Gene H. Zanger, part-owner and a general manager of the historic Casa de Fruta tourism complex and its 300-space RV Orchard Resort in Hollister, Calif., has received the campground industry’s highest honor for an individual: the Stan Martin Memorial Award.
Presented by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds during the recent InSites Convention and Tradeshow in Las Vegas, the Stan Martin Memorial Award recognizes campground, RV park and resort operators who serve as role models for their peers in the industry through their exceptional volunteerism and commitment to help strengthen the campground segment of the tourism business.
“This is a big deal,” said Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.
Zanger, 48, the son of Casa de Fruta co-founder Eugene Zanger and his wife, Pauline Zanger, served on the board of directors of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds from 2003 to 2009, ultimately serving as vice chairman of the association, during which time he helped launch the campground industry’s GuestRated online consumer satisfaction survey program.
Some 30,200 camping and RV enthusiasts participated in the online survey in 2010, which evaluated guest experiences at 2,400 independent campgrounds and RV resorts affiliated with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.
Guest feedback is used to assign letter grade ratings to campgrounds, while also provide private park operators with feedback they can use to focus their attention on the specific improvements guests would most like to see at their parks.
Zanger was also deeply involved in efforts to encourage the national association to make much needed improvements to its GoCampingAmerica website, while also stepping up its media outreach efforts to inform consumers of the growing array of activities, entertainment, amenities and rental accommodations that are available in America’s privately owned campgrounds, RV parks and resorts.
Zanger has also been deeply involving in promoting tourism in California, serving on the boards of directors of the California Travel and Tourism Commission from 1998 to 2002 and on the board of the California Travel Parks Association, the predecessor to today’s California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, from 1991 to 1992.
Zanger said it means a great deal to him, personally, to receive the Stan Martin Memorial Award because of the significance the award has in the campground industry.
Initially dedicating his time to land development and to running two water utility companies in the Lake Tahoe area, Stan Martin later worked with his brothers to develop the Tahoe Valley Campground in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and later served on the boards of both the California and National Associations of RV Parks and Campgrounds. Martin was poised to become president of both associations when he died of a massive heart attack in 1992.
“Stan Martin was as good as they come,” said Tug Miller, former co-executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds who, wife his wife, Judy, is a former recipient of the national Stan Martin Memorial Award. “Through his selflessness, his honesty, his not cutting corners and by doing everything properly and right, he was an inspiration.”
Miller said Martin and longtime campground industry consultant John Imler spent several years working together to convince the California Public Utilities Commission to allow RV parks to meter their own electricity. They were ultimately successful in their efforts, he said.
Bob Ludwig of Bakersfield RV Resort, who received the California version of the Stan Martin Memorial Award, served alongside Martin on the state board. He remembers Martin having a great personality and a big heart. “If there was something that needed funding, he was the first to pull out his checkbook. If there was a committee being set up, he was the first to volunteer. He exuded such positive feelings,” he said.
David Gorin, a longtime campground industry consultant who was president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds when Martin served on the national board, remembers Martin as a champion of the campground industry at both state and national levels. “Stan was an advocate, a very strong advocate, for ARVC because he understood the need to have a national association for the campground industry,” Gorin said. “He also felt that the state associations needed to work together with the national association.”
Beyond this, Gorin said, “Stan really understood what volunteerism was about. He realized that volunteerism is how we pay our dues to the industry that makes our living for us. And when he died very suddenly in his 50s, it was a shock to everybody. So we decided the best way to honor him was to create the award.”
While Zanger has been heavily involved in promoting camping in recent years, he also has a long history of involvement promoting recreation, tourism, growth and development, serving on the San Benito County Fish and Game Commission (1995 to 1997); the Gilroy Visitors Bureau Advisory Committee (1995-2001); and St. Benedict’s Steering Committee (1994 to 2000). He has also been a member of Community Vision San Benito County since 2009.
A life long resident of Hollister, Zanger has spent most of his life working at Casa de Fruta, which was co-founded by his parents, Eugene and Pauline, and brothers, George and Joseph. In his younger days, Gene Zanger spent his summers cutting apricots to be packaged as dried fruit. He also picked cherries, pears, prunes and walnuts at the Casa de Fruta Orchards. During his high school years, he worked alongside his father at the Casa de Fruta Restaurant.
After undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley, Zanger entered Santa Clara University to pursue an M.B.A. During his tenure at SCU, Zanger worked at Levi Strauss Company in San Francisco. Upon graduation from SCU Gene was hired as a Food Service Product Manager for Oscar Mayer Foods in Madison, Wis., where he worked for three years before returning to the family business at Casa de Fruta.
Zanger’s term on the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds board ended in late 2009. While he did not seek another term because of his desire to spend more time with his wife, Anni, and children, Lukas, 5, and Caitlin, 2, he continues to mentor campground operators and industry officials.