ELKHART — Employees at Forest River Inc. know how to build RVs. They also know how to throw a picnic.
The manufacturing company put on its 15th annual company softball tournament over the past two Saturdays, an all-day event on both days from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Riverview Park.
For Kevin Reed, Forest River purchasing manager, the companywide event is a family affair. Every year for the past eight years, he takes charge of what is throught to be the largest company event of its kind in the state.
“I enjoy seeing (the employees) smile,” Reed said. “They bring all their families out. I think we served over 2,400 people through the food line. These employees talk about it all year long.”
The event takes three months to plan. Reed organizes the softball tournaments and his wife, Cheryl, handles the food.
Adrienne Pittman, assistant human resources coordinator at Forest River’s Goshen office, orders the accessories, including hats and shirts.
Doug Gaeddert, Forest River group general manager, serves as the corporate sponsor.
Gaeddert said the event’s first year featured 15 or 20 teams. This year, 64 teams were divided into three different tournaments.
“I have three divisions,” Reed said. “I have recreational, I have competitive, which finished last week, and the upper division, which is playing right now.”
Cheryl Reed orders the food from Stanz Foodservice Inc. Each year, the food is delivered and she freezes it until the day of the event. She said a family group helps her load and unload the food at the park.
Although much of the food is eaten, there are always leftovers.
“After we get done here, we load it back up, take it to our house, unload it,” Cheryl Reed said. “And then if there’s any food leftover, we take it to the Boys and Girls Club and Faith Mission.”
The event also featured a DJ who played music. Paul Franklin, a Forest River forklift operator who owns DJ PD Entertainment, two years ago decided to volunteer his time to play music at the event.
He split his time at the event with his business partner, Mac Jenkins. Franklin enjoys reconnecting with old friends at the company event.
“Some guys go to different plants and you haven’t seen them in a year or two years,” Franklin said. “We all finally come together. Just today, I saw one guy for the first time in six months.”
The softball games, for some, are a chance to connect with friends and family. For others, it’s a chance to earn bragging rights for an entire year.
Lavon Hochstetler, 19, played on a team in the recreational league. He came to the event with his brothers, who work for the company.
“I just love playing softball,” Hochstetler said. “I had a two-run homer.”
Reed said almost missed the event this year because just a few months earlier he was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer.
Sitting on his motor scooter, grinning from ear-to-ear, Reed said he felt lucky to be alive to see the event.