Bob was born seven months prior to Pearl Harbor in May of 1941. His father enlisted immediately and served three and a half years in the Pacific. Bob was raised by his paternal grandparents. He was attracted to art from the beginning and even at a very young age, demonstrated an ability inherited from his parents, (Both mother and father were artists), in drawing and sculpting.
When his father returned from World War II, he took Bob to a local hobby shop and bought an airplane kit, one of those balsa and paper jobs, and they built it together. Bob was hooked immediately. When he was nine years of age, he entered his first plastic model, an MIG-15 in an adult competition and won best of show. He was interviewed on CBS television and his grandparents had to go to a neighbors house to watch it. There weren't many TVs around in 1950.
He continued modeling until he enlisted in the army in 1958, and even then, when he was stationed in Verdun France, he built any plastic kits he could find at the PX, but, in those days, the pickings were slim! After his discharge in 1962, he became a police officer in Springfield, Missouri. A town at the time of close to 100,000 population, it had almost no crime. Bob was always a Type "A" personality and was bored out of his socks doing the truly petty work that comes with being a cop in a city with little crime. He met Susan Garrison, who would become the love of his life and after they married, moved to St. Louis, where he graduated from the police academy with the highest academic score, the highest marksmanship score and the best notebook which remained at the police library on display for over 20 years. He received a letter of commendation for each of these achievments, and, allowed to choose the precinct he would work in.
At the time, St. Louis was the crime capital of the country, (Per capita), and he chose the very worst precinct in the city. Over the following years, he received many commendations and decorations. He also was the subject of many newspaper and magazine articles, the most notable was a 17 page cover article in the Saturday Evening Post magazine, with Bob's face on the cover. In 1972 he met his future police partner, Joe Mokwa, direct from the police academy and they spent the next 10 years together as one of the top detective teams in the metro area. Mokwa would go on to become Chief of Police, and they would remain close friends for life. Shortly after moving to St. Louis, Bob entered some model cars in a metro wide competition sponsored by F.W. Woolworths. There were over 4000 entries and Bob won first, third and forth place. First place was a new Suzuki motorcycle!
In 1969, Bob stopped modeling for three years to build a stereo system. He had no previous experience, but imagined a do it all system operated by a digital computer and began on the cabinets. They were huge! The speakers weighed 400 pounds each and the console was 7 feet long, six feet high and 28 inches deep. It ended up in a feature article in Stereo Review magazine called "Total Stereo".
In July 1982, Bob entered a diorama called "The Winds of War", in an IPMS National Convention in St. Louis. The subsequent recognition inspired him to continue in military modeling and competition. Throughout the following 2 years he won four hundred awards in the U.S. and Europe, including 38 best of shows.
(He retired from competition in 1984).
Articles in magazines from America, Japan, China, Germany, Italy and England brought expanded notoriety. He decided to use the recognition to start a business. Simultaneously, Francois Verlinden, a hobby shop owner in Belgium, had published his first book, The Verlinden Way Volume 1, and was becoming known in the model industry world wide. He also produced plaster products in the basement of his hobby shop and sold them to his customers.
December 1983) Warwinds Militaria & Hobby Ltd. (later Warwinds International) was founded by Bob with $90.00 as a mail order company. It was never again recapitalized. It was operated part time in a private residence, with first year (8 months) sales of $80,000.00 Bob and his wife Susan travelled around America and Europe attending model shows where they bought and sold merchandise and Bob entered the competitions. The Lettermans meet Francois Verlinden and Jos Stok, a Dutch investor, at the IPMS Nationals in Atlanta, Georgia in July 1984, become friends, and Letterman began selling Verlinden's books, (Vol. 1, 2 and 3), and the VP plaster buildings as part of his inventory.
September 1985) The business relationshop had worked well and the three men decide to become business partners, incorporating as Verlinden, Letterman & Stok, Inc. They published Letterman's first book,
Superdioramas, which has become a classic for modelers worldwide. First fiscal year sales for the American company broke $360,000.00 as the company began distributing to hobby shops and brokering to distributors under the name of Legacy Distributing. Within a year VLS was the American agent for over a hundred manufacturers. That year VLS moved into Cross Keys Center with only 800 sq.ft. of space! At this point there were only Bob and two employees, one of which was his close friend, Wes Bradley.
1986-1987) Seven more employees were hired including another of Bob's close friends, Lewis Pruneau. Lewis had collaberated with Bob on the Superdioramas book.
September 1987) VLS went from manual to computer processing and an automated shipping system. Sales in 1987 topped $1 million. The Masters Group and Winners Club were initiated and offered high-volume retail customers a discount on their purchases plus special benefits.
September 1988) The warehouse space had grown to 11,000 sq.ft. and sales increased to over $1.5 million at the Cross Keys location. The company moved to 12,000 sq. ft. in Westport Industrial Park with room for expansion. The customer base was then over 19,000. Capital had grown to $123,000.00. In spite of the rapid growth, cash flow was managed to the extent that VLS had open credit accounts in 25 countries in a very short time, with the highest possible credit rating with Dun & Bradstreet!
In September, 1988, VLS moved from Cross Keys Center to Westport Industrial Park, 804 Fee Fee Road, Maryland Heights, MO. The company has grown to 13,500 sq.ft. and then had a computer network of 14 workstations with custom accounting software. VLS was acknowledged as "the company to watch in the industry", selling to every state in the union and over fifty foreign countries.
December 1990) Construction begins on the new 20,000 sq.ft. facility in Lone Star Industrial Park, O'Fallon, Missouri, on 2-1/2 acres adjacent to the General Motors Inland Seat Factory, the new location is destined to serve as the home of VLS for years to come.
January 1991) Sales and profits are at an all time high at VLS during a bad recession. In January of '91,
Construction was underway on our new facility at 811 Lone Star, in Lone Star Industrial Court, O'Fallon, MO. The following June, it was completed and became the new headquarters of VLS. (From 4/99 to date the building has been occupied by Verlinden Productions)
June 1991) VLS relocated to the newly completed Lone Star facility in O'Fallon. Four additional employees were added to the staff.
September 1991) Sales rose well over $2,000,000.00.
December 1991) Susan Letterman retired from the headquarters staff of Southwestern Bell and becomes the Senior Vice President in charge of Administration for VLS. Membership in the Masters Group and Winners Club has topped 1,200, with members on every continent.
September 1992) Bob Letterman creates a special convention and contest for the Masters and Winners members called Mastercon.
It was a unique concept where all judging is done by the contestants. The first show is a big success and becomes an annual event. (2007 marked 16 consecutive years for Bob's creation. Mastercon XVI was held September 2007 in Carrollton Texas. Bob was unable to attend due to medical reasons. He would like the members in attendance to know how much he appreciated their call.)
April 1994) The VLS facility in O'Fallon is expanded, more than doubling warehouse space. The building is now at 27,000 sq. feet. Construction began on Miniature World, the world's only model museum
featuring the works of master modelers from around the globe. It was a union between Ralph Koebbeman, a prominent Illinois businessman and private collector, and Bob Letterman.
September 1994) Miniature World officially opened on the occasion of Mastercon III, with local dignitaries in attendance. Mastercon continued to draw contestants from all over the world.
January 1995) The weakness of the American Dollar against the very strong Belgian Franc lead to Verlinden's decision to move Verlinden Productions to the United States. Letterman agreed, and through an stock arrangement between the owners, VP becomes a division of Verlinden Letterman & Stok, Inc. It will take over a year to complete the intricate legal steps required for this move.
April 1995) Jos Stok's shares in Verlinden, Letterman, & Stok, Inc. are purchased. The new company, now called The VLS Corporation, is owned entirely by Bob Letterman and Francois Verlinden equally.
January 1996) With the VP move eminent, the third renovation of the VLS facility began. Production facilities are constructed for the Verlinden line, the warehouse is totally renovated, and the displays of Miniature World were packed into four 18-wheelers and put into storage.
April 1996) The Verlinden family and Verlinden Productions immigrate to the U.S.A. Over 100 tons of factory machinery, inventory, office equipment, and household goods are moved 6,000 miles from Lier to O'Fallon. Production was back in full swing in less than 30 days. The VLS staff doubled, along with sales. Without the weak U.S. dollar to contend with, retail pricing on Verlinden products immediately begins to drop.
May 1996) Bob Letterman shouldered the responsibility as President of the new company, Francois Verlinden served as Executive Vice President and Susan Letterman fulfilled the duties of Senior Vice President.
June 1996) After lengthy negotiations with the City of St. Charles, construction began on the new Miniature World facility, a totally restored 130-year old building in the heart of the tourist district. Space for the displays more than doubles.
August 1996) VLS entered the online world with it's web site at http://www.vls-vp.com. (since 5/02 this site has been replaced by www.modelmecca.com)
September 1996) Another mark is set as Mastercon V broke all previous attendance
and entry records. The company's computer network system has been thoroughly upgraded and now boasts 20 workstations. Sales are in excess of $4.7 million.
December 1996) The VLS crew unloads and re-establishes Miniature World in 39 days.
The grand opening of the new and improved museum is held in St. Charles, once again with local dignitaries in attendance.
January 1998) Unfortunately, factions of distribution and production were unable to work together. Legal proceedings were initiated by Bob and Susan to divide the VLS Corporation between it's distribution and production divisions.
January 1999) After a year of negotiations, lawyers and accountants, both sides finally reached an agreement. The split was scheduled for April, 1999.
The distribution division, The VLS Corporation, purchased a new
40,000 sq. ft. building in Moscow Mills, Missouri. Construction began on the necessary modifications. Simultaneously, negotiations were in progress for the VLS Corporation to purchase Warriors Scale Models located in Pasadena, California, and Custom Dioramics located in Winnepeg, Manitoba, Canada. Both are top notch production companies that were needed by VLS to continue the long range plans started by Bob in 1996.
April 1999) The first moving trucks arrived at the O'Fallon Lone Star facility that would remain the home for Verlinden Productions. The massive move of the VLS Corporation to Moscow Mills began on Wednesday, April 15th, 1999. It required twenty-four semi loads and four days to move the inventory, offices, and holdings of the VLS Corporation to it's new headquarters. By Sunday afternoon, everything was in place and ready to begin conducting business on Monday morning! On Monday, April 20th, officers of the two business divisions met with attorneys, accountants and bankers, and after a 3 hour closing ceremony, the companies were officially divided. The VLS Corporation continued to distribute VP products. Susan Letterman was promoted to Executive Vice President.
May 1999) During the move, Bob Letterman purchased Warriors Scale Models. Warriors was moved to Missouri and relocated in the Moscow Mills facility. Vice President of Warriors, Chris Mrosko, (and part owner of Warriors), and his brother, Mick Miller, remained with the company and relocated to Missouri to manage production.
July 1999) Warriors sales rose to the point that a second production line became necessary. Custom Dioramics was purchased and moved from Canada to Moscow Mills. A new line, Legends & Lore, began with regular new releases. Techstar, Bob's first production company which had been dormant since 1996, once again began providing monthly new releases.
August 1999) Mastercon 8 is held and broke all records for attendance, entries, and banquet tickets. In fact, the 6,000 sq. ft. banquet room was sold out completely! David Harper, was relocated to Missouri from Portland, Oregon and became the new Graphics manager. Since Bob's plans included publishing, and will require additional staffing, Steve Hoard was hired as Harper's assistant manager.
January 2000) VLS' first full color publication (Letterman Publications) since the split is published. A full color catalog covering Warriors, Custom Dioramics and Techstar was released throughout the world!
April 2000) Unbelievably, sales were then the same as prior to the split. In other words, VLS sales had grown to equal the sales of the previously combined companies after only a single year! Also, the number of employees had increased to exceed the number of the combined companies prior to the split. Warriors sales had literally doubled in one year!
May 2000) A VLS first! Chris Mrosko, Vice President of Warriors, and Nancy Hovanissian, VLS' Operations Supervisor, were married in the VLS lobby by Rev. Del Miller, Mastercon Chaplain, modeler and reinactor, in full field dress of a WWII 82nd Airborne Chaplain. It was a very impressive ceremony.
July 2000) Custom Dioramics kicked off their first full month of new releases. The line focuses on diorama accessories and non military figures. CD's sculptors are Peter Morton, Bill Chillstrom, Brian Stewart and Jim Maddox, with Gordon Stronach, Dave Pomeransky and Ben Jacobsen doing patterns and Willy Peeters doing artwork for printed products. Joe Hudson, Brett Avants, Bill Chillstrom, Chris Mrosko and Bob Letterman are creating the box art! Letterman Publications released its first how-to model book. 60 pages of full color on heavy gloss paper, the models of Mastercon 8 was a success!
August 2000) Mastercon 9 was a great success with records set in attendance.
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