JACKSON CENTER – Bob Sanford, Airstream’s research and development manager for the past 40 years, retired Friday after 53 years with the company.
“This is a guy that’s played a significant role in the history of this company,” Airstream President and CEO Bob Wheeler said during a retirement ceremony Friday afternoon. “His impact on this American brand has been profound. We have lots of retirees, but not all of them can say they’ve impacted the company the way this guy has.”
Sanford is the second-longest tenured employee in Airstream’s 89 year history behind only Larry Metz, who retired in August after 56 years with the company.
During his time at Airstream, Sanford worked on the mobile quarantine facilities used by NASA for astronauts returning from the moon. He also contributed to innovations including Airstream’s efforts to expand into motorized units instead of just towable trailers.
“It was an interesting process, and something that’s just on a continual basis that just keeps advancing,” Sanford said of his work at Airstream.
Sanford joined Airstream on Sept. 5, 1967, when he was 18 years old and a recent graduate of Bellefontaine High School. His future father-in-law worked at Airstream and spoke highly of the company, leading Sanford to take a job as an assembly line worker.
“It’s not a decision I’ve ever doubted,” Sanford said.
From his job on the assembly line, Sanford was promoted to prototype mechanic in research and development, supervisor in research and development and then research and development manager.
“This company and this brand is all about loyalty and longevity, and nobody represents that more than Bob Sanford,” Wheeler said. “Fifty-three years. But not just 53 years punching the clock, 53 years making an impact for this company. A lot of the features and improvements that have happened on Airstreams over the years have come out of the R&D area, and Bob has led that group very capably for many, many years. So he gets a lot of credit for a lot of the stuff that’s managed to keep Airstream relevant and up-to-date.”
Sanford takes pride in seeing products he helped develop traverse roadways.
“In the back of your mind you take a little more pride than probably what you should, but I’ve always enjoyed that,” the DeGraff resident said.
In retirement, Sanford plans to spend time with his six grandchildren, work on woodworking projects, work on cars and take some day trips with his wife, Shirley Sanford.
He’ll be greatly missed at Airstream, Wheeler said, and remembered as someone who’s humble, thoughtful, skilled, creative and led by example.
“There’s probably nobody I’ve worked with who’s held in higher regard than this guy right here,” Wheeler said.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-538-4824.