ELKHART — An early leader in Elkhart’s manufactured housing industry and a prominent real estate developer has died.
Jack Tuff, who founded Tops Mobile Home Centers, several area mobile home parks, and some prominent retail developments locally, died Wednesday, June 25.
Tuff, born and raised in Minnesota, served in the military from 1953 to 1960, having been stationed in Korea and later in Fort Knox, Ky. While at Fort Knox, he worked part-time for a manufactured housing dealer, where he “fell in love with industry,” said Al Hesselbart, historian at the RV/MH Hall of Fame.
In 1964 he moved to Elkhart, then known as a center for the industry.
"Jack was a giant in the manufactured housing industry in Elkhart County and was one of two or three people who were personally responsible for the city of Elkhart donating land and funds for the first Hall of Fame on Benham Avenue,“ Hesselbart said. ”He was one of the key leaders of the Hall of Fame operating through the ’80’s and early ’90s.“
Tuff was inducted into the hall in 1991.
He went on to become heavily involved in real estate. In 2001 his Tuff Properties developed the former Starlite drive-in theater site at Ash Road and Old U.S. 20 into an apartment complex and Walmart.
In 2002 he developed the Willow Lakes shopping center on C.R. 15 in Goshen that includes Kohl’s and Target, along with a mobile home park behind it.
Jerry Pickrell, who was active for many years in the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association with Tuff, credited Tuff for getting him involved in the association in the early 1980s. Pickrell had worked for Bristol Products, which later became Lasalle-Bristol, and said Tuff wanted more industry suppliers represented on the IMHA board of directors.
Tuff later encouraged Pickrell to serve as treasurer of the Hall of Fame.
"Jack was quite the guy,” Pickrell said. “He could get people involved and get them to do things.”
His love of recreational vehicles and manufactured housing was heart felt, Pickrell said.
"In 1990-92 he probably kept the Hall of Fame going,“ Pickrell said. ”He spent a lot of his own money because we didn’t have much of it at that time. I’m really going to miss him. He did a lot for me. I don’t know why he took a liking to me but he was very special.“