An FTA fixture, tireless volunteer, industry stalwart, relentless learner, patient teacher and just about the nicest guy anyone knows.
There are numerous synonyms for the word “nice”: enjoyable, agreeable, pleasant, good, lovely, amusing, wonderful, kind, polite, generous, friendly, swell, charming, peachy, delightful, gracious, helpful, fine and dandy, and at least that many more. When you read a 4,000-word article on the life of Lon Robinson, expect to see every one of them.
Speaking to the individuals who know him best, it was that word or one of its derivatives that came up time and time again:
In conversations with his wife, with whom he has traveled around the world, given a home to a pair of rescue dogs they consider “their kids” and found a true partner not only in life but also to stand by his side at industry events, it came up.
In conversations with higher-ups at the company where he has worked for 39 years, climbing the ladder from pressman trainee to director of research and development, learning the names and stories of every person whom he has called a co-worker, it came up.
In conversations with FTA staff, who have had the incredible fortune of benefiting from his countless hours of volunteering and who have had a perpetual seat filler at every one of the Association’s events, not to gallivant on his employer’s dime but to absorb as much knowledge as possible and relay it to anyone who will listen, it came up.
In conversations with leadership at other organizations, who, in him, have had a devoted and tireless advocate willing to wade into bureaucratic minutiae, help formulate legislation and communicate developments to industry members in a transparent manner, it came up.
In conversations with colleagues who have done business with him and witnessed his poise and unwavering respect in all situations, choosing to treat whomever he works with as a peer and equal when others at his level could easily point the finger—a demonstration of compassion almost as rare as a winning season for his hometown Kansas City Royals—it came up.
But there was so much more that came up. Third of his name and the third Lon Robinson in Tension Corp’s HR files, he was born into package printing and curious about it from an early age. The more he learned, the more he wanted to learn. Eventually people realized Lon knew a thing or two, and they started coming to him for help—to answer a question, solve a problem, join a committee, co-chair an event, represent their interests in Washington, D.C., and who knows how many other requests that were so of a piece with Lon’s body of work that they didn’t come up.
Every single time, Lon happily agreed to help, because Lon is, well, you know what he is.
“…in addition to all this, Lon is simply a really nice guy,” reads the 2012 announcement of Mr. Robinson receiving the FTA President’s Award. A succinct and accurate summation, to be sure, but with that kind of reputation to proceed you, it’s worth delving into what the “all this” entails. Especially as Lon S. Robinson III, truly the most pleasant/wonderful/friendly/delightful/nice guy around, joins the FTA Hall of Fame as its 56th member.
A Families Man
There are two places Lon calls home: Kansas City, MO—where his family moved four years after he was born on July 27, 1960 in El Paso, TX—and Tension Corp—where he will celebrate his four-decade work anniversary next year.
If “envelope” was not the first word out of Lon’s mouth, it most certainly was the first with three syllables. Even before he punched his first time card at Tension, he was getting the lay of the land, accompanying his father (who also worked there) to the office on Saturdays to tinker with machines when he was 6 or 7 years old, says his wife Becky. One of Lon’s earliest mentors, Ben Sumada, had a press in his basement, and Lon and his father would often go to Ben’s house, where the future envelope know-it-all continued to build his foundational knowledge. In addition to teaching his son, Lon’s father also trained new hires at Tension, passing down the knowledge his father and Lon’s grandfather—also a Tension employee—had taught him.
It was these early childhood experiences that instilled in Lon a willingness to learn and teach, traits that remain some of his most defining characteristics today.
“Lon is a lot like his dad,” Becky says. “He takes the time to understand things and do the research, and he also likes helping people grow. If they don’t understand something, he takes the time to teach them and doesn’t get flustered when they don’t pick it up.”
Lon’s first official day in Tension’s employ was Jan. 25, 1979, one year after he graduated from North East High School. It was not his first job—he worked for a brief time as a paperboy on weekends—but it has been his only job since. The title on Lon’s first business card was pressman trainee and he kept that role, working with letterpress, flexography and small offset, until advancing to ink technician and, in 1985, printing lead. He held a number of roles in prepress (technician, lead and manager) and, five years later in 1990, he became composing lead. Seven years after that, he was named the technical assistant reporting to the company’s VP of Manufacturing Richard Kranz. In 2004, Lon assumed the position of director of technology.
On Feb. 25, 2012, in a company-wide letter sent by Tension President and CEO Bill Berkley and COO and VP of Manufacturing Bob Broadbear, Lon was named director of research and development, the role he holds to this day.
On his ascension through the Tension ranks, Lon kept the company abreast of industry-wide changes. Among them: He helped evolve its prepress operations from analog to digital, implement ink dispensers at all its locations, convert its plate making systems from solvent-based to thermal transfer and make the move from solvent-based ink to water-based ink. Lon did that by keeping his ear to the ground and leveraging the wealth of knowledge accumulated over decades to make informed, forward-thinking decisions.
“Lon is third-generation at Tension, so he’s had printing and paper converting in his blood for a long time, but he has really distinguished himself as an expert in printing and technology,” comments Bert Berkley, Tension’s chairman of the board. “He has made a point of understanding the intersection of paper and ink and its most advanced forms, and printing in its most advanced forms, and has kept up with technology in a way that I think only a few really understand.”
One person who understands Lon’s dedication is Becky, who married the new Hall of Famer on March 31, 2001. The couple met—where else?—at Tension, when she was a sales administrator and he was running prepress. She has seen the traits he inherited from his father—a selfless willingness to educate and teach—manifest in his passing on important information and knowledge to staff at Tension and, as she has become a regular attendee to events at which her husband is presenting, the industry at large.
Those traits spill into their personal lives, too. There, his kindness manifests in an unabashed love for the couple’s two rescue dogs: Sophie, a Maltese mix who they adopted 10 years ago (“his dog”) and Chorizo, a chihuahua-Yorkshire terrier combination who joined the family two years ago (“her dog”). His desire to explore, discover and learn about new things fuels their love of travel, visiting exotic locales like St. Kitts, Cancun, Negril and several cities in Italy (where Becky is eyeing for their 20th anniversary). His friendliness and concern for others is evident in the parties he has on Sundays during football season and in the close connections with his neighbors on the cul-de-sac where they live.
“Lonnie’s a very fine person; in his personal life he’s a man of great integrity and he’s incredibly well-liked in our organization,” says Bill. “Additionally, he’s a true professional who is valued not just for his longevity—that’s not the point. The reality is he has a deep understanding of the subjects around printing and ink and engineering, and he also spends the time to continually educate himself on what’s new and what’s coming, so we keep up. And he’s willing to do that to benefit the whole graphic arts industry.”