Each year, EDPA honors someone who has contributed to make a difference in the way the exhibit industry has evolved.
The Hazel Hays Award is the highest honor bestowed by EDPA, established in 1976 in memory of Hazel Hays. She was an industry pioneer who rendered outstanding service to the entire exhibit industry. Hays, who is known as the “first lady of the exhibit industry,” was the first woman to manage a show contractor business and to serve on the board of EDPA.
This year’s award was given to Paul Willet, a 53-year veteran who provided uncompromising show site services and served on the EDPA board of directors for 19 years.
Willet began his career in Cincinnati with Product Productions, later to become Exhibitgroup Cincinnati. He was a superb exhibit installation supervisor who then moved to Las Vegas to work for CB Display, one of the first independent I&D companies in the U.S. His reputation for fairness and excellence was then noticed by Greyhound Exposition Services (GES), who called Las Vegas home. Leo McDonald was then president of both GES and Exhibitgroup and hired Willet to run the onsite installation services nationwide. Willet then went on to work for Czarnowski in Las Vegas for the next 22 years! Willet was joined at the ceremony by his wife Tammy and four beautiful daughters who watched him give one of the shortest award speeches on record. Paul and Tammy Willet now plan to move to Louisville, Ky., to slow down his pace of play.
Willet was a quiet leader who served to connect the different points of view between show contractors, EAC’s, exhibit houses, suppliers and exhibitors at the show site. He touched the lives of many in our industry.
Many have their own story to tell about how Willet pulled a rabbit out of a hat to save the day on the show floor. Note that Willet was also the second winner of the EDPA Ambassador Award that is given for dedication to promoting the EDPA concept and for his ability to encourage those around him to support a spirit of cooperation.
On a side note, this year’s Ambassador Award was given to past EDPA president Derek Gentile, EEI Global.
All trade shows have a deadline. No one was more sensitive of this than Willet.
So here is my Paul story:
“I was helping a client for set up in Las Vegas when my client got word that there was a death in her family. We were waiting for the freight to arrive and I&D to begin. She was very distraught and did not want to leave until she saw that the set up was under control. Willet worked for GES in Las Vegas at the time and I shared the situation with him on site. He promptly asked the teamsters on the loading dock to stop what they were doing and unload my client’s truck ASAP. He then got the electricians to lay down electric early and permitted our I&D guys to begin set up before our assigned starting time. Willet was not concerned that this was not a GES project. He had superb relationships with all show site workers and no one challenged his authority to do the right thing, regardless [of] who they worked for. Willet was all for getting the job done. Client was overwhelmed with joy and relief that the work situation was now under control, and then she promptly left the building to catch the next flight home. The client’s boss was most appreciative when he arrived. This client remained a customer of mine for the next 15 years! Over time, Willet’s attitude on the show floor became contagious and other show contractor and EAC lead men copied his behavior to create a similar spirit of cooperation on the show floor – in spite of the local rules. Lead by example and earn respect was Paul’s way of thinking,” said past EDPA president Larry Kulchawik, 3D Exhibits.
A Mark Nagle memory…
“Paul and I worked together many years ago in Cincinnati. He worked for his uncle’s company called Product Presentations, and I worked for my father’s company called Display Sales. Although we were competitors, we would often see each other on the show site as I&D supervisors. During one of the set ups for the Housewares Show in Chicago, my flight was delayed due to snow. I really needed to place my electric on the floor the next morning or suffer waiting to start the set up. I called Paul at his hotel in Chicago and asked if he could help to get the electricians to lay my power lines. I arrived the next day with electric in place and ready to begin the installation. Why help your competitor? Because he is your friend. After 22 years working with Paul at Czarnowski, I can say that Paul always did the right thing at the right time. His spirit of cooperation has influenced our success at Czarnowski,” said past EDPA president Mark Nagle, CEO Czarnowski.
Paul Willet’s passion and dedication to the exhibit industry on the show floor has left a mark that others have followed. Thanks for raising our level of professionalism and service consciousness as an industry!