Gene Hinkle, a longtime and well-respected arcade operator, passed away peacefully on July 31 at his home in Albuquerque with loved ones by his side. He is survived by his wife of nearly 70 years, Betty Lou Blake Hinkle, their four children, seven grandchildren and their families (which added six great-grandchildren).
Born July 24, 1928, Gene leaves behind a lasting legacy with his immediate family, but also left his mark on the amusement industry through his Hinkle Family Fun Center, which opened in Albuquerque in 1994, and through his involvement in IALEI, the International Assn. for the Leisure Entertainment Industry. He was inaugurated as that group’s president in 2001 and worked with fellow committee members on its merger with IAAPA in 2009.
Interestingly, Gene didn’t start out in the amusement business. He graduated from Missouri State University in 1950 with a degree in business with an emphasis on organization and management and started out in finance. He gravitated to real estate in 1954, where he was a standout. (He sold more houses for Mossman Homes than the other four salesmen combined.)
He started Gene Hinkle & Co. in 1956, and in 1958, formed the Walker & Hinkle real estate firm, which reportedly quickly became the largest in the state. In 1961, as the founder and charter president of Albuquerque Economic Development Group, Gene was a driving force in the city’s growth. (He was also president of the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.)
Over the years, Gene developed, owned and managed many various real estate projects in Albuquerque, including office buildings, shopping centers, apartments and vacant land. One of the most notable is the landmark 17-story Bank of the West Building and the 10-story Two Park Central Tower Building next door. The First National Bank Building was a joint development with Del Webb of Phoenix, and Hinkle bought Webb’s interest in 1974, then built, owned and managed both buildings until he sold them in 1988.
In 1982, Gene bought 20 acres of prime commercial land in Albuquerque, prior to the Tax Reform Act of 1986, and had to be creative in developing the land. To start, he developed the 10 acres into a 256-unit community formerly known as High Ridge Apartments. He then came across the family entertainment concept and turned the remaining 10 acres into an FEC in 1991.
Today, it includes two large buildings and a smaller paintball facility. Its main, 14,500-sq.-ft. building includes the arcade and redemption center, snack bar, party tables and more. Outdoor attractions include two 18-hole mini-golf courses, go-karts, bumper boats and a rock-climbing wall. A second, 20,000-sq.-ft. building has laser tag, a Nickel City game room, VR, bumper cars and other fun.
Aside from Gene’s focus on real estate and family fun, he was an avid golfer and member of two country clubs. In his online obituary, it was reported that he could “shoot his age well into his early 90s, regularly playing with friends and typically winning any bets, due to his great negotiating skills!” He was also well known for his bright and colorful outfits.
Said the obituary, “From hopping freight trains from Missouri to Montana as a smokejumper fighting forest fires during his high school and college summers, to traveling all over the world with his bride, most often on freighters across both oceans and all seven seas, visiting all continents and all 50 states, Gene lived life to its fullest. Through the years he impacted the lives of many and will be greatly missed.”
A private funeral service will be held for the family, followed by a graveside service at Sunset Memorial Park in Albuquerque. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the charity of your choice, in Gene’s remembrance. May he rest in peace.