A rough road to success — the history of R.W. LaPine

Times were tough for Roy Wilson LaPine growing up in Cheboygan, Michigan. After his father was killed in a boating accident on Mackinaw Island, Roy had to quit school when he was in the sixth grade to help support his family. Many years later, Roy moved to Kalamazoo and went to work for the Kalamazoo Stove Company as a young adult making sheet metal fittings for residential heating systems.

Roy also farmed as a sidelight to make ends meet, and in 1934 Roy and his wife decided to move to a farm in Paw Paw. Roy’s family struggled to get ahead financially, and Roy got tired of going to work and doing the same thing day in and day out.

So one day by chance, Roy met a Mr. Phelps, who had him install sheet metal for his new heating system. Mr. Phelps was very impressed by Roy’s workmanship that he told Roy he should start his own business. By 1944 Roy was ready to do just that. He took Mr. Phelps’ advice and left the Kalamazoo Stove Company to start his own sheet metal business, LaPine Sheet Metal.

The new company was housed in a corner of a warehouse, space provided free of charge by the Paw Paw Wine Company. In the beginning, the company assets were an eight-foot work bench and a few hand tools. Business was depressed by World War II. Sheet metal was hard to come by due to rationing out based on what you purchased the previous year. Roy visited junk yards and dumps to find anything made of sheet metal that could be turned into duct work.

In 1946 Roy hired a fulltime helper and his oldest son, Lyle, during the summer when Lyle wasn’t attending classes at the University of Michigan. By 1951 the war was over, but the business was still struggling. Roy’s youngest son, Jack, graduated from high school and joined the firm. Roy finally reached a point where he didn’t know how he was going to pay his bills with what little work he had going. But one Monday morning a gentleman in search of a new heating system paid Roy a visit. That job proved to be a turning point for the business. From then on work continued to come Roy’s way. Work started to flow more or less regularly, and Roy was able to keep the young company alive and well.

When Lyle graduated from the University of Michigan as an engineer, he went to work for Boeing in Seattle, Washington. But by 1955 left Boeing to join his father and brother in the family business. Roy retired in 1967, and Lyle and Jack incorporated the company, renaming it R. W. LaPine, Inc. in honor of their father Roy. In 1989, the third generation, Kirk (Lyle’s son) took over as President of the company.

Today, R.W. LaPine is a third generation, full-service mechanical contractor serving pharmaceutical, medical, commercial and industrial customers. And it still serves its customers according to the standard Roy Wilson LaPine set when he founded the firm: “Quality thru experience, excellence by commitment.”

Roy LaPine
Lyle LaPine