During the Corvette Hall of Fame banquet held on August 30, 2019, as part of the National Corvette Museum’s 25th Anniversary celebration, NCM Board Chairman, Lon Helton, spoke to the 1,050 guests in attendance about reaching this milestone year. He shared his optimism for the future and expressed his gratitude for retiring Executive Director Wendell Strode.
“Wendell, your 23 years of service to the NCM could never be [overstated]. 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.”
He then went on to make a surprise announcement. “As we prepare to meet the 2019 inductees to the Hall of Fame… it is my pleasure to announce to you that the 2020 class of the Corvette Hall of Fame will include Wendell Strode.”
The crowd showed their support with a thunderous standing ovation.
This honor is well-deserved, as Wendell was involved in getting the National Corvette Museum going when it was still just an idea.
In 1988, word had spread that the National Corvette Restorers Society had been exploring the idea of building a Corvette Museum. Strode, a banker at the time, contacted the local Chamber of Commerce with an idea to initiate a proposal to have it built in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He then found himself heading up a task force, bringing to the table an offer of a 30-acre land donation from private citizens, and a commitment from the State of Kentucky to put in the road and utilities. Strode also worked with the NCRS to put together a financial package that included a feasibility study to get banks interested in joining the effort.
The Museum opened Labor Day weekend 1994 with much fanfare, but the excitement was short-lived as it soon began experiencing financial troubles. Strode was recruited to join the National Corvette Museum as Executive Director on December 20, 1996. At the time, he had never even driven a Corvette and had only ridden in one once. While he didn’t know much about the car itself, what he did know was how to save its new home.
Strode worked to develop new strategies for generating funds, while making strides to repair strained relationships with the community, clubs, enthusiasts, media, the Plant, and GM. During his tenure, the Museum not only paid off its initial debt, but it nearly doubled its size, adding a world-class motorsports facility to its facilities. Under his leadership Museum membership grew from 1,600 enthusiasts to almost 36,000 members today. He even managed to survive a Corvette-swallowing sinkhole and helped to turn the attention it brought into a chance to share the Museum with a global audience.
The 2020 Corvette Hall of Fame recipients will be inducted during a ceremony and banquet held on Friday, September 4, 2020. Additional inductees will be announced at a later date. Their induction will take place as part of the Museum’s 26th Anniversary Celebration, scheduled for September 3-5, 2020.
Since its inception in 1997, 74 individuals have been inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame for their contributions to the past, present and future of Corvette. Bios, photos, and videos (in many cases) of each are available on the Museum’s website at www.corvettemuseum.org.