Frank Pavlis (MS ‘39) says he “feels fortunate to have graduated from outstanding universities and want to show my appreciation for the education I received.” He says he decided that he wanted to make his gifts to his alma maters while he is living. His recent substantial gift to our department will be used for a variety of programs, including fellowships and scholarships for students.
Higher education seemed a long shot when Frank was born on a farm near Traverse City, Michigan. He knew his parents would not be able to pay for college studies. However, he did well in his chemistry, math, and physics courses in high school and became determined to go to college. He headed off to Michigan Tech in Houghton and started working on a chemical engineering degree. Since he had to pay for his own education, he had little left over to buy food and says he was hungry much of the time. He worked three of his five years in college, making $10.35 each month. But he knew that education was important if he wanted to succeed in life, so he accepted the struggles.
He graduated first in his class at Michigan Tech and received a fellowship to come to the University of Michigan. He spent a year in Ann Arbor working on his master’s and remembers taking a thermodynamic class with George Granger Brown and a petroleum class with Donald Katz.
After he graduated in 1939, he was offered a job at Shell Oil, which would have been a safe choice for his career. Instead, he decided to take a chance on a job in Detroit with an entrepreneur named Leonard Pool. In 1940, Air Products opened for business, and Frank, its first employee, was the chief engineer. He continued his education in the evenings when he took college courses with a professor from U-M who traveled to Detroit to teach in a classroom at the University of Detroit.
Business was slow at first but picked up when WWII began, when they began working exclusively for the government. The military needed lots of oxygen for high altitude aviation. In the early 1940s, there were many other businesses in the Detroit area that were crucial to the war effort and Detroit was becoming a crowded city. So the government decided to move Frank and Air Products south to Chattanooga, TN for the duration of the war. Of course, when the war ended, the contracts were cancelled, and their profits tanked, so they felt like they were back at square one.
They decided to move the company to another location, and with encouragement from the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company, they moved to Allentown, PA, where the company is located today. They settled into the building previously occupied by a small foundry, with the 15 employees they kept from their operations in Tennessee and were ready to move on to a new phase. Business was slow initially but improved when the country entered the Korean War. Frank says there were times in the first 20 years of business that he didn’t eat much better than he did as a student.
As it turned out, Allentown was a good location, with close proximity to the ports in New York City and the federal government in Washington D. C. Frank received many shares of stock from the company and when the company expanded and the stock started multiplying, Frank could finally say that his gamble with taking the job with Air Products was paying off. Of course, he was moving up the executive ladder too during those years and when he retired from Air Products in 1980, he was vice president for international/world trade.
Frank travelled frequently for work but he also enjoyed vacations with his wife, Ethel, whom he met when she was employed by Air Products. He travelled around the world five times, and often went to England, Japan, and India. The two places he liked the most were New Zealand and Indonesia. He liked the greenery, and the mountains, caves, and lakes in New Zealand, but he also enjoyed the people. Many New Zealanders originally came from Scotland, and Frank says he has always admired the Scottish people. In Indonesia, a land of thousands of islands, he says he was always amazed at how different each island could be.
Frank is living in a senior home in Allentown these days; his wife died in 2002. Frank will turn 100 on October 29 of this year and says it is getting more difficult to walk, see, and hear but he is blessed with a great memory and with his generous and positive outlook on life we are sure he will continue to enjoy his days.