Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Mentor Has Passed.......

I'm really bummed.
My mentor in Electronics has passed from this mortal coil. I first met him my sophomore year in high-school (1967), when I was just a geeky kid with an Amateur Radio license, *some* knowledge of Electronics, and a lot of curiosity. I was working after school and on Saturdays for the little company he was Chief Engineer at, and when he saw me explaining Ohm's Law to one of the other high-school kids who worked there, he knew I had a better grasp on at least the basics than the other kids who worked there. I started off adjusting (and learning all the intricacies) of electrical relays, and soon he pulled me off the line to build and test solid-state prototypes for him. I continued to work there through high-school, both after school and as my summer job, until I went away to college. After college, while I was working at Fermilab, he called the house one day and wanted to know if I was available for some work at his new factory. Well, his new "factory" was a shop set up in the old veterinary office where I used to take my dog! No frills, but he had several huge orders for some control boxes, and the duds off the assembly line were piling up to the ceiling as he couldn't find anybody to troubleshoot and repair them. The people he had could test them, but if it failed, it went in the "NFG" pile. After working in the evenings and on Saturdays for a few weeks, he made me a far better offer than what Fermilab was paying me, so I went to work full-time for him. In less than two months, I had all the rejected units repaired, and taught his line people how to spot and repair the real obvious production defects, AND how to eliminate the problems on the production line that were causing the horrendous reject rate. Then I taught the brightest of the high-school kids he had working there some basic, commonsense troubleshooting theory and techniques, and his production problems basically vanished. I also drew all his schematics, made formal bills of materiel, interfaced with his parts vendors, and did all the other things you have to do to get a production line running smoothly, and maximize the throughput. He made pretty simple little boxes out of inexpensive parts, and his business took off like a bottle rocket once we had everything ironed out.
Back then, anytime you got a milkshake from a Taylor Freezer machine, or bought a Slush Puppy, your product had been made with the help of his little control boxes that ran the machine.
A year or so after that, he built a brand spanking new factory, and I helped him move all his existing stuff to the new building, and helped install and set up the wave soldering machines, and the conveyor belt process lines. I got a call from a college buddy who was now a head-hunter, and since things were running so well at the new place, I decided to leave for better offer at a medical electronics place.
I always stopped in to see how things were running everytime I went back to Joliet, but since I haven't been 'back home' since about 1991, I kinda lost track of him.
Today I received a Facebook message from one of my friends back in Joliet, and found out he passed away on January 22nd.
I owe this man a lot, as he gave me my start in my career, and always had kind words for my Mom and Dad, and always encouraged me to continue my education.
Rest easy, my friend. You touched an awful lot of people, and helped more than I can count.

Link to article in Joliet Herald News about Pete.

Gavankar, Peter G. Was born January 21, 1938, in Kolhapur, India, a city located in the southwest corner of Maharashtra. He passed away January 22, 2012 after a brief battle with cancer. He arrived in the United States in 1960 with only eight dollars, one suit and a scholarship to study electrical engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. After graduating in 1963, he moved to Joliet, IL where he founded Rockdale Controls, Inc., the company he ran for 42 years. Peter's innovations at Rockdale were numerous, including developing the controls for soft-serve ice cream machines, Mr. Coffee and a "Classified" item for NASA's Gemini project. Peter was artistic, as well as innovative. In 1963, he produced an Indian/Latin fusion album with his childhood friend and Bolllywood composer, R.D. Burman. Peter was proud to be a U.S. Citizen and often called his birth in India a geographical error. On the 50th anniversary of his arrival, he was honored by the U.S. senate by having a flag fly over the U.S. Capitol. Peter achieved the American Dream and called his two daughters, Sonya Gavankar-McKay (Malcolm) and Janina Gavankar, his best inventions. In addition to his daughters, he is survived by his mother, Susheela Gavankar; his wife of 40 years, Mohra Shahane Gavankar; brother, Raja Gavankar (Monica) and sisters, Kirti Rege (Promod); Nilu Gavankar and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends. A memorial service will be held Saturday, January 28, 2012 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Caterpillar Room at the Joliet Area Historical Museum, 204 N. Ottawa Street, Joliet, IL 60432. Arrangements were entrusted to Woodlawn Funeral Home. Online obituary at: Woodlawn Funeral Home 3201 W. Jefferson Street Joliet, IL 60431 815-725-0100
Published in Herald News on January 25, 2012


  1. He sounds like a great guy; what an awesome legacy.

  2. Awesome man May He Rest In Peace

  3. Sorry to hear that, but looks like he was truly an American success story!

  4. Sounds like quite a guy. Sorry for your loss.....


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