Kenneth W. DeBaun ’49 Hon. D.Eng. ’95: Entrepreneurial Spirit, Campus Legacy
Today Stevens remains deeply grateful for DeBaun’s legacy of supporting numerous efforts to provide students with an exceptional campus experience.
DeBaun’s persistent nature revealed itself early on, when he interrupted his studies at Stevens by enlisting into wartime service for the Navy. Some students might have moved on from college after discharge, but DeBaun returned to Stevens to complete his degree in mechanical engineering. Soon he found himself in Marin County, California, working as a regional sales manager for Farr Co., a manufacturer of commercial air filtration systems. DeBaun suggested Farr manufacture replacement parts for products made by its competitors. When the company’s executives rejected the idea, DeBaun launched Servodyne Corporation instead, the first manufacturer of generic replacement air filters.
He always had an eye for ingenious ideas. DeBaun designed automated gauges that were part of ducts, freeing building engineers from slide rules and complex formulas to measure ventilation systems. After he learned about symphony grapes — a fruit created in the 1940s by a California university professor — he became the first to use it to make wine.
He would go on to cultivate many more ideas into new businesses, eventually founding and serving as president and CEO of companies such as Air Monitor Corporation: Air Filter Sales and Service; Chateau DeBaun Hospitality Center, Vineyards and Winery; Custom Vintners of Sonoma County; Debco and HOPPER Self-Storage Facilities; DeBaun Family Properties and DeBaun Family Investments. Ever on a quest for excellence and innovation, he earned multiple U.S. patents in the field of airflow and air filtration.
DeBaun remained close with his alma mater throughout his life. He served as a member of the Board of Trustees and was extraordinarily generous to the university, in ways that continue to help ensure a well-rounded experience for Stevens students today. A stroll through campus brings one past the Grace E. and Kenneth W. DeBaun Center for the Performing Arts and the state-of-the-art DeBaun Athletic Complex, which includes DeBaun Field. His philanthropy also included support for the university’s Aquatics Center, the Babbio Center Atrium, Stevens Annual Fund, Chi Phi Fraternity and the Chemical Engineering Laboratory.
There’s scarcely a place on campus that hasn’t been touched by his generosity, and he wouldn't have had it any other way.