Jean Lavelle Receives NAPIM's Pioneer Award

By Robert Schwartz, Ink World Associate Editor | 10.15.09

When Lehigh University had a staff opening in its National Printing Ink Research Institute (NPIRI) in 1956, it did not have to look very far for the right person for the job. Help would come from right across town, when the dean of chemistry at Moravian College recommended to Dr. Albert Zettlemoyer, then professor of chemistry at Lehigh University, a young graduate by the name of Jean Lavelle.

Mrs. Lavelle, who had just received her bachelor of science degree in chemistry at Moravian College, was quickly hired by Dr. Zettlemoyer.

“Dr. Zettlemoyer was an internationally renowned surface chemist,” recalled Mrs. Lavelle, who has now been with NPIRI for 47 years. “He was the first director of the National Printing Ink Research Institute, which was started at Lehigh in 1946. He set a high standard and taught me how to work hard.”

Since those early years at Lehigh working for Dr. Zettlemoyer, Mrs. Lavelle has written more than 20 research and technical papers on a wide range of subjects, including rheology, printability, color, gloss, misting, pigment dispersion, surface energy, de-inking and environmental matters. Byron Hahn, technical director of Braden Sutphin Ink Company and a member of NPIRI’s board of directors, credits Mrs. Lavelle’s research and writing with having an important impact on the ink industry.

“Jean Lavelle was part of many new ideas and provided information and research that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise,” Mr. Hahn said.

Mrs. Lavelle is also a frequent lecturer at the NPIRI’s Summer Course in Printing Ink Technology and helped start the NPIRI’s Advanced Course 16 years ago. She first served as assistant director to Jackie Fetsko, and is now director of both courses. Mrs. Lavelle was honored for her efforts in 1995 with the Master Ink Technologist Award from the New York Printing Ink Production Club, and this year, she received the prestigious Printing Ink Pioneer Award from theNational Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM).

Research at Lehigh

Mrs. Lavelle’s interest in inks was first sparked by her love for science. With a solid education in chemistry and the knowledge that there was a lot of science to ink, she accepted the job with NPIRI. She worked for Dr. Zettlemoyer, who brought the best scientists at the time to conduct ink research at Lehigh.

“I came to Lehigh in its ‘golden years.’ I was surrounded by knowledgeable scientists and there was lots of money, so we could do basic research,” said Mrs. Lavelle.

It was during this time on the NPIRI staff that Mrs. Lavelle made significant contributions to printing ink technical literature. Though she has written on many ink subjects, her favorite topic is rheololgy with surface chemistry.

“I take a special interest in rheology with surface chemistry because they are the two most important disciplines that describe how ink works,” she said.

Yet, Jean Lavelle’s contribution to the ink industry was not all science and research. She spent much of her time making contact with the ink manufacturers and presenting them with her scientific findings.

“Jean is one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry in regards to the academia and science of ink, and she has always been very anxious to learn the practical part of the ink business as well,” said Stan Field, technical service manager, national accounts at Flink Ink, and a longtime NPIRI lecturer.

Mrs. Lavelle took her research and presented technical papers to such printing industry organizations as TAPPI, TAGA and the U.S. Soybean Association.

“Jean made a positive impact upon the industry by making contact with the ink suppliers and manufacturers and working for the government,” added George Bien of LPIT Consultants.


Thirty-seven years ago, NPIRI began a summer course in printing ink technology at Lehigh University. Mrs. Lavelle helped organize the course and became assistant director to Ms. Fetsko. In 1987, Mrs. Lavelle also helped start the NPIRI’s Advanced Course. She was a frequent lecturer for both courses, as well as a guest speaker for a number of NPIRI Technical Conferences.

“She’s a loyal, hard-working person, and she has worked on a wide variety of topics that have benefited the ink industry,” said Ms. Fetsko.

“Jean is a good lecturer,” said Mr. Bien. “She is one person who you could ask a technical question and she would always answer to the best of her knowledge.”

“Teaching has always been very gratifying,” said Mrs. Lavelle. “The kids are younger and smarter, and I find myself learning almost as much from the course as I give.”

With the retirement of Ms. Fetsko a year ago, Mrs. Lavelle is now the director of both courses. These courses, however, have not only seen a change in leadership, but also a change in sponsorship.

“The biggest change has been the influx of raw materials suppliers. They support the course now, rather than just the ink manufacturers,” said Mrs. Lavelle.

The learning process did not stop in the classroom. Many of Mrs. Lavelle’s colleagues felt they learned a great deal about the ink industry from working with her.

“Jean taught me about not taking things for granted when reading the viscosity of ink by conventional methods,” said Mr. Field. “Ultimately, I learned to go beyond what was given at face value when trying to solve a problem.”

Mrs. Lavelle taught lessons about not just the ink industry, but about life as well.

“Jean is a person who doesn’t let go of something she thinks is right. She taught me to never quit,” Mr. Hahn said.

The Awards

Despite Mrs. Lavelle’s hard work and dedication to the ink industry, she spent much of her time at Lehigh working in the shadow of Ms. Fetsko.

“A lot of people don’t get the recognition they deserve when they are working with a highly respected person, as Jean was in working with Jackie,” said Bob Bassemir, chief scientist emeritus of Sun Chemical.

Mrs. Lavelle’s efforts were recognized in 1995, when she won the New York Printing Ink Production Club’s Master Ink Technologist Award. She was recognized by the industry again in 2003 with NAPIM’s Printing Ink Pioneer Award.

“I was very proud of these awards,” said Mrs. Lavelle. “I was proud for the recognition Lehigh received, just as much as I was for myself.”

Many of those in the ink industry shared Mrs. Lavelle’s exuberance about the award.

“Jean Lavelle is a friend and professional that I admire,” said Lisa Hahn, president of Flexo Tech and a longtime NPIRI lecturer. “I was very happy to hear she won the Printing Ink Pioneer Award, as she certainly has deserved it.”

Ever the humble person, Mrs. Lavelle attributed much of her success to her colleagues – Jackie Fetsko, Byron Hahn, Bill Schaeffer, Bob Bassemir, Stan Field, Joe Carato, and of course, the man who gave Mrs. Lavelle her first shot in the industry, Dr. Zettlemoyer.

“My colleagues demanded that you perform and perform well,” said Mrs. Lavelle. “I couldn’t operate or do my job without the cooperation of these people.”

Future of Inks

In the future, the demands of the ink industry will be much more intense.

“People must be smarter,” said Mrs. Lavelle. “Already, the demands of ink film are much greater than the demands of the paint industry.”

The future of the ink industry, however, will not be without Jean Lavelle. Although she has a husband and two children, Mrs. Lavelle has no plans of retiring any time soon. In fact, now that she has finally taken full control of the NPIRI’s summer courses, it seems as though her contributions to the ink industry are nowhere near complete.

“Jean has taken over the summer courses with full gusto, trying to update things and taking command of the situation,” said Mr. Field. “One of her greatest accomplishments has been the summer courses, getting more people knowledgeable about inks and helping the younger people learn the business.”

Even though much has changed in the ink industry over the course of the years, Jean Lavelle is still hard at work right where she first started – Lehigh University.

“Lehigh is life,” said Jean Lavelle. “I am still very dedicated to Lehigh and the ink research taking place there.”

It is that kind of dedication that got her the success and recognition she has today.