When he became executive director of the National Corvette Museum in late 1996, Wendell Strode had never even driven a Corvette and had only ridden in one once.
My, how times have changed!
Over the past 23 years, Strode has led the Museum back to firm financial ground, even if the literal ground under part of the facility did literally cave in back in 2014!
“Wendell, your 23 years of service to the NCM could never be [overstated],” NCM Board Chairman Lon Helton said during the Corvette Hall of Fame Banquet last week during the Museum’s 25th anniversary celebration. “A few years after it opened, the NCM fell on some pretty tough times, to the point where I think that its very existence was threatened. Not only did you rescue the NCM—you led it to the prosperity that we enjoy today.”
For his decades of service to the NCM, Helton then announced that Strode would be a member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020, drawing a thunderous standing ovation from the 1,050 guests attending the banquet on Aug. 30.
Ironically, Strode was helping the Museum before it even was a Museum! A Bowling Green banker back in 1988, he heard about an idea for the Corvette Museum and was soon recruited to serve as head of a task force established to build such a facility in Bowling Green, Ky., and soon reported that private citizens were willing to donate a 30-acre tract and the State of Kentucky was committed to put in the road and utilities. He also worked with the National Corvette Restorers Society to put together a financial package that included a feasibility study to get banks interested in supporting the effort.
Once all the initial hoopla at opening weekend on Labor Day weekend 1994 had subsided, however, the Museum soon began to experience financial problems.
That’s when Strode came to the rescue.
He developed new strategies for generating funds and made strides to repair strained relationships with the community, clubs, enthusiasts, media, the Corvette Assembly Plant, and General Motors. His efforts helped the NCM pay off its initial debt while nearly doubling the size of the facility and adding a world-class motorsports facility. Membership has soared to almost 36,000 members today, up from 1,600 when he started! And don’t forget that sinkhole that caught the attention of the whole world five years ago – he and the staff quickly turned it into lemonade as attendance soared with people wanting to see the sinkhole that swallowed eight classic Corvettes.
For those efforts, it’s no surprise that Strode will become the latest member of the Corvette Hall of Fame during next year’s ceremony and banquet on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020 as part of the NCM’s 26th Anniversary Celebration set for Sept. 3-5, 2020. He and other 2020 inductees to be announced later will join 74 other individuals in the Hall of Fame for their contributions to the past, present, and future of Corvette.
National Corvette Museum
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