Peter Orthwein recalled how he and the late Wade Thompson in 1977 bought Hi-Lo Trailer Co., and how that company has grown into the world’s biggest recreational vehicle maker, Elkhart-based Thor Industries Inc.
He talked about how, in 1980, he and Thompson formed Thor to buy Airstream from Beatrice Foods, and listed the names of each company Thor has acquired over the years.
But as he accepted his induction into the RV/MH Hall of Fame at a ceremony Monday night, he was more interested in thanking and crediting others.
“During the 37 years that I’ve been involved in the RV industry, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many incredibly talented people,” said Orthwein, who stepped down as Thor CEO a year ago. “Today I am extremely proud of Thor’s management team, led by Bob Martin, our present CEO. They are supported by many energetic and talented people who make Thor the great company that is today. They are the ones who deserve this honor, along with those who have built Thor along the way... I have just been along for an incredible, joyous ride.“
A record 444 people attended the ceremony at the Northern Indiana Event Center, up from 311 last year. The 2014 class included 10 individuals from all sides of the RV and manufactured housing industries, including manufacturing, insurance, manufactured housing communities, and marketing.
Hall president Darryl Searer received the Spirit Award, the RV/MH Heritage Foundation’s top honor, for his efforts to improve the hall’s financial condition and reduce its debt.
Here’s a look at the rest of this year’s inductees:
Debbie Brunoforte, Little Dealer-Little Prices, Mesa, Az. -- Brunoforte is a second-generation RV retailer, and owner of Little Dealer-Little Prices. She has won customer satisfaction awards from every manufacturer she has represented, and chaired the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association in 2009 and 2010. She was selected as one of RV Business magazine’s 100 most influential people in RV history.
Barry Cole, Manufactured Housing Insurance Services, Orange, Calif. -- Cole was a founding member of the California Manufactured Housing Institute and has served continuously on its board, including four years as chairman. Serving the industry as a retailer, manufacturer, community owner and service provider, he is the only member to have served on the MHI Board of Governors representing three different industry divisions.
Edwin J. Evans, EPM Sales and Leasing, Coronado, Calif. -- In a career beginning in 1969, he has developed and managed 10 manufactured housing communities and one RV park. He was on the committee that led to the formation of the California Manufactured Housing Institute. He was the founding president of the Manufactured Housing Educational Trust that protects the interests of more than 200 manufactured housing community owners representing more than 600 parks in Southern California.
Tom Kern, Stye Crest Enterprises, Fremont, Ohio -- A supplier of heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and foundation products for the manufactured housing industry for more than 40 years, he was national supplier of the year for MHI in 1996 and 1998, and Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. In 2000 he was the MHI Person of the Year.
Richard King, King Insurance, Omaha, Neb. -- A 50-year veteran of the finance and insurance industry relating to manufactured housing and RVs, he has served MH and RV dealers and operators in 12 states. He has served on advisory boards of several insurance companies, and was awarded Kansas Manufactured Housing Association’s Man of the Year award.
Bob Livingston, Good Sam Enterprises, Oxnard, Calif. -- A 43-year veteran of RV publications, he has written columns on RV technical topics for more than 20 years. He created and produced an RV television show, and helped create the Great American RV Rally. In 2003 he was recognized with the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association Distinguished Service in Journalism award.
Gary McDaniel, YES! Communities, Denver, Colo. -- He has led the development of tens of thousands of home sites nationally over his 40 years in manufactured housing and real estate development. He was named Industry Person of the Year by the National Manufactured Housing Industry Association in 2001. He manages 118 communities in 17 states.
John Roba, JR Products, Clarence Center, NY -- An industry aftermarket supplier and manufacturer’s representative since 1972, he was one of the first to serve the industry as a manufacturer’s representative. His was the first company to have identified territories and dedicated staff for each segment of the country. He was a founding member of the RV Aftermarket Association in 1969.
Jim Shields, Pan Pacific RV Centers, French Camp, Calif. -- A co-founder of the California Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association, he had served several terms as its chairman. He chaired the national RVDA board in 2007 and 2008. Starting in 1985 he grew his dealership from a single location with less than $1 million in sales to one with three super stores and more than $30 million in sales. He died from cancer on Feb. 13. His widow, Sherry, accepted the induction on his behalf.