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Remembering Curtis Lavine-Serial Entrepreneur and Community Leader

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

We lost a good one recently, January 29, 2021 to be exact. Curtis Lavine, long time Independence serial entrepreneur, great community supporter and good Christian passed away in his home, family at his side. 

I first met Curtis in 2010 when I talked him into being on the board of a new non-profit called Innovative Business Resource Center, an entity created to help entrepreneurs. That’s one thing that Curtis loved to do, help entrepreneurs. Over the years, soft-spoken Curtis with a dry and wry sense of humor sat on our board, supporting Innovation summits and gap financing loans to new and growing businesses. 

Of 3D Printing, Maker Spaces and Fab Labs 

Curtis many times attended what I called the Monday Entrepreneurs Brown Bag lunches that I started early in 2012. It was during those lunches that we all began seeing 3D printers and other examples of how digital technology could help people bring their ideas to life with fewer technical skills in disciplines like prototyping, wood metal work, laser etching and electronics. We were seeing that the digital technology was being made available to community members through “maker spaces,” some of which were being called Fab Labs (Fabrication Labs.) It was in those meetings we began to kick around the idea about having a Fab Lab in Independence. 

In the beginning, it wasn’t clear whether or not the college would be interested in having a Fab Lab on campus. That just meant that the future Fab Lab might or might not be located on the campus of Independence Community College. In March of 2014 the ICC president told me that if I could come up with the initial funding, I could set up a Fab Lab in the 2,000 square foot shop area of the Cessna building on the main campus. Cessna training had been moved to the factory at the Independence airport and the shop area had become a storage collector. We had been approved matching grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. We just needed to find a donor for the matching funds. I told the president we needed to have a meeting with Curtis Lavine, share the vision of the Lab and say “Curtis, let’s make this happen.” The president told me “Fund raising doesn’t work that way.” In spite of that, we had lunch with Curtis, I pretty much said “Let’s make this happen,” and Curtis contributed our match. He is the largest individual donor to Fab Lab ICC. 

The Air Force and the Thunderbirds 

Curtis had a long, interesting career starting with graduation from high school in 1952 and several years of traveling around the country building oil refinery tanks. About 1955 he joined the Air Force and July that year was busy. He married Emma Lou ‘Mickie’ Treiber on July 20 and also became certified that month as an Engine Aircraft Mechanic. In 1959, he completed his Air Force service and did civilian work at several Air Force bases, nearly all having to do with jet engines. This included a stint in 1965 in the NASA jet engine shop in Houston. 

Somewhere along the line during these years, Curtis worked with the Air Force Thunderbirds. I heard him relate one of my favorite stories several times. The “tail” pilot of the 4-aircraft group complained that he was having trouble keeping up with the others. Curtis asked him how far behind. A fraction of a second was the reply. Curtis noticed that, during each flight, the engine intakes of the trailing craft picked up layers of exhaust particles from the lead craft. He theorized that this was causing enough air-flow resistance to cause the trailing engine to underperform the others only so slightly. He coated the intake surfaces with common auto wax to see if it would make the surfaces slick enough that the particles wouldn’t stick. It worked. The “tail” pilot came back raving about his performance and wanted to know how Curtis fixed it. Curtis, in his dry wit, said “Well, I won’t try to explain; it’s just too technical. 

Becoming Entrepreneur at Fifty-Eight 

Curtis told me that in 1992, he was tired of his corporate bosses “breathing down his neck” and retired at 58 years old. Curtis recognized what he called a “need”—this is the classic entrepreneur part—the big jet engine overhaul companies were mostly interested in the high-dollar aspects of the engine overhaul, treating the revenue from small components like fuel controls as what he called “chicken feed.” Consequently, the smaller components took 4 – 6 weeks in the shop even though there was only 4 – 8 hours of work involved. He got his FAA certification to rebuild fuel controls, rounded up a modest amount of money and launched Kansas Aviation (KA). Although he sold KA in 2007, the company has continued to grow and won the Kansas Exporter of the year award in 2016. They have developed a customer base that reaches around the globe. Now, 73, he didn’t stop there. He launched, owned and/or was involved in seven other businesses. He was one of our region’s most successful serial entrepreneurs. 

In 2013, Brian Hight, Magnolia Scents by Design, chose Curtis for his assignment in Entrepreneurial Mindset to interview an entrepreneur. We took two cameras and microphones to Curtis’ office. I thought someday it would be good to have the interview recorded. Someday has now become January 29, 2021. I’ve re-published the interview. Follow the link at “The Correll Files” (www.fablabicc.org/Correll-Files.) 

Curtis Understood 

Although Curtis didn’t understand the nuances of the various technologies of a Fab Lab, he very much understood the psychological power of helping provide individuals and entrepreneurs with the ability to make things they would not normally have the opportunity or knowledge to make. Actually, I think he understood this psychological power better than I did at the time. He asked me, when he helped cut the ribbon of our new building in 2018, if I had any idea Fab Lab ICC would grow like it has. I told him I didn’t; I have a feeling he knew all along. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu. Archive columns and podcasts at www.fablabicc.org. 

 

 

Tim Haynes (front row clapping), me and Curtis Lavine at the ribbon cutting of the Fab Lab ICC expansion building October 1, 2018. (Full file attached.) 

 


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