Earlier this year, I met Alberta Bell by chance.
Walking down the hallway of the extended care floor at a nursing home, I smiled and said hello as I passed her, seated in a wheelchair.
“Hello!” she barked back. “I’m Alberta Bell and I was named after my uncle. His name was Albert.”
“Oh really?” I turned, and introduced myself. “I’m pretty sure my mother named me Steve because she liked Steve Allen.”
Alberta did not miss a beat. “Died in World War I, he did. Before I was born. No wife, no kids. Dad wanted a son to name after him, but they got me. So I was Alberta. We was from Ireland but fought ... were part of England. Mother didn’t like the English.”
We shook hands and parted after a few minutes of small talk.
“Good bye Alberta. We’ll see you again soon.” I walked on.
It was just a quick meeting and conversation, but here I was talking to Alberta, a fiery, 96-year old Irishwoman who told me of a story that few probably remember, know or care to know. She felt it important enough to tell it to me. I touched history. For a brief moment I met Albert Bell. I learned how he died fighting in the Great War. I learned that many in Ireland did not like being part of Great Britain, so much in fact that they revolted right after the war (I have no Irish blood or heritage so I did a little Googling when I got home).
We are all moving pretty quickly these days. Multitasking, doing the job of 2 and 3 people, racing through the days. No excuses. Just the reality we find ourselves in. And there, that evening, I met Alberta Bell. She took me beyond her 96 years and introduced me to Albert, the uncle she never met but was named for. Maybe he was 20 or 25 at the time he fought in the war. I touched well over a century of time with that one connection.
In 2014, Prairie Display/Chicago will be celebrating 20 years of being in business. Before that, our principals had experience dating back to the early 1980s. We are obviously very proud of getting through 20 years in this ever-evolving and crazy industry. At the end of the day, we are most pleased with the relationships we have forged, the jobs we have created and maintained, and the friendships we have made.
Back in 1984 or ’85, I worked on a project with a man named Clay Wilkening. Clay was an industry veteran and was one of the most congenial and professional salesmen I have ever met. We would talk from time to time because I was new at what I was doing. He always offered a great deal of encouragement and sage advice. Clay was old school. He was friends with Fred Kitzing, father of trade show marketing. He would remind me that keeping relationships was the most important aspect of staying in business.
The last time I saw Clay was in 2005. He was being honored for his contributions at an industry fundraiser. Unfortunately, he passed not long after that. I did get the chance, however, to thank him for his mentoring, and express how important he truly was to me. Thinking back, if it wasn’t for Clay, there might not be Prairie Display.
Thirty years ago, I met a pioneer in the face-to-face marketing and trade show and event industries. He was doing what we are doing today, long before some of us were even born. So as we go forward in our fast paced environment, we should pause, and think what will be in the next 20 years. Who will you touch? Who will you remember? What stories will you share?
Thank you for sharing the story of your name, Alberta Bell. You know her Uncle Albert, right? Fought with the English in World War I...Irish fellow.