Born in Decatur, Arkansas in 1929, Herb, later grew up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where he earned his proud identity as an “okie”. As a teen he next moved with his family to southern Oregon where he attended high school and worked summers in the areas pear orchards. In Medford he also joined the Boy Scouts which he credited with helping develop many of the habits and values he cherished in life. As a member of the Medford High “Black Tornado” he played football and competed in track & field under Coach Bill Bowerman. With partial athletic and ROTC scholarships Herb next enrolled at the University of Oregon where he trained under both Bill Hayward and coach Bowerman, who arrived in Eugene following Herb’s sophomore year.
After graduating from the University of Oregon with his business degree Herb undertook his officer’s training with the Air Force and later served in the Office of Special Investigations. Upon completing his military duty he returned to Eugene to work briefly at the U of O alumni office.
Herb’s career of more than 60 years in the auto business began shortly thereafter when he went to work in sales at the former Silva Chevrolet dealership near campus. Success was swift and with a desire to work for himself he soon established his own used car agency operating at several Franklin Boulevard locations. In 1966 he became a franchised new car dealer when he negotiated and purchased Guaranty Chevrolet – Oldsmobile in Junction City.
Early in the seventies, he began his journey as a national leader in the RV business by becoming a founding dealer for Caribou Manufacturing (later Monaco Coach) and Country Camper (which became Country Coach) from across highway 99 in Junction City. His accomplishments in the RV industry included opening dealerships in California and Arizona while growing a flagship store in Junction City supported by hundreds of loyal employees. For many decades he used the advertising motto, “Eggs are cheaper in the country and so are cars and trucks”, a familiar refrain to anyone who has lived in Lane County.
Branching into manufacturing in the nineties, Herb and partners acquired Marathon Coach and soon made it the preeminent converter of high-end RV buses. He later sold his controlling interest focusing again on retail RV sales and a career which, in 2009, earned him the Dave Altman Lifetime Achievement Award from the RV Industry Association.
Herb credited his effort towards earning his Eagle Scout honor as giving him strong senses of duty and determination. He was grateful of the Scouts and proud to give back to the organization that helped form his leadership abilities by providing the lead gift for construction of the Herb Nill Family Guaranty Scout Center in Eugene. Herb Nill took pride in helping others, especially youth groups, and at the top of his list was the Boy Scouts of America, Oregon Trail Council. The Nill Family continues to take pride in today’s local youth that are still benefiting from Scouting, and invite memorial contributions to the Oregon Trail Council, Boy Scouts of America.
As a young executive he was also a leader with the United Way and a participant and promoter of Toastmasters International.
In 1957 Herb married the love of his life, Ruth “Sally” Crawford. They had three sons that are each married and who all participated in the growth and success of Guaranty Chevrolet and RV. They are Marty (Joni), Shannon (Barbara), and Eric (Barbara Sloat). Herb’s love of family, dear friends, and the entire community was evident in his words and actions. He lived a life full of gratitude to be shared with everyone he encountered. He particularly enjoyed family weekends at the coast, fishing with his friends, and attending University of Oregon athletic events.
The Nills had a home in Borrego Springs, CA. They were members of DeAnza Country Club, as well as being life members of the Eugene Country Club.
For those who wish, charitable contributions can be made to the Boy Scouts of America or United Way in Herb’s memory.
A Celebration of Life reception will be held Tuesday, March 29, 2016 from 2pm to 5pm at the Guaranty RV Showroom.