His name occupies a place of honor at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, but Paul Laufman said the award he received Friday night is even better.
Laufman, who arrived in Longview last week, was inducted into the R.A. Long High School Hall of Fame with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
“It was wonderful,” he said Saturday. “I’ve had some awards throughout my career, but there’s nothing like receiving recognition from your roots. It’s so humbling. The Smithsonian Wall of Honor was a really neat one, but I’ll take this one over that.”
Laufman, who graduated from RAL in 1956, attended Lower Columbia College and graduated as a mechanical engineer from Washington State University in 1961, describes himself as “an average student who had to work at it.”
But he followed his passion and entered “this new field of rockets,” which led to a career in the aerospace industry that still gives him a thrill.
“There’s nothing like igniting a rocket, especially with people on it,” Laufman said Saturday during lunch with old friends at the Monticello Hotel.
Friday morning, Laufman began his hometown visit with an assembly at his alma mater.
“Find your passion and strive to excel,” he told the students. “Enjoy what you do.”
He advised them to budget their money, time and physical assets; keep their integrity; maintain their humility; and have the right attitude.
“I don’t care if you’re handing me a hamburger or pumping gas or sending a man to the moon, attitude is what will make you successful,” he said.
His friend Ed Laulainen, who watched from the back of the auditorium, said Saturday, “I think that last (encouragment) is what really got through to them.”
Bill Ammons agreed. “You gave the kids a real incentive to say, ‘Keep on going.’ ”
After his talk, Laufman was swarmed like a rock star by students clamoring to pose with him for photos.
R.A. Long sophomore Katy Jones said it was “interesting to listen to someone involved in history.”
Classmate James Martin chimed in, “And he actually went to our own school!”
“And said he was ‘an average student,’ ” Katy finished.
Laufman said he visited the RAL science club, and he approves of the current emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math.
“As an employer, we had a hard time find U.S. citizens who graduated in engineering,” said Laufman, who co-founded United Paradyne Corporation in Santa Maria, Calif. The company delivers rocket fuel and provides support for U.S. and international aerospace projects. Laufman retired from the corporation’s day-to-day operations in 2004.
He’ll speak at several Kelso schools today, address the Lions Club on Tuesday, deliver a couple of lectures at Washington State University in April and speak at the WSU mechanical engineering commencement before returning to Longview to speak at more schools, he said.
He’s offering more than words, though. Laufman said he plans to endow a scholarship at LCC in the names of himself and his wife Marlene, whom he met while they were students there.
“She was the prettiest cheerleader at LCC,” he said.