The industry he has given decades of his life to has now honored him, as Robert ‘Bob’ Vanderminden has been named the International Casual Furnishings Association Lifetime Achievement Award winner for 2011.
Vanderminden was recognized Sept. 14 at the industry gala held at the Field Museum in Chicago in front of several family members including three of his five children and several grandchildren, Telescope public relations Greta Cosey said.
The award recognizes individuals who have consistently made outstanding contributions to the industry as well as to their communities.
Daughter and Telescope CEO Kathy Juckett said everyone was quite proud of her father’s receiving the industry’s most prestigious award.
“It really is quite an honor we’re really proud of him. He’s always been the kind of guy who worked really hard behind the scenes and got it done, to be acknowledged like this by the industry is just really special,” Juckett said.
Vanderminden was characteristically humble when discussing the award. “I’m deeply honored by the whole thing, it was really well done,” he said.
“I was annoyed to start with, but to tell you the truth it was petty interesting that particularly my competition was there. I appreciate a compliment more when it comes from your enemies, enemies from an economic standpoint,” Vanderminden said.
When first learning of receiving the award Vanderminden said as someone who has always tried to stay in the background, he felt annoyed.
“I was being crabby about it because I thought it feels like when they give you that award they’re telling you to retire and frankly, I’m not done yet,” he said.
Gradually he warmed to the idea and had a good time in the giant Field Museum ballroom in front of about 1,000 people from the industry.
In his acceptance speech, Vanderminden said despite all he had achieved his greatest accomplishment was his family.
“The women there, apparently I must have done something to upset them because I’ve never been hugged by so many crying women before,” he quipped.
“It was because they were moved, dad,” Juckett said. “There weren’t too many dry eyes in the house.”
“It’s actually pleasurable to be honored by my competition and my customers, I thought that was especially good,” Vanderminden said.
Now at 84, Vanderminden said he has no plans to slow down, despite the fact that family members might want him to stop and smell the roses a bit.
“It’s fun for me still, so I’m going to keep doing it,” he said.
Vanderminden was born in Brooklyn in 1927 and began working in the cot and camp stool company founded by his grandfather in 1903 when he was 14.
By the time of his birth the company had relocated manufacturing operations from the city to Granville, the family followed.
Vanderminden began in the wood yard, later adding sewing machine repair and welding in the machine shop to his repertoire by the age of 16.
During a time away from the family business Vanderminden earned an engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), also spending a year at the Coast Guard Academy.
His time away from the company would not last long as even before graduation from RPI, he was driving home to work weekends at the factory redesigning the company’s line of wood furniture.
Over the next 60 years Vanderminden continued to innovate in all aspects of the company from products and machinery design to process and plant improvements.
Notable redesigns include, in1953, adding the slot system to the company’s director chairs which allowed customers to change the fabric, causing the popularity of the chairs to go through the roof.
In 1956, Vanderminden developed the company’s aluminum business. By employing five-person production centers the teams were able to produce 1,000 chairs per team per shift.
By the late 1950s Vanderminden was designing not just the furniture, but the equipment to produce it.
In 1977 Vanderminden introduced the “dowelled sling in a groove design” – now an industry standard.
Just a few years later in 1980, with gas-rationing taking place, Vanderminden designed a wood burning heating system for the plant which is still in use today.
In 2008, despite being years past when many people have retired, Vanderminden won a Design Excellence Award for Telescope’s Windward Sling Collection.