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Gilbert Ballen – Against All Odds

In 83 years of life, if there was one thing Gil Ballen learned well, it was how to win against the odds. Born to a loving committed mother who had raised her own siblings, Gil became familiar with the concept of hard work from early childhood. At 16, diagnosed with a rare intestinal disease that took him out of school and put him into the hospital for the greater portion of a year, Gil underwent a then-experimental procedure that doctors told his parents was unlikely to save him. Despite those chances, he walked back into the world six months later, healthy and ready to make something of a life he wasn’t supposed to have.

In 1986, Gil gave his son Barry the confidence to go into business building trade show exhibits and displays, and put up everything he owned as collateral to gain funding for their company. With a building, basic machinery, a small staff and no work, Barry quickly started feeling the pressures of business ownership—total accountability for the wellbeing of his sole investor and his employees. In the first few weeks, at only 27 years old, Barry asked Gil how he could actually pull everything together; or perhaps he should just shut down. At that moment, Gil gave him the shot in the arm—and the kick in the ass—he needed to refuse failure and stop at nothing to lead the infant business into the future. It is for that support that Barry gave the company his father’s name.

By 2012, Gil had surpassed his life expectancy by 67 years. In that time, he started a family that left him with a compassionate and devoted wife, two enterprising sons, and six grandchildren—his rewards for beating the odds and a resulting lifetime of hard work and dedication. Gil never retired from Gilbert Displays, and even facing his growing health complications, scheduled his medical appointments so that he could make it to the office.

In his last months, one could learn of the fascination Gil had with the world and appreciation for his family and the events of his own life by listening to the vivid stories he would passionately tell visitors to his office or his bedside. A resilient, honorable gentleman down to his last moments, he brought laughter and happiness to all who knew him, whether for 50 years or five minutes.

Memories of that laughter and his deep consideration for others, along with the legacy he leaves behind in his family and his company, are what the Gilbert Displays family will now turn to for strength in saying goodbye. For 83 years, Gil Ballen lived, gained, and was able to give by beating the odds. He was an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, a mentor, a family man, and a force in and of himself—and he will be deeply, deeply missed.


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