HUDSON — Across two days of events planned around Little Tikes' 50th anniversary, the theme of family dominated the celebration.

And the toy company's founder, Thomas G. Murdough Jr., was feted as the visionary whose values led Little Tikes to its five-decade milestone.

On Friday, the California billionaire who now owns Little Tikes was on hand at the Hudson plant with his own family to salute Murdough — and make a surprise announcement.

“It really is incredible what Tom has built here,” said MGA Entertainment CEO Issac Larian. “That is why I nominated Tom for the Toy Industry Hall of Fame this year. If anyone really deserves to be in the Toy Industry Hall of Fame, it is Tom. I and my family and all the employees of MGA Entertainment are forever grateful to Tom for his creativity and boldness in creating Little Tikes.”

Murdough, in turn, complimented Larian for acquiring Little Tikes from Newell Rubbermaid in 2006.

“I applaud you for your insight in buying this company,” Murdough told Larian. “You have done a wonderful job in building it with your ingenuity and your passion.”

Murdough sold the company to Rubbermaid Inc. in 1984 and stayed on board through 1989; in 1991 he founded competitor Step 2 in Streetsboro. In 2016, he founded a third toy company, Simplay3, also in Streetsboro.

But he said he still “gets a thrill out of seeing Little Tikes move forward” and expressed pride in its work.

“I realize, and hope you realize you are with a good man and a good company,” Murdough told current and former employees during a Friday luncheon. “I hope all the people, all the employees, realize that they have just done tremendously in continuing to develop products.”

Also attending the event were Hudson Mayor David Basil and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Hudson resident.

“Today is all about celebrating this iconic American family,” said LaRose. “In a larger sense, this celebration is really all about families. A great deal of product testing is going on 2 miles away from here in my driveway.”

“It’s a joy to me that Little Tikes gets to celebrate this remarkable milestone,” Basil said. “It’s quite an accomplishment when you think of any business that has survived 50 years. It’s a testament to its founder, its family and everyone who has participated in that venture.”

Basil also thanked the Murdoughs, who are longtime Hudson residents, for their commitment to the city over many years.

Murdough especially thanked his wife, Joy, noting her support after he suffered a stroke.

“Without her in this last year and 3 months, I’d have been lost,” he shared. “She’s been with me every moment and has anticipated my needs and served me. … She hasn’t missed a beat.”

The couple's four sons and members of their families also were on hand for the celebration, which continued Saturday at a private gathering in Hudson for more than 170 employees, former employees and family members.

Jody Murdough, Marshall Murdough, Peter Murdough and Tom Murdough III spent time Friday checking out pictures of themselves as children in catalogs posted on the walls of the Little Tikes museum.

As young kids, they were not only in the company catalogs, they also were early product testers, said Tom Murdough III.

“There are a lot of good products that never made it to market,” he said. “From our perspective, it was great to have all these new toys to play with.”

Peter said he remembers a Christmas when a train was set up in the upstairs hallway outside his bedroom. He said his parents and their friends set up track so he rode the train down the stairs on Christmas morning. That was one of his all-time favorite Little Tikes toys, he added.

Later on, the Murdough boys, now mostly in their 40s, spent summers working at Little Tikes and later Step2 Co. in Streetsboro.

One of the keys to the company’s success was the type of people her father hired, Jody Murdough said.

“It was really the person, the character, the values of the person who was hired,” he said, explaining technical ability and skills listed on resumes sometimes carried less weight at Little Tikes than at other companies.