame during a three-day tour of Frontier’s service area in Northern Indiana. Earlier in the day she had lunch at the Lerner Theatre with community dignitaries and customers.
Frontier’s donation, McNulty said, “is unique to us in that it represents there are people outside the RV/MH industry who really care about this museum and are willing to show their interest.”
The Hall of Fame has solicited support from the RV and manufactured housing communities. In mid-February 2011, the institution sent a letter to potential donors detailing its desperate situation and asking for help to avert shutting down. Then in March, the Hall of Fame convened a summer of industry leaders to outline its plan for survival and, again, appeal for assistance.
Much of the Hall of Fame’s monetary headache stems from a multi-million debt owed to the family of the late Robert “Boots” Ingram. The founder of Teton Homes loaned the facility to funds to buy the David Woodworth collection of pre-World War II RVs and to complete the addition that now serves as the conference center.
RV industry leaders have told McNulty that the Hall of Fame has to get rid of its long-term debt before they will offer help. Even the pledge of $66,000 from Marcus Lemonis, chairman of Camping World, has never been honored, in part, because he later attached a condition to his donation that the facility allow him to open a retail store on the property.
Frontier’s gift, Wilderotter said, represents the company’s efforts to be a part of the communities it serves.
“We are very excited to make the contribution to the museum so we can keep the heritage of the RV industry alive and well here in Elkhart,” she said during the check presentation. “We’re local and we’re involved in our communities. We want to make sure we support the things that are important in the areas we serve. So it’s with pleasure that we present this museum with a $10,000 check to help keep the museum growing and thriving.”
The Hall of Fame is no longer in a day-to-day fight for survival, McNulty said. It is financially stable for 2012, largely because of the funds coming from the organizations and individuals who are renting the conference center for public and private events.
“This past year has been really remarkable when you consider what we had to start with,” he said. “We’ve got adequate funds to weather another year.”
The Hall of Fame is still dealing with the long-term debt and trying to put together a “reasonable program” that will enable the institution to retire the obligation. It has been negotiating with the Ingram family.
“They want to work with us,” McNulty said. “They are not fighting us.”
Until Thursday, the Hall of Fame did not know it was even being considered by Frontier for a donation. Stager met with McNulty late last week to tell him that Wilderotter wanted to visit and present a check but did not reveal the amount.
“It was a delightful surprise for me,” McNulty said of the donation. “It’s a real plus for us.”