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.”
For more information: Sun-N-Fun.org