Whether you’re watching Finding Dory, Minions, or Grease, the 13-24 Drive In in Wabash, Indiana is a beloved summer activity. Opened in 1951, the Drive In has served countless patrons. Though the price of a ticket has changed from a mere 50 cents for adults since then, its current owners, the Wabash families of Mike and Angie Beauchamp and Parker and Katie Beauchamp have brought the Drive In into the modern age with a new digital projector, numerous paint jobs, and a place on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the Beauchamps are generously donating the ownership of this cultural icon to Honeywell Arts & Entertainment who will continue to manage the Drive In and preserve its special place in the community.
Though owning the Drive In is new for Honeywell, operating and managing the Drive In is not. In fact, the Drive In has been operated by Honeywell Arts & Entertainment since it was acquired by the Beauchamps in 2011. This unique partnership was born amidst concerns about the construction of the nearby industrial park whose close proximity threatened to demolish the Drive In.
Parker felt the Drive In was a valuable asset to the community and that tearing it down would be a major loss. “I think communities like Wabash need so many things, since they’re lacking natural resources like mountains or oceans. This [the Drive In] was a unique thing that I felt was relatively cool in a world where there’s going to be streaming and it’s not the big box movie places anymore. I thought those would all fail but only the cool ones would stay, like Eagles and the Drive In.”
Parker and Tod Minnich, President and CEO of the Honeywell Foundation, which oversees Honeywell Arts & Entertainment programs, started a conversation about how to save the Drive In. The Honeywell board had just made a substantial commitment to acquire the Eagles Theater, so buying the Drive In was not possible at the time. But Tod and Parker agreed that if Parker could purchase the Drive In, Honeywell would run it, so Parker set about finding the money to buy it.
But it wasn’t so easy for Parker, the Wabash native and Purdue graduate who had recently moved back to Wabash. “I didn’t have any money at the time,” he said. “I had just bought and preserved our home and personally acquired what became INGUARD. So I went to my dad [Mike Beauchamp] and was like, ‘this is the deal to save the Drive In, do you want to just split it?’ And so he split it, in fact he loaned me the half that I owed and I paid it back later that year. The worst part was the very next year, we had to buy a digital projector which was more than the cost of the Drive In!”
Cathy Gatchel, Chief Development Officer at Honeywell Arts & Entertainment reflects on the partnership with the Beauchamps, “it gave us the ability to operate [the Drive In] without the risk. We didn’t have to buy it. We were able to just operate it and they took on that risk and allowed us to do that,” she says. Honeywell is in a perfect position to continue running the Drive In in part because they also have the screens at the Eagles Theater to fill. “Because we also operate the Eagles Theater,” Gatchel says, “it allows the two theaters to be in symmetry. When working with the movie companies, it makes more sense if you have a bit of a scale and have more than one screen.”
After purchasing the Drive In in 2011, Parker continued to invest in the Drive In. He involved INGUARD, his Wabash-based insurance company with a flair for innovation, where he serves as CEO. “We made gifts to do improvements,” says Parker. “We volunteered out there many times. We did in-service days where we’d go out there and paint or do stuff like that with the company.” But a few years after purchasing the Drive In, Parker remembers musing to his sister Hayley, who worked at Honeywell, that it still didn’t feel like enough, “it kind of needs more,” he remembers saying. Parker decided to make the Drive In free for kids under 12. Since then, he and INGUARD have paid the ticket price for 50,000 kids.
By donating the Drive In to Honeywell Arts & Entertainment, the Beauchamps are showing yet again this characteristic generosity which Parker credits to growing up in the Honeywell community. “I think there are many disciples of Mark Honeywell in Wabash and beyond,” he says. “We all grew up in this very generous community, it gives almost double the national average of the household income to charitable causes and there’s this huge volunteerism ethic in the county. Growing up in that, being around that, helped build my ethos.” Parker has been heavily involved in revitalizing downtown Wabash and other economic growth initiatives. Parker admits that helping Wabash was in fact, a kind of childhood dream:
That was the whole goal, to try to work for INGUARD, and buy INGUARD, and run INGUARD, and use all the proceeds from INGUARD to try to help the community – and vice versa. Hopefully an organization like INGUARD would get notoriety for that and people would give INGUARD contracts. That was the whole design, that was my childhood dream, that was my whole life’s plan. I think it was just kind of built into my ethos. I really wanted the community to be in demand. I don’t know that I got it done, but I tried.
The Beauchamps’ vision that the Drive In was an asset worth saving would be fully realized when it joined the National Registry of Historic Places in 2021. For this effort, the Beauchamps received an Indiana Historic Preservation Award. But the Drive In’s allure extends beyond Wabash. “It’s regional,” says Gatchel. “People come from all over because there’s not that many Drive Ins left so people do come and make a night of it.” The Drive In was an especially important asset during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was at times the only programming Honeywell Arts & Entertainment could continue to provide. The move of ownership to Honeywell will ensure the preservation of this historic landmark and that the Drive In can continue serving the community: “There’s no reason [for us] to own it,” Parker said. “They’ve earned it. If Honeywell has it, I’m hopeful it’s always safe.”
Honeywell Arts & Entertainment couldn’t be more pleased to acquire this gift and ensure the special place the Drive In has in the community is preserved for years to come. “The Drive-In isn’t a huge profit center, it’s more about the service to the community and preserving that for the greater region,” says Gatchel. For some people, she says, the Drive In is a primary way to interface with Honeywell – they may not attend the live shows or partake in any of the many other offerings, but they come to the Drive In. And Honeywell aims to provide something for every member of the community. “That’s a big mission,” she says. “We’re trying to serve all.”
You can expect this summer at the Drive-In to deliver yet again, with throwbacks and classics planned and an affordable carload pricing. “We literally do Grease every year and you think people would tire of it but they don’t,” says Gatchel. “Because that’s the thing about the Drive In that makes it so fun – it’s the experience. And when that sign’s lit up at night – it’s electric!” So load up your car with friends and family and come enjoy the summer nights at the Drive In, because it’s here to stay.