Vern C. Pfanku, 88, formerly of Chippewa Falls passed away peacefully Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, at Gracewood Senior Living, Lino Lakes, Minn., with family next to him and under the care of Brighton Hospice.
Vern was born Aug. 14, 1929, in Madison, Wis., to Vern and Louise Pfanku. He graduated from West High School with the class of 1947 and went on to obtain mechanical engineering and business degrees (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and an electrical engineering degree (University of Wisconsin, Madison). He served as an officer and flew reconnaissance in the Air Force during the Korean War, as he believed was his duty as a citizen of this country. He married the love of his life, Sylvia Moen, in Madison in 1954. They shared the next 62 years together, and she was everything to him throughout their lives.
He was a brilliant engineer, avid pilot, successful entrepreneur, inventor and student of history and nature. He developed his own product, a variable resistant heating tape, and built a business, Clayborn Labs, Inc., around it. His products were used for research and development in the aerospace industry. The user would be able to create the needed temperature ranges in very specific areas as required by test specifications. Companies such as TRW, Rockwell, Boeing, and Lockheed were steady customers for many years. The heat tape Vern created would eventually become immensely important to satellite technology. As the current owners of Clayborn Lab have put it, “today nearly every satellite orbiting the earth contains Clayborn’s space tape, a testimony to its durability and useful life.”
Using his mechanical knowledge and creativity, he also greatly enjoyed coming up with ideas for a variety of new products.
He designed and acted as general contractor on the building of two large homes for the family in Carson City, Nev. and Valley Center, Calif., incorporating energy efficient features that would become common in the building industry many years later. He was part farmer, too, and cultivated a large, beautiful rose garden in California and an avocado ranch at his Valley Center home.
An adventurous person at heart, flying was another passion of his. He began flying in a rented Cessna 150 in 1967, got his pilot’s license that year, and bought a Beechcraft Bonanza, which he flew for 24 years. He logged over 7,000 hours total, flying all over the U.S. for business and pleasure. A lover of both seafood and fishing, he flew often to Mexico and would come home with an abundance of fish to stock our freezer with. He was never more excited than when he was flying.
Very disciplined in his health and fitness habits, he began jogging regularly in the early 1960’s in California and continued to jog until he was 85. He was medication-free throughout his life and rallied back from cancer and a broken back later in his life. He showed his creativity and love of health in the kitchen as well, creating concoctions of his own, such as corn pancakes, bear sausage, and even garlic milk shakes! We never knew what he would come up with next.
He was a wonderful role model of discipline and a strong work ethic for his four children. He taught speed reading to his two oldest children, briskly waking them (willing or not!) at 5:30 a.m. to military and college fight songs to start off the day. Good money management was also important to him, and he took care to pass that value on to his children. His son, Erik, remembers his dad asking him how he planned to earn money in the summers after third and fourth grades!
Vern’s hero was Ben Franklin, a self-made Renaissance man who was also a brilliant inventor, scientist, and writer. Our family will forever remember him for his Franklinesque qualities: his creativity, self-discipline, talent and his undaunting determination to make the most out of each moment of his life.
Vern is survived by his children, Kristin Pfanku of Reno, Nev., Erik Pfanku of Dallas, Texas, Lisa (Mitch) Brown of Lino Lakes, and Jeanne (Michael) Haase of Jaffrey, N.H.; grandchildren, Ernest (Morgan), David (Nadia), Heather (Scott), Trevor, Lindsey, Justin, Jacob, and Johnmichael; great-grandchildren, Mia and Belén; and sister-in-law, Judith (Paul) Thomsen of Madison.
Vern was preceded in death by his parents; wife, Sylvia; sisters, Jean and Julie; and granddaughter, Amanda.
A private graveside gathering will be held upon his internment in Forest Hill Cemetery, Chippewa Falls.
Pederson-Volker Funeral Chapel and Cremation Services, Chippewa Falls is serving the family.
Visit Pedersonvolker.com to express online condolences.