Equipment and event rental industry leaders of the past, present and future joined together as one July 27-28, 2021, at the American Rental Association (ARA) Leadership Reunion in Moline, Ill. ARA leaders representing a span of more than three decades attended the event celebrating their years of service and dedication.
“This week has been one for the record books,” said Tony Conant, ARA CEO. “To have past presidents, members from the ARA Insurance and ARA Insurance Limited boards, the current ARA board of directors, ARA staff and past association leaders all together is pretty special. I find that most days something happens that reminds me how fortunate we are to have had such a good string of leaders. Almost everything we do takes a lot of time and energy to go from concept to final output. What we have now is the result of decisions that were made and work that was done decades ago. We are at the top of the list in almost every association metric you look at and that is always a good indicator of strong leadership.”
Not only was the event an opportunity for ARA to recognize and thank past presidents and board members for their contributions, it also was an opportunity for many of the guests to get their first look at the fully remodeled, modernized headquarters building.
“Carl [Newman] and I both commented that we never thought we’d be back at ARA headquarters, so we appreciate the fact that we’re able to come back,” said David Wilcox, who served as ARA president in 2002, of his journey back to Moline with Newman, 2006 ARA president and a 2018 Rental Hall of Fame inductee. “The ARA staff has dynamically changed and the building, I think, is fantastic. The direction of ARA is pointed up.”
Newman agreed, adding “I really couldn’t believe how much improvement there has been. I don’t know of any other word for ARA except ‘upward.’”
The reunion kicked off with a tented backyard welcome reception featuring food trucks from a variety of ARA staff members’ favorite local eateries. Past ARA CEOs Jim Irish (1987-2000) and Chris Wehrman (2000-2016), along with Phil Kelling (ARA Insurance president/CEO, 1997-2020), were among the special guests at the reception, and Irish and Wehrman both commented on how it felt to be back at their former workplace for the occasion.
“I’m in awe — that’s the first thing that I’m thinking being here. The building alone is just tremendous. A great job has been done on that. In terms of the performance of the organization, I know ARA is doing well,” Irish said.
“This is a nice event. It’s good to see everybody and find out what ARA is up to. It’s nice to be remembered,” Wehrman remarked as she visited with a lengthy list of past colleagues.
On the second day of the reunion, guests were treated to their option of a golf outing at renowned local golf course TPC Deere Run — home of the John Deere Classic, a PGA Tour stop — or a shopping and wine tasting experience. Everyone regrouped in the evening to cap off the festivities with a recognition dinner celebration.
For members of the current ARA board of directors, who also were in town to conduct a regular business meeting, the opportunity to interact with so many rental legends helped to put their own service to the industry in a unique perspective.
“I can only hope that one day I do half of what they’ve done; then, I think, I would be satisfied with my career as a volunteer leader,” said Dean Miller, CERP, owner, Miller’s Party Rental Center, Akron, Ohio, and ARA Region Five director.
“This is very special. I remember sitting in the audience at past shows thinking, ‘Wow, that’s an amazing thing, that a member is up there on stage,’ and only knowing some of these people that way until I got involved with the ARA board. I’m looking forward to talking to some of these former leaders who called me last year during the pandemic — when I was nicknamed ARA’s ‘pandemic president’ — to make sure I was hanging in there,” said Beth Hoff Blackmer, president, Aspen Rent-All, Basalt, Colo., and ARA board chair.
Dan Hooks, CERP, president, Party Reflections, Charlotte, N.C., who also serves as ARA president, was excited about the opportunity to finally meet many of “those guys I’ve seen on the walls for years, but never really had contact with. There are some names here you haven’t heard in a long time. It’s really neat.”
For Andrew Heesacker, president/CEO, Arvada Rent-Alls, Arvada, Colo., and ARA Region Seven director, the event was symbolic of ARA’s efforts to ensure a bright future for the industry by honoring the expertise of seasoned players while making room at the table for up-and-comers.
“It’s an honor to be here,” he said. “It’s important, as we incorporate young professionals into the industry as a whole and especially through ARA, that we don’t lose sight of where we came from. These veterans keep us in touch with that synergy of our roots and foundation. I think we lost touch of that through the years, but we’re regaining it now, so that’s really cool.”
Conant summed up the celebration with a similar tone, indicating that ARA’s past leadership has laid the groundwork for a bright future.
“This leadership reunion week was about celebrating our past and current leaders and recognizing them for the commitment they made to advance the rental industry through the work of the association. If the next 65 years are anything like the first 65, we’re in for a pretty good ride,” Conant said.