Following their exit from the auto business, Studebaker sold the proving grounds and surrounding land to Bendix Corporation, from which the name “Bendix Woods County Park” originates.
Both the name and the Studebaker sign hung on though the land was sold to Bosch in 1996 and to Navistar in 2015. The latter firm has restored the test track and dubbed it the “Navistar Proving Grounds”.
The vagaries of human economic rises and falls had little effect upon the aging pines of the Studebaker tree sign. The lack of regular maintenance, however, would eventually result in the sign’s letters gradually losing cohesiveness and legibility. To forestall this, in 2011 Indiana Landmarks awarded the St. Joseph County Parks Foundation a $2,500 endangered places grant to jump-start the sign’s long-term management and preservation. It was about time: above is Evie Kirkwood, director of St. Joseph County Parks, examining the distressed state of the “B” in the Studebaker tree sign in August of 2013.
An overall management plan was completed in 2012 and over the next two years, dead and diseased trees were removed in order to reduce the likelihood of fire and control insect pests. Between April 15th and April 19th of 2015, a new generation of volunteers then dug in – literally – to plant 2,400 spruce, fir, hemlock and pine saplings. “It’s really neat that we can preserve South Bend, St. Joseph County history,” stated volunteer Charlie Kiefer. “Studebaker was such a big part of the area, and it kind of lives on with things like this.”