Eldon Hostetler, noted Hudson automobile collector, inventor and philanthropist passed away Friday, January 8, 2016, in Goshen, IN at the age of 93. Eldon was born on Christmas day, 1922 in Shipshewana, IN, the eldest of 13 children, to the late Lizzie and Mahlon Hostetler.
“Eldon became an icon in American automobile history, a giant to the collector car hobby and a hero to his local community,” said Michael Spezia, long-time friend and Executive Director of the Gilmore Car Museum of Hickory Corners, MI (near Kalamazoo).
By passionately preserving some of the finest and rarest Hudson automobiles produced coupled with his fondness and enthusiasm for sharing his hobby, and his genuine desire to give back to the community Eldon leaves a lasting legacy with great impact.
Many may know Eldon and his wife Esta Hostetler for their auto collection which grew to be recognized as the world’s largest assemblage of Hudson Automobiles and for their appearance at car shows all cross the nation. Eldon, however, will be remembered for much more.
Eldon often shared the story of how as an Amish boy, raised in a faith-based community that shuns modern conveniences such as autos and electricity, he first became interested in cars at the age of 14 after seeing one drive into a neighbor’s farm.
Eldon purchased his first car as a teen and later joined the Mennonite Church where modern technology was accepted. He later became an inventor with over 65 patents issued to him. In 2005, he and Esta donated much of their collection of Hudson autos to the city of Shipshewana, IN to create a museum.
Author Laurie Oswald Robinson, who interviewed Eldon for a fall 2014 article in The Mennonite magazine, said Eldon had been, “Blessed to blaze new trails.”
In his 2008 autobiography “The Life and Times of Eldon ‘Ziggity’ Hostetler” Eldon tells that when he was 18, his Amish grandfather offered to loan him money toward a car.
“He then said that if I promised never to tell my mother where I got the money, he would loan me $350 to buy my first car, a 1938 Hudson,” Hostetler wrote. “I was the only person in our community who had a car, and so I hauled a lot of Amish people around.”
Years later through Ziggity Systems Inc.—the company Eldon established in 1976—he put his inventor’s hat on and created an innovative way of watering and feeding poultry for large farm operations. It was completely automated: something foreign to his Amish roots. The equipment he created and the nearly 65 patents issued to him have revolutionized the industry and today are utilized worldwide.
Eldon purchased his first collector car in 1985 with the encouragement of Esta: a 1952 Hudson Club Coupe. Many more cars soon followed and within a decade the couple began thinking about building a museum for their expanding hobby.
By 2001, their collection had grown so vast that they needed storage space. That’s when they first met Michael Spezia, Executive Director of the renowned Gilmore Car Museum. The Museum created a special exhibit gallery to showcase 22 cars from the Hostetler Collection. After seeing their cars displayed together at the Gilmore and the enjoyment it gave visitors, they were convinced: they needed to create a museum just for their Hudsons.
In 2005, recognizing their business success, the Hostetler’s gave back to their life-long community of Shipshewana by donating a large portion of their car collection along with 18 acres of prime real-estate to create a conference center and museum. The Shipshewana Event Center, which houses the museum, opened in 2007, with many of the overflow of Eldon’s cars remaining on exhibit at the Gilmore.
“I will be forever grateful for his friendship,” Spezia said. “His loss will not only be felt by me and the Gilmore Car Museum, but by everyone who knew him or simply knew of him. His contributions have changed not only how we view his beloved Hudsons, but how philanthropy can change the world.”