When enjoying soft serve ice cream, thank Joliet man and his dream
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org January 25, 2012 7:14PM
Peter G. Gavankar
Updated: February 27, 2012 9:58AM
JOLIET — Peter G. Gavankar, a pioneering Joliet innovator and global businessman whose work made that swirl of soft-serve ice cream just right, died Sunday. He was 74.
Gavankar achieved the American dream. He came to the U.S. from India as a young man, worked hard and went on to develop controls for soft-serve ice cream machines, Mr. Coffee and a “classified” item for NASA’s Gemini project.
Gavankar founded Rockdale Controls in Joliet in 1971.
“Even today, when you see the Taylor/Carrier crown logo on the soft-serve machine, inside there are several of my dad’s controls making sure your ice cream comes out perfect,” said Sonya Gavankar-McKay, Peter’s daughter.
Gavankar consulted with companies all over the world, and his business took him to such places as Russia and Malaysia. However, his imagination and innovation had a very local flavor.
“My father could have lived anywhere in the world, but he chose Joliet to be our home,” Gavankar-McKay said.
Mohra Gavankar, Peter’s wife of 40 years, was vice president of Rockdale Controls, and now has moved into the role of the president. She has received high honors for her service to the Joliet community. Peter and Mohra’s children have achieved national success: Sonya is a TV personality on PBS and other networks, and host-moderator at the Newseum in Washington; and sister Janina is an actress whose credits include HBO’s “True Blood” and Showtime’s “The L Word.”
Peter was born Jan. 21, 1938, in Kolhapur, India.
“He arrived in the United States in 1960 with only $8, one suit and a scholarship to study electrical engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering,” according to his obituary.
“The minute he arrived in America, he realized that people understood him. Both he and this country had a pioneering spirit, and he knew America saw a future in electronics. He immediately recognized that America was going to be the major leader in technological breakthroughs,” Mohra said.
He graduated from engineering school in 1963. In 1971, he founded Rockdale Controls Inc. as a solid-state controls manufacturing company.
Mohra tells of a meeting between Peter and McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc.
“Many years ago, Ray Kroc met Pete with an idea to make ice cream that was not hard nor soft. Pete, being young with a lot of bravado, said, ‘I can do that.’ He came back in a few days with a solid-state control to keep the ice cream at a constant consistency.”
In a statement, Sonya and Janina added: “Rockdale Controls is also a manufacturing plant. So these famous products have a little bit of Joliet and Plainfield inside.”
A private service already has been conducted. An opportunity to visit with the family will be 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Joliet Area Historical Museum, 204 N. Ottawa St. in Joliet.