The Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame Committee has elected five new members to be inducted into the Hall of Fame next May, one retailer and four manufacturers.
Hank Derleth, Ripon Athletic; the late Gerry OKeefe, Spalding/Brunswick/PGA Victor/Schwinn; Norbert Olberz, Sport Chalet; and Ellen Wessel and Elizabeth Goeke, Moving Comfort, will be honored in ceremonies Tuesday evening, May 5, during the 45th Annual NSGA Management Conference & 11th Annual Team Dealer Summit. The Conference & Summit will be held May 3-6, 2009, at the Westin La Cantera Resort in San Antonio, Texas.
Since 1956, the sporting goods industry has honored its pioneers, innovators and leaders, and the election of the Class of 2009 brings the total number of Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Famers to 143. The Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame induction ceremony is co-sponsored by Messe München GmbH (ISPO); Mizuno USA; New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc.; W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc.; and the Sport Finance Program from GE Money.
“This years group of inductees are very special, because of their innovative and lasting contributions to the sporting goods industry,” said NSGA Hall of Fame Committee Chairman Randy Ruch, CEO of Schuylkill Valley Sports, Pottstown, Pa. “Election to the Hall of Fame is the highest honor one can receive in the sporting goods industry, and these inductees meet the high standards to which all Hall of Famers are held. We are proud to add them to this esteemed group.”
Hank Derleth, an academic All-American football player at the University of Wisconsin, for whom he played in the 1960 Rose Bowl, started his career in the sporting goods industry with Sand-Knit, a division of Medalist Industries, as an assistant sales manager in 1963. For two years during his tenure there, he attended Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, taking graduate courses to increase his knowledge in yarn manufacturing, fabric analysis, knitting technology and textile quality control. Upon his return to Sand-Knit, he became manufacturing manager.
He was promoted to General Manager/President in 1972, and in 1981, he was named President of Medalist Athletic Products, which included Sand-Knit, Pride, Gladiator, and Sports Education.
After leaving the company in 1984, he joined Ripon Award Jackets, Inc. as part owner with Ted Overmyer. The company added athletic uniforms to the jacket line and changed the company name to Ripon Athletic. In 1992, the company acquired the assets of Sand-Knit and continued to grow in the athletic team uniform market. In 1993, the Derleth family acquired Overmyers stock and established the company as a family business.
Ripon currently has three plants with 160 employees. The company manufactures and distributes athletic uniforms through select team dealers across the U.S. and Canada. It also contracts to make professional and college uniforms.
Hank is active in local civic affairs and is on the Board of Directors of an area bank and a community health provider network. He is a member of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Hall of Fame and was elected to the Hall of Fame of his high school alma mater, Beaver Dam, Wis., in 2004.
Hank and his wife Gretchen live near Berlin, Wis., and have five children and eight grandchildren. Four of their children are active in Ripon Athletic.
Gerry OKeefe loved people and he loved sports, which made his distinguished 45-year career in sporting goods sales and marketing a natural, to use one of his favorite expressions.
He was a star high school baseball and basketball player growing up in Elmhurst, Queens, N.Y., where the nickname “Leaguer” reflected the expectations of those who saw him play that he might one day make it to the majors. But a four-year stint in the Navy effectively cost him a shot at the big leagues and made him disinclined to start college at 22 when his tour of duty ended.
So he did what most great men do in choosing a course in life-he followed his heart. He never imagined when he took a position at A.G. Spaldings retail store in lower Manhattan in 1946 that it would mark the beginning of a 45-year career in sporting good sales and marketing filled with remarkable professional accomplishments and unforgettable personal experiences.
His approach to marketing was proactive, thoughtful and innovative. He played virtually every game for which he sold equipment, many quite well, and in the course of 10 frames of bowling or 18 holes of golf he would often develop theories and concepts for equipment that ultimately made their way into new products.
Brunswicks Track-Master bowling ball and original snowboard (“Snurfer”), the first home indoor golf simulator (the “Swing-Away”), graduated heel-to-toe weighted irons (PGA Victor/Tommy Armour Golfs “Concept”), the popular BowFlex, and Schwinns pioneering AirDyne exercise bicycle were all projects with which he was involved, in the development process as well as sales, not because he fancied himself a designer or engineer but because he knew it was a lot easier and more fulfilling to sell a product in which you believed.
But if you asked him, he would probably list his career highlights as his 18 holes with Jack Nicklaus or the night he held a cue against the great Willie Mosconi. He was never impressed with the executive titles he accumulated and he never stopped selling like he did when he scoured upstate New York in a beat-up Buick with a Spalding sample case. He always remained grateful for a career the allowed him to stay in close contact with what he loved most-sports and the people who play them.
Sport Chalet, Inc.
Born in Germany, the son of a chocolate maker, Norbert Olberz immigrated to Canada in 1953 and then to Portland, Ore., in 1955. He worked as a truck driver for a year and a half before purchasing a bakery. During that time he developed a passion for skiing.
Olberz later sold the bakery and, along with his new bride Irene, drove along the West Coast to look at businesses that were for sale. In 1959, he purchased a small ski shop, Sport Chalet, in La Cañada, Calif., and learned the sporting goods business from customers, other skiers, friends and suppliers.
His store originally sold just ski and tennis merchandise. The 1960 Winter Olympics, held in Squaw Valley, gave business a big boost. Soon after, the store expanded into other sports merchandise. As the need for more space grew, he purchased a larger location across the street, where he introduced a mechanical ski ramp. Customers loved it and television stations came and took pictures of skiers training on the ramp.
From the beginning, Olberz ventured into uncharted areas. Sport Chalet was one of the first sporting goods stores to sell SCUBA equipment and offer a wide variety of equipment for rock climbing and backpacking. Over the years, he distinguished his organization by offering equipment for cutting-edge sports. Starting with a small investment, Olberz grew Sport Chalet to 55 locations throughout the Southwestern United States.
He started many businesses over the years including a hotel in Mammoth, a travel agency, a wholesale import boot company and a manufacturing company making outdoor gear. Olberz was also a product designer and inventor and gave his advice freely to manufacturers to help make their products better.
He successfully completed a public offering of Sport Chalet stock in 1992.
Olberz and his wife Irene have resided in La Cañada since 1959. Their son, Eric, currently serves on Sport Chalets Board of Directors.
Ellen Wessel and Elizabeth Goeke
During her 29 years as president of Moving Comfort, Ellen Wessel was known as a persistent and passionate advocate for womens fitness.
Wessel started running in 1974, determined to quit smoking by becoming an athlete. By 1976, she was training for marathons, logging 70 miles a week. In 1976 there was no such thing as womens running clothes. There was mens, and there was unisex.
Wessel was 26 when she co-founded Moving Comfort and introduced a new category to the sporting goods industry. From Moving Comforts earliest days when women-specific product was considered “fringe” business, the brand stayed consistent in its commitment to providing women with products that inspire them to get fit and stay fit.
Between college graduation (SUNY Binghamton, 1973) and co-founding Moving Comfort four years later, Wessel worked at the Washington Bureau of the Philadelphia Bulletin; served as public relations director at the Kennedy Institute for Bioethics, Georgetown University; worked on Jimmy Carters presidential campaign at the Democratic National Committee; and following Carters election in 1976, joined the Office of Congressional Relations at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
She is a retired marathoner, a veteran of nine, including Boston and New York, with a personal best of 3:05.
Among her many awards are: Woman of the Year in Sports, 1996, co-sponsored by Sporting Goods Business and the New York Times; Fred Lebow Woman of the Year Award, 1998, by the Road Runners Club of America; Outdoor Industry Advocacy Award, 2000 by SGMA and OIA; and Lifetime Commitment to Running award, 2007, by Fleet Feet.
She was active in industry activities, including the Board of Trustees of SGMA and Board of Directors of the Outdoor Industry Association.
Wessel retired from Moving Comfort and the sporting goods industry in 2006. She lives in central Virginia and works at James Madisons Montpelier.
Elizabeth Goekes entire career had been focused on creating clothes that truly fit the needs of a womans body in motion. With a passion for running and outstanding talent as a tailor, Goekes skills combined to make her the perfect business partner for Ellen Wessel and Moving Comfort, when the two met 31 years ago. After joining the company six months into its creation, Goeke and her partners built Moving Comfort into one of the most highly respected brands of womens athletic wear in the United States.
Goeke first learned garment-making skills as a young child from her grandmother, and eventually apprenticed under several master tailors as she worked steadily towards her dream of working with some great Seventh Avenue design house. Yet when Goeke tried a prototype of Moving Comfort running shorts, her interests changed.
As an avid runner, she knew the clothes could fit better and felt there must be something she could wear that would be comfortable and last longer. A friend of a friend put her in touch with Wessel and the initial conversation was the beginning of an enduring business partnership and friendship.
In addition to heading up Moving Comforts product design and development for more than 29 years, she served as sales director, operations manager, and production manager.
Goeke has been the recipient of the Women of the Year in Sports, 1996, co-sponsored by Sporting Goods Business and the New York Times and the Lifetime Commitment to Running award, 2006, presented by Fleet Feet.
Goeke retired from Moving Comfort and the sporting goods industry in 2006. She now lives in Orange, Va., and enjoys her second career as innkeeper of the Inn at Westwood Farm with her husband.