July 14, 2024 12:36 PM
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In Memoriam: Eugene “Gene” Winther

by Kerstan Szczepanski, Exhibit City News

 

Eugene “Gene” Winther
1941 – April 16th, 2024

Eugene “Gene” Winther, former owner and founder of Expon Exhibits, president and board of directors member of EDPA, pilot, race car driver, Navy mechanic, and beloved member and mentor of the tradeshow community, passed away on April 16th, 2024.

Born in South Bend, Indiana in 1941, Winther traveled the country as part of a military family. When he joined the Navy, he became an aircraft mechanic working on flight control systems and hydraulics. But it was as a salesman in Sacramento, California that Winther met his wife of 56 years Linda, and entered the world of cars and tradeshows. He raced and judged cars at the Sacramento Autorama, founded and owned by Linda’s father.

Looking to rustle up money for racing, Winther started doing holiday display lighting for shopping and strip malls. This piqued his interest in the business of marketing displays and led to the creation of Display Services. Winther developed custom displays for counties in the annual California State Fair. It wasn’t long before he was looking at the tradeshow industry, and by 1985, Display had become Three-Sixty Designers, a full service exhibit company. In 1989 Winther acquired the Expon Modular System and in 1999 Three-Sixty became Expon Exhibits.

For over 50 years and three names, Winther’s company designed, built, and shipped tradeshow booths, hospitality suites, and temporary office spaces. Their clients included the US Military, Lockheed-Martin, Chevron, Firestone, Yokohama and many other companies and organizations, both national and international.

Winther was not just a businessman; he was a people-person. He was a member of the Exhibit Producer & Designer Association (EDPA), its President in 2000, and Chairman of the Board of the EDPA Foundation in 2003-2004. A tireless promoter of the tradeshow industry, and supporter of the community, Winther was a board member of the Tradeshow Exhibitors Association (TSEA) as well as Chairman of TS2, the association’s own annual tradeshow. Winther was also part of the International Association of Exhibit Managers (IAEM), the HealthCare Exhibitors Association (HCEA), and a member of the Center for Exhibit Industry Research (CEIR).

He has spoken before the IEA, IAEM, and the American Marketing Association. Winther has written for and been interviewed by, Exhibitor Times, Tradeshow Week, Trade Show & Exhibit Manager, Continental Airlines Profile’s magazine, The Sacramento Bee, and Comstock’s Magazine. He never ceased advocating for the industry or the people within it.

“When he was President of EDPA, he traveled everywhere to get new members, so that they could learn and see the passion of the people in this industry, and help it grow,” said Linda Winther, in an Exhibit City News interview covering her husband receiving EDPA’s Hazel Hayes Award in 2012. “I can’t tell you how many times our employees would ask me where Gene was, and all I could say is ‘he’s off to get new members for EDPA.’”

In the same interview, Rob Cohen, former president, EDPA, said, “Gene Winther largely was responsible for making sure that EDPA was no longer known as the old-boys’ club, and I can say from personal experience that he took newer members by the hand and introduced them to others he thought they could benefit from knowing. He truly has influenced the exhibit industry and helped drive it to where it is today.”

As a past commander of Sacramento Sheriff’s Department’s AERO Squadron, and a member of the Optimist Club and River City’s and Sacramento’s respective Chambers of Commerce, Winther’s enthusiasm for people and the tradeshow industry always shone. When congratulating Winther on his Hazel Hayes honor, Benedict Soh, Executive Chairman at Kingsmen Creatives, Ltd said, “Over the years, Gene has shown exemplary behavior through his dedication to the greater good of the exhibit industry by taking up leadership roles. He is a most generous person and is committed to the success of both business and charitable causes.”

Perhaps Winther’s own words from that long-ago interview sum him and his life up the best. “I never felt that there was a day that I actually worked hard for a real living,” he said. “I mean, I worked, and it was sometimes hard, but I always loved this business. When I got into the business, I realized that there was more to it than just building exhibits. I love meeting new people. I love marketing. And I love face-to-face, so it was always fun.”

 

This story originally appeared in the Q3 2024 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 82. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_q3_2024.

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