Newt Zucker, the founder of and driving force behind Kalcor Coatings Co. in Willoughby, OH, passed away in April 2007. With his passing, the industrial coatings industry has lost a pioneer and a gentleman.
Newt was born in 1921, the youngest of eight children. His father, who passed away when Newt was just nine years old, had insisted that each of his children receive a college education. All eight followed suit, with Newt achieving both his bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan.
Like many men from his generation, Newt’s college years were interrupted when he enlisted in the army and was subsequently shipped to the European theatre. Newt later commented that one of the most moving events in his life was catching a glimpse of Lady Liberty on his return trip home. He said the ship nearly tipped over from all the soldiers rushing to the rail to see our statue of freedom.
Newt returned to Michigan after the war to obtain his degrees, and then began his career in 1947 at ARCO as a chemical engineer. There he met lifelong friend and colleague Bill Henschel, who, after his retirement as longtime director of one of Glidden’s laboratories, was asked by Newt to work as a consultant in Kalcor’s lab. Meanwhile, Newt’s career took him from ARCO to Jackroy to Garland, paint companies that were all located in and around Cleveland.
But Newt always possessed an entrepreneurial itch to get into business for himself. After a couple of failed starts, he established Kalcor Coatings in October 1961. The name Kalcor originated from the names of his two sons, Kalman and Cory, who today run the privately held business. Newt chose the name because he felt the company was an extension of his home.
When people refer to Newt, they say he was not only a gentleman, but also a gentle man. Don Mihalik, a long-time executive at Kalcor, recalls, “You couldn’t ruffle Newt. He always had control and was calm and so understanding; he was one in a hundred million.” One of Newt’s enduring mottoes was often expressed during Kalcor’s regular plant meetings: “We are here to divide our sorrows and multiply our joys.”
Under Newt’s tutelage, Kalcor Coatings flourished. It was probably the first industrial paint and varnish manufacturer to use the term “coatings” in its company name. The business started as a formulator of coatings for bridges, barns, roadmarking and residential use. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Kalcor continued to grow both organically and through the acquisitions of Merriweather Foam, Devine Paint and a division of Midland Dexter. The company made a strategic shift in the mid-’80s to focus, as it does today, on niche technologies serving OEM customers. Its products are used in applications as varied as automotive underbodies, construction components, cell phones, adhesives and even color cards.
A little footnote that exemplifies the gentle nature of this great man: Ever the optimist, Newt would plant a vegetable garden every spring. Nearly every year, the deer would invade his horticultural enterprise and dine until little was left of his work. After a moment of frustration, Newt would shrug this setback off, and then move on toward designing the fence that would keep the animals at bay the next year.
SIDEBAR: A Personal TributeNewt Zucker was not just a friend, not just an employer. He was one of those rare individuals you meet in life who changes you forever. Being associated with him was just plain magic. I shall miss him a lot.