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2012 Harold Rea Award

Vern Ediger - Studebaker King

By Ruth Jacob

    The Harold Rea Award is given each year to someone who has helped promote Halstead. This year's recipient is Vern Ediger who carries the title of Studebaker King and who is known around the world for his amazing knowledge of the now extinct Studebaker, a very popular car in its time. harold rea 2012
    Vern grew up north of Burrton and graduated from Burrton High School. He and friend Rich Vogt who grew up west of Burrton, joined the Army together right out of high school and were stationed in Texas. They endured a friendship which kept them together for many years. After being discharged from the service they both came to Halstead to work at Al's Repair shop on the east side of Main Street as mechanic and ended up married to sisters, Carol and Becky Biermann. They bought the shop from Al in the 70s and renamed it E & V Motors. In 1979 they moved to a new building in the Industrial Park on the west side of town. Rich was involved in a accident in 1999 and sold his part of the business to Vern.  In 2006 Vern decided it was time to slow down and sold the shop part of the business to Jerry Kepley who retained the name. Vern kept the back part of the business with over 100 Studebaker parts cars and storage for his antique and classic vehicles.
    Vern was born on Christmas day, 1940 and was quite a present for the family, his mother Dorothy used to say with a chuckle. She could spend all day telling stories about him and his late brother Art. They both always had to have something to drive, she said. Not necessarily fancy, she added, but something that would run. One of the favorite stories she told was about when she was working in the field one day, Vern and Art were driving their vehicles around and around in a field nearby. All at once she heard a loud crash, looked over, and they had run head on into each other. Smoke and dust was flying. Dorothy just knew they both had killed themselves. She unhooked the tractor from the implement and drove over to the crash scene. When she got there, they were both outside of the cars laughing their tails off, she said. And what did she do? She turned the tractor around and went back to working the field. She said that if she had stopped she would have killed them both! With those two boys she said she learned to stay in the house and pull all the shades down when she heard them start their engines. Dorothy also said that many times she had to rescue their younger sister, Donna, now married to Mike Nightingale, because they were always including her in their little schemes and she was too young and trusting to realize just what was going to happen.
    Wearing flourescent green or orange shirts, Vern is very visible wherever he goes. The car he drives around town also stands out, a Chevy Cavalier with longhorns on the front, a five-inch exhaust pipe out the back, mudflaps that say "Vernie's," and a coffee cup permanently attached to the top of the roof. He's known for his witty comments, some repeatable and some not, his practical jokes, both on the giving and receiving end, and his love for his family, especially his grandchildren who call him Papa.
    Vern has also been on the Old Settlers Committee and was on the local volunteer fire department for many years, retiring after 30 years as Fire Chief. He was very instrumental in making the tractor pull events successful, often seen driving the tractor that bladed the track between pulls, with the United States and Kansas flags waving in the wind. Vern has also helped with the car shows and many other events as needed. He was also the reason Halstead's Old Settlers event was mentioned in the Japanese Playboy.
    Vern has sent Studebaker parts and cars to almost every state in the United States and to several foreign countries. Many friendships have been formed over the years and his amazing knowledge of what part was on each car has made him known as the Studebaker King with all the Studebaker people around the world. He also owns several Studebakers, along with other collectible vehicles. Growing up with a father who owned several Studebakers, he drove a 1949 Land Cruiser in high school. A number of years ago he learned of a car just like his Land Cruiser that was in Green Castle, Penn. It had sat in the basement of a former Studebaker dealership since 1955 and did not run. He had a motor for it, stuck it in and has been driving it ever since.
    When Vern got out of the service he ordered a brand new 1960 Hawk two-door, which he still has in pristine condition. It cost under $3,000. He sent his parents to the factory in Indiana on the train and they drove it home for him.
    Dr. Robert Cade, Florida, inventor of Gatorade, was another Studebaker afficiando. At one time he had 62 Studebakers tagged, running and insured. He had a vast collection of memoribilia which included Studebaker wagons, the first item put out by Studebaker. His son, Stephen, had a Studebaker salvage in Florida. They became good friends with Vern and his family and Stephen came to Halstead to visit on many occasions. Dr. Cade and other family members were here on occasion; once bringing a caravan of Studebakers, driven and on trailers, on their way to California for a national meet. They all stayed overnight at the Hospital Inn and enjoyed the small town life of Halstead.
    Adrian Bailey, Colne, Lancashire, England, also became good friends with Vern's family. He owned a business in England that restored collectible vehicles, usually American. Not the tin cans that everyone drove in England, he added. Vern sent not just parts for the antique cars, but sometimes shipped whole vehicles.  Adrian visited Halstead several times and really wanted to move here, he loved it so much. His wife, however, wouldn't get on the plane to visit, so that idea was out. Vern and his family visited Adrian in England, as did my son, Danny Mayfield. Flying "across the big pond," as Adrian said, was a wonderful experience. Vern has also been involved in shipping vehicles to a collector and broker on the Island of Cyprus.
    In the early 1990s a freelance writer, Andrew Wilkes, acquired a Studebaker pickup. He needed parts and eventually contacted Vern to get what was needed. Andrew was fixing up the truck to make a cross country trip and write a story about his adventures with "The Old Coot," as the truck was named. It was bright orange and had a sombrero hanging in the rear window. Andrew knew that his favorite movie "Picnic" was filmed in Kansas and when he found out that parts were filmed in Halstead, he decided to include it in his journey across the states. In 1995 the Old Settlers theme was centered around it being the 40th year since the filming of "Picnic." There are still cult-like followers of this movie and it drew people from all over. Articles were done by the Associated Press that told about the celebration and that the swan that carried Kim Novac on the river was on display at the historical museum. That was one of the most remembered scenes of the movie. In September of that year, two Japanese students visiting California, came to Halstead just to see the swan. They belonged to a Picnic fan club in Japan!
    Andrew along with photographer Charlie Lindsay set off on their cross country trip and timed it so they would be in Halstead for the week of Old Settlers. They stayed with Vern and got a taste of country life. A big change for Andrew who went on to work for DreamWorks (which he found boring), and as managing editor for "Allure" magazine until 2009, when he went back to live on his family ranch in New Mexico. Charlie has done several nature books, and has done work for many wildlife publications. They spent five days in Halstead and returned several times over the years. After their trip was completed and they compiled their story and photographs, they went about trying to sell the feature. It was purchased by the Japanese Playboy. The article was done as a series called "The Road Fantasy of Studebaker." In one of the issues there is a picture of Vern and his brother Art and a great shot of the high school cheerleaders  in the parade (all fully clothed, of course).
    Vern is well known to Jeep and International owners as well. When Vern and Rich first owned E & V Motors they were International dealers and sold lots of Scouts and school busses. Vern is still a go-to guy for answers to problems that Scout owners have. He knows the International engines as well as the Studebakers. He is currently a member of the Wheat State Chapter of the American Truck Historical Society and was also a member of the Jeep club that would give rides and demonstrations at Old Settlers events years ago. Craig Sooter of Halstad said that when he was a kid he remembered E & V Motors being known as a unique four-wheel drive shop. He remembered Vern giving rides on pre-constructed rides in the Jeeps and always had a blast!
    Vern has two children, Tracy Ediger, married to Justin Stucky and Terry Ediger, married to the former Renee Lowen. Vern's first wife Carol died several years ago. At one of his high school reunions he reconnected with and married his high school sweetheart, Sally Munds.She added two sons and several grandchildren to the family. They have enjoyed traveling to different Studebaker and antique truck events all across the country, having recently attended one in Indiana. What really puts a sparkle in Vern's eyes, however, are his grandchildren. He just can't quit smiling and laughing when they're around.
    So, thanks to Vern Ediger, the name of Halstead has spread as far as Japan, Cyprus and England. He has truly earned the 2012 Harold Rea Award.


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