The National Corvette Museum (NCM) announced during their recent 25th Anniversary that Wendell Strode, the NCM’s Executive Director for over 23 years, will be bestowed with the highest honor by the museum. Each year, the NCM chooses several individuals who have had a profound effect, and/or a significant contribution to Corvette.
During the NCM’s 25th Anniversary celebration banquet held on August 30, 2019, NCM Board Chairman, Lon Helton, spoke to the 1,050 guests in attendance. He spoke for all as he expressed his gratitude for retiring Executive Director Wendell Strode.
“Wendell, your 23 years of service to the NCM could never be understated. 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.”
As the crowd, which had originally gathered to celebrate this year’s NCM Hall of Fame inductees listened on, Lon continued. “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.”
Not only did you rescue the NCM—you led it to the prosperity that we enjoy today. – Lon Helton, NCM Board Chairman
Lon’s words were met with resounding applause. Those who know Wendell Strode can appreciate all that he has done for the National Corvette Museum and Corvette. Early on, when the NCM was merely a dream on a handful of enthusiasts’ minds, Wendell, a banker at the time, came alongside the team of Corvette faithful and helped them put together a financial plan. He worked with the local Chamber of Commerce, initiating a proposal that a Corvette Museum should be located nearby to the only Corvette Assembly Plant.
Wendell was also beneficial in securing 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 for use by the NCM. As the idea of the National Corvette Museum began to be realized, first in a nearby Corvette Museum Annex, then at the current NCM location on Labor Day weekend in 1994, the scope of operating such an organization began to be realized. The freshly-minted NCM was welcomed into the world under great financial burden.
With the future of the NCM uncertain, Wendell was recruited to join the National Corvette Museum as Executive Director on December 20, 1996. He quickly set out, repairing strained relationships with the community, clubs, enthusiasts, media, the Plant, and GM. His banking background immediately began setting the ship upright, devising new strategies for increasing funds.
Over the next 23 years, the NCM paid off its initial debt, increased its display areas and almost doubling the size of the museum, and purchased various other tracts of land adjacent to the original plot. Some have been used for additional parking, others have been utilized to house the NCM’s artifacts and displays when not set out for public viewing and of course, the NCM Motorsports Park, which is utilized by the NCM, visiting enthusiasts and of course, GM.
Wendell stood as the face of the Museum, helping to enlighten the world of Kentucky’s Karst landscape and giving new meaning to the word “sinkhole”. He helped explain what happened and turned the tone of tragedy into a world-wide interest of the ongoing efforts to recover each of the eight Corvettes that succumbed to the event.
Wendell recently announced he will be stepping down as the NCM’s Executive Director at the end of this year. His predecessor, Sean Preston will serve as the President and CEO of the Museum moving forward.
Wendell’s contribution to the NCM as an organization is more than enough reason to endow him with the highest honor possible. More than that, Wendell has served as a mentor and friend to countless co-workers at the NCM, as well as a great crowd of like-minded enthusiasts who have visited the NCM over the years. His even-keeled nature has helped steady the Corvette Museum through some of the roughest waters any organization could endure. Now, as he prepares to hand over the wheel to the entity which he has toiled for over two decades, he has positioned it in the midst of calm waters and clear skies.
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.
We congratulate Wendell on his induction into the NCM Hall Of Fame and wish him all the best as he prepares to be able to spend more time with friends and family.