GAWDA Connection

75 Years of GAWDA: A look back at one of the defining moments of GAWDA’s 75-year history

This year is a milestone year for GAWDA, as we celebrate our 75th Anniversary. Throughout 2020, we will be celebrating our roots, all while looking forward to ensuring that the next 75 years are as productive and impactful as the first. In the 1st Quarter 2020 issue of Welding & Gases Today, we ran a “Trip Down Memory Lane” 75 Years of GAWDA timeline on pages 50 and 51. In the 2nd Quarter 2020 issue, we revisited the formation and official founding of the National Welding Supply Association (NWSA), which would later become GAWDA, as well as looked back at fun SMC memories.

For this issue, we decided to focus on the association’s push to become a fully independent entity. The following is a lightly edited excerpt from the definitive book on GAWDA’s history, The Road from Dayton. If you are interested in reading more of The Road from Dayton, copies are available for purchase in the GAWDA.org members-only section. If you are interested in displaying your pride in GAWDA with commemorative 75th Anniversary apparel, check out page 36 or visit gawda.itemorder.com/sale today.

Strong. Proud. Independent.

After 64 years with association management company Fernley & Fernley, GAWDA’s Board of Directors made the decision to cancel its contract with the firm, effective May 4, 2010. Considered a business decision that would strengthen GAWDA in the long term, it was not received well by some of the older membership. Others were ready for a change.

This decision was the topic of discussion at every association event. The Board of Directors worked hard to be transparent and explain the management change. Without a headquarters staff, members pitched in to help in any way they could. GAWDA’s publishing partner, Data Key Communications, who had worked with four executive directors and knew many of the routines, was asked to help the board with some of the transition.

It was not long before the synergies between GAWDA and the American Welding Society were realized. AWS stepped in to provide management services to GAWDA. John Ospina, a 20-year employee of AWS, most recently the director of conventions & event services, was named Executive Director of GAWDA. Two additional employees were assigned to work as GAWDA staff. The GAWDA headquarters office was moved from Pennsylvania to AWS World Headquarters in Florida.

These years were exploratory years for both GAWDA and AWS, and after a three-year period, they jointly announced a plan by GAWDA to become self-managed by the end of 2014. The Executive Director and support staff would be retained, but GAWDA headquarters would move to a new location in Hollywood, Florida. President Craig Wood told members, “AWS has been, and continues to be, a powerful ally to GAWDA, and we are proud of the association we have built with them over the years. We also feel this decision best serves our GAWDA members.”

On January 1, 2015, GAWDA became a self-managed association. It took 68 years to embrace ownership of the management and support functions of the association. While addresses and faces have changed, what has not changed is the commitment of members – both distributors and suppliers – to continue the vision of thirteen courageous, brave and very strong original members in Dayton, some 75 years ago.

On the Road

At the end of the second decade of the new millennium, some of the challenges facing GAWDA members seem the same as they were 75 years ago: supply channel relationships, shrinking markets, consolidation, the economy, staying safe, regulatory compliance. But, at deeper reflection, there is quite a difference. Perhaps it’s a recognition that these challenges may never go away, that they continue to return with new players and new solutions.

What has changed is the confidence with which GAWDA members approach these challenges. A confidence that comes from the industry knowledge we share with each other, the educational programs that make us more informed businesspeople, the contacts and the networking all made possible by membership in the association.

The association has come a long way from its humble beginnings in a distributor’s Dayton, Ohio, office. The Road from Dayton, built 75 years ago, now extends across the globe. Wherever a GAWDA member is located on this road, in whatever city, whatever state, whatever country, there is another GAWDA member also travelling the road, ready to extend a hand.

GAWDA continues to thrive because its members are passionate, hardworking, industry leaders who believe in the association and the good it stands for. Members are a crucial part of the association’s history, but also of its future, and if the past is any indication of GAWDA’s future, then the association is in for a continued extraordinary journey.

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