The Way We Were
ARA's Museum dedicated to automotive recycling celebrates the past to raise awareness for the future.
The ARA Educational Foundation has broken ground of the virtual kind to build an online museum that will showcase the Automotive Recyclers Association’s (ARA) 68 years of rich history. Along with its predecessor associations, the mission is to preserve the automotive recyclers history as a leader in the green revolution. As an idea whose time has come, plans for the historical gallery are varied and limitless, and include a look at the history of the automobile.

Initially, it will feature two main components; an Online Museum that is interactive and video-based and a Collection Gallery that will present history through hundreds of photographs.

Historical Mindset

“It all started with aging,” laughed Ginny Whelan.  “When I decided to move to Florida, my daughter was going through my stuff in storage in New Jersey. She called me and said, ‘Mom, it’s nothing but ARA stuff!  You’ve got so much stuff – what do you want me to do with it? You could start a museum!’ That got me thinking about how much history I have experienced in the last 30 years in the industry and with ARA. As family businesses are turning over to second and third generations, I believe we were in danger of losing some of our history.

“Many of us have been in the position of finding something that belonged to a loved one and not knowing why they kept something so trivial for so many years,” Whelan continued. “Without much thought, we throw it away not knowing the meaning behind it, and sadly the story is lost forever.”

Recently, the ARA Executive Board approved the idea for the museum and the ARA Educational Foundation Museum Committee was formed with past presidents, Ed Anspach  (1991), Ginny Whelan (2000), and Linda Pitman (2009) at the helm. They decided to create this as an online museum to provide easy access to the rich history of the automotive industry and allow for wider participation for all ARA members both nationally and internationally.

 “I envision this to be a living, interactive, virtual museum that will be, on one hand, a Hall of Fame for Past Presidents, as well as other industry leaders and members, and, on the other hand, be a touring museum,” said Whelan.

“For example, if a recycler wants to use the information on the automotive industry, such as what advances have been made from a historical perspective since the 1940s or ’50s, he or she could present this museum at a state association meeting, during meetings with policymakers, or in training to educate workers or school-age children.

“This is not just about being nostalgic,” said Whelan. “It’s about protecting our image as a viable industry, both economically and environmentally. I’m tired of attending meetings where, in this day and age, everyone says they are ‘green’ companies. We have always been at the forefront of recycling with impressive numbers like 95 percent of the vehicle getting recycled. The museum will provide historical proof that the automotive recycling industry has really been a leader in the movement as ‘true green’ companies.”

Phase One
The museum is currently in the collection phase, which is where ARA Members including Associate Members and Affiliates Chapters come in to play.  The ARAEF Museum Committee is looking for any photos, videos, memorabilia, and other relevant items to showcase the highlights and history of your business. When submitting items, the committee asks that you keep the original and only send digital photos or a scan  via e-mail. If they would like to have the original item, the committee will let you know upon submission.

Living Legacy
“To get a start on the  online museum, we are interviewing all the past presidents of ARA we possibly can,” said Whelan. “We interviewed many at the ARA convention in October and that was a tremendous help, but there are still some that we need. We are highlighting milestones from their presidencies and their businesses in order to gain insight into what the industry was like during their time.  

“We have some wonderful footage with Norman Dulaney, who was ARA president in 1970 that we wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the museum,” said Whelan. Sandy Blalock, ARAEF President and ARA past president 2008, filmed Norman at the request of his daughter, Linda Pitman. She knew his health was failing and that he held a wealth of information and history that she thought would be nice to capture on film. Norman was excited to do the interview and provided precious insights into his years in the industry. Sadly, he passed away three weeks after the interview.

As they work to interview all the ARA past presidents,  the committee also wants to interview other industry business leaders as well. If you or someone you know in the business is an avid historian and would have a historical perspective about their time in the industry, they would like to know.

The historical vision includes reaching out to vendors that have shaped the industry and played a part in the history of the automotive recycling. Other information and trivia questions, such as who purchased the first computer and where is it? could be included in the museum experience as information comes to light.
A Quick Tour

The online museum will be an interactive look at how the industry was shaped. A visitor to the museum begins the tour by virtually walking through a collection of stories as told by past presidents, and  other ARA members, in time. You’ll stand in front of the portrait of one past president and click on that person to see a video glimpse into his or her history. According to Whelan, the museum needs to be very interactive and will continue to develop as each day brings new history to add.

For instance, Past President John C. Vander Haag, 1971, has proved to be a gold mine of automotive history. He has a two-story addition on his home in Sanborn, Iowa that is filled with everything he has collected over the years. The entire first floor, known as his “Classic Garage,” is dedicated to the automotive history and holds classic cars and trucks. Whelan plans to visit him and see what can be added to the ARA museum.

The success of the museum, available to all ARA members across the globe, will depend partially on you. According to Whelan, besides the advantage of easy access to the museum, it is being done online so it can be easily funded and expanded as history grows.

“We are also taking items that you might find in your Dad’s storage unit and wonder what you’ll do with it,” said Whelan. “Ed Anspach has graciously offered to help us store items that you want to donate should we request the original item.”

There are many of you whom this article has triggered a memory of a box of things you have of historical worth in your storage or files. The committee requests you not wait to inform them of your treasures. Contact them today, even if you are not sure they will fit the format. The committee will be the deciding factor on the relevance of any item donated.

If you would like to send digital photos, videos, or other items please contact Ginny Whelan at

Michelle Keadle-Taylor is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia.

 Types of Items to Donate to the Museum

•    Memorabilia, such as programs from a NAWA meeting
•     Old equipment used for dismantling
•    NAWA/ADRA/ARA magazines
•    Photos showing the history of your business throughout the years, especially those businesses that have a long history
•    Photos of your inventory and operations as it changed and developed
•    Photos of your employees and family as they worked and played
•    Video footage of your operations, industry events, industry conferences
•    Relevant newspaper articles or news footage

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