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New leader named for Sun ’n Fun, Aerospace Center for Excellence

Conrad will assume command of the two closely related organizations that provide opportunities for Florida youth to prepare for aviation careers after an achievement-laden 12-year career of his own as the airport director of Lakeland Linder International Airport. Among his most notable accomplishments in that role are negotiating a 50-year lease with Amazon Air and leading the successful relocation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Aircraft Operations Center to the airport.

“Gene’s track record and success here at Lakeland Linder International Airport makes him the best choice for the future of the Aerospace Center for Excellence and the SUN ’n FUN Aerospace Expo,” said Rick Garcia, president and CEO of Gulf Coast Avionics and chairman of the ACE board of directors, in a news release.

The leadership transition was announced February 14, three months after current President and CEO John “Lites” Leenhouts shared his plans to retire following more than a decade of service to ACE and Sun ’n Fun.

“After working closely with Gene as the Airport Manager over the last 10 years I can state without reservation that his heart and passion has been to ensure that the future of ACE and SnF was protected for future growth,” Leenhouts said. “I am looking forward to seeing ACE/SnF reach new heights of success under his leadership.” ACE was established under Leenhouts’ leadership and provides aviation-based science, technology, engineering, and math education for students in central Florida schools.

Photo courtesy of the Aerospace Center for Excellence.

Conrad, born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, has a 34-year history of volunteering with EAA AirVenture, experience that, according to the news release, makes him “well prepared to acclimate into the volunteer culture of a non-profit aviation organization.”

Sun ’n Fun Board Chairman Harley Richards said in the news release, “The entire Board of Directors are extremely excited to have Gene lead ACE/SnF into the next chapter on our quest to provide unmatched career opportunities for young men and women and drive the SUN ’n FUN Aerospace Expo to new heights of success.”

Conrad expressed enthusiasm for the dual missions he is about to lead:

“I am both humbled and honored to be given the opportunity to lead such an incredible organization that just within the last several years has evolved from not only a major aviation expo, but now a nationally recognized Aerospace Youth Education Complex, educating thousands of students annually. I am anxious to join the team and share in my passion for aviation.”

Conrad will join Leenhouts and the rest of the team on March 7 to begin the transition to take over as the next CEO following the Sun ’n Fun Aerospace Expo, which will take place April 5 through 10.

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