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Since he was 15 years old, Robert A. Lefelar ’62 has been part of the adhesives business. He has been president of Clifton Adhesive, Inc., a company that his father founded in 1945, for 27 years. Clifton’s products are used for a variety of purposes, including escape slides on aircraft, rubber boats and rafts, inflatable products, rubber and metal bonding, and pressure-sensitive tape.

Lefelar describes Clifton as a boutique business. Shortly after he joined the company’s sales team, Clifton’s products found their way into the 1969 Apollo 11 lunar mission. Subcontractors charged with developing the space suit looked to Clifton for help. The suits were made of an airtight, coated fabric, using Clifton’s adhesives to hold the fabric together and seal holes left from sewing. The space suit adhesive is used today to manufacture escape slides for commercial aircraft. Clifton Adhesive is the principal supplier for this industry in the United States.

Aside from the space suit, the flag placed on the moon’s surface depended on Clifton’s heat-seal adhesives to keep the stars firmly in place prior to stitching. Clifton sold that market for nearly 40 years. The adhesive from the flag was also used to manufacture powder puffs for the cosmetic industry.

Even with high-profile clients like NASA, Lefelar is quick to point out his company’s emphasis on old-fashioned customer service. In most cases, Clifton manufactures a specially formulated adhesive for a customer and therefore does not sell it to anyone else.

Lefelar recognizes the environmental problems posed by his company’s mostly solvent-based adhesives, and he has devoted considerable effort to ensuring that Clifton complies with environmental standards. The firm uses products with a water base whenever possible.

A chemistry graduate, Lefelar credits his Lafayette education with giving him the tools to be a successful business leader. Chemistry Professor Bernard C. Marklein offered support and encouragement.

“Doc was a special man,” he says. “He not only was a wonderful professor, he was also like a father away from home to a lot of us. How to handle life’s problems and to face them with a sense of humor was the gift Doc left with me.

“Lafayette gave me the opportunity to develop confidence in myself that later drove me to be an entrepreneur,” Lefelar adds. “It would have been much different if I had gone to a larger school. The experience beyond the academics was outstanding—the athletics, the small-school experience, the ability to know almost the whole student body, and the cosmopolitan atmosphere were all a part of Lafayette.”

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles