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‘Walk with faith’ in remembrance of Lee Kleidon

Lee Kleidon didn’t let illness or being in a wheelchair deter him from participating in last year’s Les Turner ALS Walk4Life. Respecting the strength and positivity he showed then and on an infinite amount of other occasions, Team Kleidon is banding together once again to honor the memory of this 40-year exhibit sales veteran who influenced their lives.

In September 2012, the ALS Walk4Life of more than 5,000 people allowed Team Kleidon to show appreciation for the Les Turner ALS Foundation. The organization provided support to Kleidon’s family, and Kleidon himself, when he received treatment in the Les Turner/Lois Insolia ALS Center at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago.

Lee Kleidon wearing purple
Lee Kleidon wearing purple

Clad in purple T-shirts branded with their namesake’s motto “Stand in Hope. Walk with Faith. Fear Not,” Team Kleidon consisted of 83 people in support of Kleidon, who struggled physically due to the progression of his ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), a degenerative disease affecting motor neurons.

“My Dad really wanted to attend and complete the walk in his wheelchair.  It was an emotional day but a fantastic event to celebrate his life and for him to connect with family, friends and colleagues,” said Jonathan Kleidon, business development manager, TEKsystems.

Team Kleidon raised more than $10,000 for the Les Turner ALS Foundation that year. Following the passing of Lee Kleidon on March 7, 2013, many wanted to reactivate the team to raise another $10,000 to honor him and everyone affected by the disease. The 12th annual Les Turner ALS Walk4Life on Sept. 22, 2013, is giving them this chance.

Not able to attend the 2012 ALS Walk4Life due to a business trip, Nancy Schmalz, senior vice president and sales manager of 3D Exhibits, raised funds in support of the cause. This year, she hopes to attend the Walk to honor her mentor.

As an account executive, Kleidon met Schmalz when he handled her program. After she decided she wanted a career in sales, he took her under his wing while they worked at Giltspur.

“Lee taught me the business about 25 years ago. I wanted to be successful sales person, and he groomed me. He taught me how to take care of clients, understand their needs and make sure things went great on the show floor,” explained Schmalz. “He was a positive influence and overall good man. I always went to him for advice. “

Throughout his entire career, Kleidon mentored many account managers who became successful account executives. He also had long-term relationships with most of his clients. Sharing a 40-year working relationship with Kleidon was Elaine Cohen, president of Live Marketing, who said she never ceased being amazed after each of the 50 to 60 projects they did together.

“Lee was the No. 1 exhibit account executive I worked with bar none. He maintained clients for many years because he put them first and delivered the results he promised,” explained Cohen. “He was great at training account managers.  You could tell when each account manager was trained by Lee. They had a complete understanding of exhibits and marketing.”

Known as a positive influence with a great attitude, Kleidon was instrumental in easing tensions after Exhibitgroup and Giltspur merged to become one experiential marketing agency in 1995.

In the thick of the merger was Pat Friedlander, owner of Word Up, who at the time worked in Giltspur’s corporate office as director of marketing.

“We went through interesting times with mergers and acquisitions, but Lee was never a whiner. He was so positive and upbeat,” said Friedlander. “Some people didn’t handle it well. He was great at helping people integrate.”

Meeting not too long after the merger, James Hanlon, senior account executive at GES, and Kleidon connected over their similarities: They were both designers who transitioned into sales.

Team Kleidon shirts
Team Kleidon shirts

“Exhibitgroup and Giltspur were archrivals, and he made it easy to come together,” said Hanlon. “It was a pleasure to work with him. You felt like you knew him for 20 years from the moment you met him.”

Hanlon and some of his GES colleagues supported the 2012 ALS Walk4Life and plan to do so again this year.

“Many people expressed interest in the Walk at the funeral,” said Hanlon. “We created an email that went out to many people in the industry to join. We’re hoping it will get out to more. If they don’t live in Chicago, we’re hoping they’ll donate and support the team.”

Fellow GES senior account executive, Johnny Frank met Kleidon at Giltspur while working as a carpenter.

“Our way of giving back is to participate in the Walk. Last year, we wore purple shirts, and this year, we will wear them again,” said Frank.

Everyone knew Lee for wearing purple, according to Frank and Nancy Schmalz. His love for the color showed each time he wore purple shirts, shorts and socks.

The more than 2 mile ALS Walk4Life will take place along Chicago’s lakefront on Sept. 22. Walkers will gather inside the Stadium Green at Soldier Field, where the Chicago Bears play their home games, at 9:00 a.m. All proceeds from the Walk will be donated to the Les Turner ALS Foundation.

For more information about joining Team Kleidon and supporting the cause through donations, visit here.

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