ELKHART — Tom Bumpus has experienced some big bumps along the way.
But the Elkhart man, one of many who suffered a direct hit during the recession of the late 2000s, is holding his own. Laid off twice during the recession, he now helps operate a recreational vehicle service company, Elkhart Sales and Service. One day, he hopes to own it.
Call him the man who keeps getting up, an emblem of the fight in Elkhart County. The Great Recession battered Elkhart County and, in some ways, many are still feeling the aftershocks of the downturn, five years after it ended. But it’s made others, like Bumpus, leaner, forced them to improvise and forge a new trail lest they wither on the vine.
Back in 2007, before unemployment here started its upward march and the bottom fell out of the economy, Bumpus had figured he was set. He had two decades under his belt at Monaco Coach Corp., the RV maker, and he planned to stay until retirement.
Of course anyone who knows anything about the RV sector and Monaco knows what happened next. On July 17, 2008, Monaco, astonishingly, announced it would shutter the majority of its Elkhart County operations and lay off 1,400 workers, including Bumpus, effective Sept. 17, 2008. It knocked the wind out of Elkhart County, already reeling from the down economy, and it stunned Bumpus, who worked in research and development.
- Scroll down to see Monaco’s July 17, 2008, press release on the layoffs.
It was “a huge shock to have to look for a job after being there 20 years,” said Bumpus, now 52.
KNOCKED DOWN AGAIN
He managed, got another job fairly quickly, even as others from the group of 1,400 at Monaco languished. He’s not one to dwell on things. “Myself, I just looked at it as a change. Everything changes,” he said.
That new job, in the end, didn’t last long. Just 100 days or so in, the new firm announced its own round of layoffs. Once again, Bumpus was jobless. “I thought I’d found a new home,” he said.
If he’s anything, Bumpus is resilient, and he set to plotting yet another comeback. “I don’t panic. I’m not a person to panic in that situation,” he said.
GET BACK UP, SHAKE IT OFF
He started helping with maintenance at the building that housed Elkhart Sales and Service, an RV service company that had wound down operations as an RV assembler. Then he got to talking with the firm’s owner, Marv Miller, about opening it back up, this time as a service and repair shop for RVs.
The single father of three dipped into his savings. Thank goodness he’d had the foresight to put some away.
He did some freelance RV renovation work.
He turned down an offer from Navistar Inc., which had bought out Monaco’s assets after the firm’s 2009 bankruptcy filing. He’d essentially be doing what he did at Monaco, but for half the pay.
Finally in early 2010, after more talking with Miller, Elkhart Sales and Service re-launched in the new direction.
PURSUING THE DREAM
The company’s growing. And Bumpus holds on to the dream of one day owning Elkhart Sales and Service, per an arrangement with Miller.
But the story isn’t over. Bumpus isn’t marching gloriously into the sunset.
Financially, he figures he’s doing about as well as he did before, with Monaco. On the down side, he has to get his own health insurance.
Then there’s the stress. He’s had to learn a whole new set of management and business skills in his new job and, as direct liaison to customers, he’s got to be attentive. Before, he left the worrying to his boss.
"Now I answer directly to the customer, so things have to be done right,“ he said.
But he’s got work and things are humming along. He’ll take it.