The National Corvette Museum was two years old in the fall of 1996, but it hadnt exactly gotten on its feet yet. The financial situation looked pretty dismal and everything else seemed to be declining too: attendance, membership, store sales, relations with the business community and enthusiasts. Why, then, would anyone want to step into that situation and take over the helm of a sinking ship? We asked Wendell Strode, the executive director of the National Corvette Museum, that very question.
Wendell joined the National Corvette Museum on December 20, 1996. A seasoned banker of 25 years, Wendell was excited by the challenge of saving the Museum. He knew he could make a difference. Eight years earlier, Wendell had been a part of the Bowling Green Chambers Task Force that worked to get the National Corvette Museum located in Bowling Green. Wendell had a strong background with a degree in business administration from Western Kentucky University and decades as a banker right there in Bowling Green. He knew, from previous interaction with Corvette enthusiasts, the die-hard dedication that exists among the group. He says, Being one of 13 children and with my wife and two daughters, this feeling of family has always been a crucial part of my life and a tremendous source of strength for me over my career.
As we know, Wendell and his team have been successful over the last several years. The Museum has come full circle. The financial problems have been resolved, thanks to Wendells financial wizardry; the Corvette community and even GM seem to have every confidence in the Museums steadfast preservation of all things Corvette; and there are realistic goals for growth and expansion. Wendell counts the turnaround of the Museum and the development of the team it took to make that happen among his greatest achievements. The leadership and management team that we have currently is something I am very proud of, he says. I believe strongly that every team member puts the entire team, and thus the Museum, above self and that they are totally dedicated to exceeding the expectations of others, which includes both fellow team members, the NCM Membership, and all other supporters and guests.
Wendell and his team already have the Corvettes 50th anniversary, in 2003, in their sights. Their goals for that date include: increasing membership to upwards of 20,000; developing a library, archives, and a resource center; constructing a 500-seat convention center and Corvette diner; building an autocross road track on the NCM land; enhancing the Web site and expanding the event venue; as well as growing the Ambassador program, a program that provides for a duly elected representative from each chapter, club, and registry.
We asked Wendell about his all-time favorite Corvette. He says, After the wonderful surprise I received at the C5 Birthday Bash Banquet from Bob McDorman, my favorite Corvette is that Corvette. Aside from C5s, I love the late 50s and 60s.
When asked about the funniest thing that had happened to him as the NCMs director, Wendell told us what happened just three weeks after he joined the Museum. He was showing merchandise for a fund-raising auction and was prompted from the gallery to auction the Corvette tie he was wearing, which was actually borrowed from his friend and fellow NCM employee, Danny Gillock. He stayed in the spirit of the moment, taking off the tie and auctioning it for nearly $100. He fondly remembers, The whole time this was going on, I am wondering how I am going to tell Danny, and what in the world he is going to think of me for auctioning off his only tie.
With someone who devotes as much time to their job as Wendell does, one might wonder how he manages time for a life outside his public one. Wendell and his wife of 31 years, Jan, own and operate a bed-and-breakfast, on the second floor of their historic 131-year-old home. The 1869 Homestead, as it is known, was where Wendell grew up from age 12. Wendell and Jan purchased and renovated it in 1996 after Wendells father passed away. The homestead is just 10 minutes from the Museum in Warren County, and has been the site of many of the Museums barbecues.
Jan and Wendell have two daughters, Alicia and Tara, 28 and 26 years old, respectively. Wendell is, needless to say, quite fond of his grandson, Jacob Howard, who has already started learning the Corvette hobby as a model in some of the Museums fashion shows. Not surprisingly, Wendell is active in community service efforts and currently serves on the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce board of directors. A Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, Wendell is also a member and deacon at Three Springs Baptist Church.
Wendell reflects, I felt this source of strength would be so powerful there would not be anything that working together as a worldwide Corvette family we could not accomplish. I still feel that way today. He continued, Our mission will always be the samethe preservation of the past, present, and future of the Corvette. We couldnt agree more. Thank you, Wendell and staff.