Forest River Peers, Friends, Salute Don Gunden’s Retirement – RVBusiness – Breaking RV Industry News

Don Gunden, left, with Pete Liegl, pictured at Gunden’s 2022 induction into the RV/MH Hall of Fame.

GOSHEN, Ind. – Hundreds of friends and family turned out Wednesday night at the Maplecrest Country Club to honor Don Gunden, who retired earlier in February after a nearly 50-year career with Forest River Inc.

The night was highlighted by many smiles, many stories and many hugs and handshakes.

Gunden, who was the general manager overseeing the Rockwood, Flagstaff, Palomino and other successful Forest River brands, kept his remarks from the podium brief and to the point.

“I’m really touched by the number of people that are here tonight and your comments. It’s always nice to have the competition here. It’s nice to see you all here. Customers here. My grandson came on his way to soccer practice. Enjoy yourselves. Thanks for coming. I really appreciate it,” he said to an audience that also included U.S. Rep. Rudy Yakym, THOR Industries Inc. President Bob Martin, and RV Industry Association (RVIA) President Craig Kirby, among many others.

Before Gunden took the podium, several people stepped up to offer their thoughts on Gunden’s retirement. Most said “Gunny’s” positive impact to them personally went far beyond the accomplishments of his successful career.

Doug Gaeddert, also a longtime Forest River group general manager, shared a conversation he had with Gunden some 10-15 years ago.

“So, we’re in his office and we’re having this serious talk. And I said, ‘Well, Gunny, what’s your thought on retirement? And he says, ‘Well, Doogie. It’s pretty simple.’ He says, ‘All I want is to be able to do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it.’ I thought about that a couple of minutes. I said, ‘That might be the most profound statement I’ve ever heard,’” Gaeddert said. “Gunny’s been a mentor to me, a buddy, a roommate multiple times. I miss you already.”

John Stringer, who worked with Gunden at Forest River for as long as anyone, said he couldn’t roast him because “he’s a great guy and we are all very, very fortunate to have him be a big part of our lives.”

“He always said two things: Always hire people smart enough to do their job and then leave them alone and let them do it; and always do the right thing. Words I’ve always wanted to live by. Words I’ve cherished,” Stringer said.

Leo Akins, who is the director of Quality Assurance, Codes & Standards at Forest River, related a story where he and Gunden were two of several people at a dinner party in Washington D.C. during RVIA’s RVs Move America Week conference. A good time was being enjoyed by all, Akins said, until he started wondering about what to do when it comes time for the bill.

“We were sitting at dinner and I didn’t know at the time who’s paying for dinner and I’m thinking, ‘Well, maybe I am? Wait! What am I worried about? I’m sitting next to Don. There’s no problem,’” Akins said. “So, thank you for all you’ve done – not just for our company, but for me as well.”

Don Gunden, left, thanks the crowd of family and friends for coming to a retirement part held Wednesday in his honor at the Maplecrest Country Club in Goshen, Ind.

Karl Miller, who stepped into Gunden’s role to oversee Rockwood, Flagstaff and Columbus – Todd Martin and Ben Meloche will run Puma and Palomino, respectively – remembered a time early in his career when Gunden helped him settle in to his position.

“You always knew how to handle me. You always knew how to calm me down. You always knew what to say, even if it was nothing. And you are a much better person than how you will ever be measured by with what you’ve done for the RV industry,” Miller said.

The evening began with Yakym addressing Gunden and the audience. After a few pleasantries, Yakym then read the statement he entered into the Congressional Record in late January.

“Currently serving as General Manager of Forest River’s Rockwood, Flagstaff and Palomino brands, Don ‘Gunny’ Gunden has long been a leader in the recreational vehicle industry.

“Don started out in the RV business working at Starcraft straight out of college, and for the next half century he has devoted his professional life to the industry that is so important economically to northern Indiana and a source of so many happy memories for families all across America.

“Don’s 2022 induction into the RV/MH Hall of Fame only underscores his entrepreneurial spirit, commitment to excellence, and the tireless work he has done to maintain Elkhart’s proud status as the RV Capital of the World.

“As he prepares to retire, spend more time with his wife, Theresa, and write the next chapter of his life, I am proud to congratulate Don Gunden on a distinguished career and a job well done. The Elkhart community and RV industry as a whole are unquestionably better off thanks to this good man.

“I join Hoosiers throughout Indiana’s Second District in expressing our gratitude and thanks to Don for his many contributions to our area and in wishing him a very happy, well-deserved retirement.”