RALPH WINDOES ENTREPRENEUR EXTRAORDINAIR
“Wealth and leisure has allowed a handful of us to see much of the earth and its people.” So wrote Ralph F. Windows, a visionary extraordinaire, the man that built the Windows’ Travelogues Empire.
The year is 1944, President Roosevelt will be elected to his fourth term, D Day and the invasion of Normandy will happen and singer Bing Crosby will record, “Swinging on a Star.”
In Grand Rapids Michigan a new star is about to rise. Ralph F Windoes, is a businessman who owns and operates a furniture store in the city, he is also director of the Grand Rapids Kiwanis Club.
Windoes has an idea he would like to bring to fruition. He is a thoughtful caring man who loves travel and wishes everyone had the opportunity to do the same. But he knows travel for an average family is impossible. Making ends meet was a struggle. The medium income is $2,600 a year; the hourly wage is 30 to 35 cents. World War II was in its third year; Americans are war weary and black and white television, for theses families, is 10 years away.
Windoes writes, “Most of us are not fortunate enough to be able to travel. We have to satisfy this urge through other media, books and of course the many thousands of photographs and this is good. “But,” he writes, “these lack the big essential – motion…for Man, and earth, are never still, and a photograph (still) cannot capture the changes that are constantly there.”
He continues, “How can I bring the world and its people to the thousands who are unable to travel because of finances and family?”
And he answers his question, “There is one media that can and does capture these changes - that which we call the “motion picture.”… combined with the marvels wrought when these motion pictures are in full and natural color, and the scenes that are being viewed are described by the man who was there and who made the pictures, we have a media that is next only to travel itself.”
Windoes feels the time is right. He has researched his idea and carefully planned his strategy. But before he reveals it to the club everything has to be organized and ready to proceed.
Challenging words from this businessman? NO, he feels he’s found a way to support the club’s projects and a way to travel for those less fortunate. He also feels these families will pay a “modest” amount to see the world via these “color moving pictures.” He knows his idea has merit; Burton Holmes is attracting large crowds with his “Travelogues.” Ralph writes, “These ‘Travelogues,’ as we have come to call them, are one of life’s great blessings.”
Where to find these filmmaking speakers is also no challenge. Again he’s a successful businessman and locates a speaker’s bureau. Yes, they have the speakers and he makes arrangement to book the talent.
Up until now, it appears Windoes has only invested his time. He has not spent any of his own money and he needs an investor for the speaker and a theater.
For Windows, “Not a Problem.” The idea is presented to the Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids. And, “yes” they they will invest. They will cover the speaker expenses, plus use their sanctuary for the theater.
How long it took him to put this package together is not known, but he is now ready to present the idea to his club, he did and it was, “accepted.” The Grand Rapid Kiwanis is about to launch a new fundraising project called, Ralph Windoes Travelogues.
Tickets went on sale for the first ever Windoes Travelogue show and promotion began. In just two weeks sixteen hundred tickets were sold leaving many unable to attend. The ticket price is not known; but he did say a, “modest” amount. In 1944 a ticket to the movies was 32 cents.
By 1947, the third season, the only auditorium that would seat their patrons was the 4000 seat, Grand Rapids Civic Auditorium. And again, thousands were turned away, unable to purchase tickets. The fundraising project was catching fire. Windoes is now servicing 12 clubs and is forced to sell his furniture business. He is now devoting full time to the Travelogue business.
Windoes received local and national attention in the service club industry. Other clubs now want a Travelogue Film Series. The idea is burgeoning and will sweep across the US and into Canada. Part 2 of this story reveals the unheard of success Ralph Windoes’ idea brought to Service Clubs and to the entertainment World.