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Robert Vanderminden Sr. to be honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

The International Casual Furnishings Association (ICFA) has named Robert Dudley Vanderminden Sr. the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Robert Vanderminden Sr., Telescope CasualRobert Vanderminden Sr.
Vanderminden, 83 and still designing products, will be honored at the casual furnishings industry's annual awards gala to be held Sept. 14 at the Field Museum in Chicago during the 2011 International Casual Furniture and Accessories Market. The prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award is reserved for individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the outdoor furnishings industry and to their individual communities.

Vanderminden has invested a lifetime nurturing three treasures: his family, the business his family owns, and the community where both reside.

By the time Robert Vanderminden was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1927, the manufacturing operations of the cot and camp stool company his grandfather founded in 1903 had moved upstate to Granville. In 1932, the company's administrative offices, as well as the Vanderminden family, also moved to Granville.

The Telescope Cot Bed & Novelty Company - named for the telescoping legs on the cots and camp stools it manufactured - provided steady employment throughout Robert's teenage years. At 14, he worked in the sawmill yard; at 15, he added responsibilities for repairing sewing machines in the sewing room; around 16, he moved to the machine shop where he welded and made storage racks. He ventured outside the family business long enough to spend a year at the Coast Guard Academy, where he developed a love of sailing, and to earn a degree in mechanical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. But the hiatus was short-lived. Even before he graduated he began driving home on weekends to redesign the company's line of wood furniture.

Thus began 60 years of innovative product, machinery, process and plant design that transformed both the company and, eventually, the entire outdoor furnishings industry. Highlights include:

1953 - Redesigned the director's chair with a slot system that made the seat and back fabrics removable, meaning customers could easily customize and change the colors. The popularity of the chairs exploded.

1956 - Developed Telescope's aluminum business with a small budget and a few thousand square feet of manufacturing space. Bought all used equipment and created "production centers" consisting of five people. With the new "cell" production process, each five-person team could produce 1,000 chairs per shift. In the late 50s, he began designing all of the product as well as the equipment to make it.

1977 - Introduced the Gardenella Sling Collection, the first collection in the industry to feature the dowelled sling in a groove design. The design is now an industry standard.

1980 - During gas rationing, he designed and built a waste wood burning system to heat the entire plant. The same system is in use today.

2008 - Vanderminden's designs helped the company win many awards over the years, but the 2008 Design Excellence Award for his popular Windward Sling Collection design is worth special note since the designer was not only in his 80s, but was also suffering from macular degeneration, a disease that now renders him legally blind.

Vanderminden was named to Telescope's Board of Directors in 1967 and became executive vice president of the company in 1971. He served as the CEO from 1989 until 2001, when he was named chairman of the board.

"He considered his greatest gift to the success of Telescope bringing up five kids with his work ethic, who then, hopefully, have passed that along to their children," said granddaughter Greta Cosey, who now handles public relations for the company. "He never focused on titles or turf - he just got everyone pulling in the right direction to get the job done."

Vanderminden applied the same teamwork approach to civic endeavors. He combined his personal passion for Little League baseball with 60 years of Telescope corporate support to create a Granville league that involves 500 youngsters from local rural communities.

"As hard as he worked, he always made time for his family," recalled Vanderminden's son, Bill, who is now executive vice president. "Every Sunday, we would all go to church in our brightly colored ski clothes, and, as soon as the last hymn was over, the whole family headed for the slopes in our Pontiac station wagon."

Vanderminden's other two children also hold executive positions. His daughter, Katherine Juckett, is CEO, and Robert Vanderminden Jr. is senior vice president, information systems. His nephew, Henry Vanderminden IV, is president.

Telescope dealer Petey Fleischut of Casual Marketplace, Hockessin, Del., said, "Bob is an innovative, compassionate, resilient, strong-willed, talented, kind and generous individual. Through the love of his profession, he has groomed the present family leaders of Telescope Casual Furniture to bring their business where it is today."

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