Profiles of change: SUN ’n FUN’s Bob Knight

He’s been on the SUN ’n FUN board for years, but chairman for just 18 months. Robert C. (Bob) Knight is head of Knight Industrial Equipment (a long-time Lakeland Airport tenant), an airport board member and community leader. He’s been flying out of LAL since 1965. That A-36 Bonanza of his, which he calls “my lifeblood,” is on its fourth engine and third turbo-normalizer.

“I am a very active chairman. This job is a tester,” he says, noting he’s devoting 60% to 70% of his time to SUN ’n FUN these days. “Lites (John Leenhouts, SUN ’n FUN president) and I are in contact every day. We are both a lot more hands-on.”

Board meetings are now once-a-month affairs, not three or four times a year. He sees the board taking more control and its committees becoming more functional. “They’re gonna be dumped on with responsibilities,” he says.

The Florida Air Museum, a non-profit that gets most of its proceeds from SUN ’n FUN operations, still exists. Knight dissolved the museum’s board, however, consolidating it with that of SUN ’n FUN and making Leenhouts president of both organizations.

“We were operating like two separate companies,” he notes.

The museum will be renamed this spring to represent its new function as a learning center, although “Florida Air Museum” may still be part of the moniker, he says.

He’s fully on board with new concepts. “We are no longer a once-a-year venue. We’ve got tons of space and parking.” And that can be put to work year-round, he said. He believes that SUN ’n FUN’s expanded schedule can help “dig us out of a 10-year financial hole.”

SUN ’n FUN has been operating in the red, he says, but now “finances are improving.” Past building programs and other costs, including the 2011 tornado, meant SUN ’n FUN was “living on a line of credit.” The tornado dramatically proved that the organization “needs a nest egg,” he adds.

Knight also wants to “get back to the grassroots days” of the fly-in, but acknowledges that “kids today don’t relate to aviation’s good old days.” So he’s allowing the board to evolve through attrition and by establishing a new “Chairman’s Circle” of key local leaders — a source of potential future board members. That group will gather every three to four months for lunch or cocktails and discussion. The result: Insights (and support) from the community.

“Everything we’re trying to do is for education, but we’re a non-profit,” he notes. “Too many people have their hand out, not helping.”

Knight laments SUN ’n FUN’s recent image as a big, successful (and therefore cash-rich) enterprise, an image bolstered by past spending and image-polishing. “We need to earn more for important new activities,” he says. “We need more sponsors.”

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  1. larry maynard says

    I am, of course, just an outsider and not privy to what has going on at Sun-In-Fun in the past. But I must say that I have heard a ton of complaints over the last few years and it seems that Sun-In-Fun has gotten the reputation of being way to expensive for vendors and others. Why this is I don’t know except for the anecdotes but I have been to OSH for the last 21 years and I rarely hear the same complaints about OSH. Many vendors have said they were priced right out of participating. I’m gratified to hear that the board is taking a more active role and at least meeting on a monthly basis. I wish the board the best of luck in cutting out things that don’t pay for themselves and trying to get the flying public to be enthusiastic again. Enthusiasm for the event has been sadly lacking over the last few years or maybe even longer. I have heard a lot of people say they just won’t go back again after having been put off by the obvious commercialization going on. Something is really wrong when you can get the reputation of being money grubbing but still operating in the red.

  2. Don Smith says

    TANFL is the acronym that applies here. There Ain’t No Free Lunch. Goods and services cost money, real dollars. There is a large contingent of folks in the USA who seem to think everything ought to be free. It isn’t. If the current price structure is not paying for all that happens at Sun n’ Fun, the extra money has to come from somewhere. It doesn’t fall from the sky. Rather than up the prices for entry and other sources of income Pelton and Knight have leveled with the membership and industrial supporters: please help us our so prices won’t have to go up. That’s as American as Apple Pie. It’s pay your own way, so ante up for increased fees or make a personal contribution. Thank heavens for industries who feel like supporting Sun n’ Fun. I hope the members do so also. And, by the way, Freedom is not free.

  3. Ed Watson says

    It almost make me think that this is just part of our current gimmee gimmee attitude all thru this country. Everyone wants a free handout. Is freedom lost for good? I sure hope not, but it sure is struggling.

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