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Butler Grad Changes Fluorescent Safety Industry

Butler Automotive Student holds glow sticks
Published: Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

Richard Hopkins, Butler student, helps to develop life-saving fluorescent strips used in buildings.

Richard Hopkins, 36, didn’t expect to be on the cutting edge of an industry. After dropping out of high school, Hopkins drifted from job to job. Eventually, at 23, he received his GED – but he kept drifting.

Five years ago, on Mother’s Day, Hopkins made a promise that affected his life and the lives of those around him. Hours before his grandmother died, Hopkins held her frail hand and agreed to her dying wish – that he attend college. Feeling apprehensive, Hopkins chose to dip his feet in. He started with a certificate program in Auto Collision Repair from Butler Community College.

“I decided that I knew how to make cars go fast, but I didn’t know how to make them look pretty,” Hopkins said. This father of three attended classes all morning and quickly learned the ins and outs of industrial painting. In addition to school and raising a family, he continued to work fulltime.

Before Hopkins received his certificate, he had a new job lined up – but it had nothing to do with cars. He went to work for Balco, an architectural building product manufacturer in Wichita.

After 9/11, safety experts discovered that many people used the Photoluminescent (fluorescent) paint on the steps to help them orient themselves and reach safety during a fire or power outage. The fluorescent paint evolved into painted strips that became a part of the building code in many locations.

Balco was importing glow-in-the-dark strips from overseas, fitting them to the appropriate materials and shipping them out both at home and abroad, including to New York City, Seattle, China and Dubai.

Hopkins realized that he could manufacture the paint in the states instead of buying products from overseas. Soon he was back at Butler talking to his auto teacher, and then he was speaking with the paint representative he had worked with at school. After months and months of work, he perfected the correct color, texture and finish.

“We were fortunate enough to come across Richard,” said Balco President and CEO Ronnie Leonard. “Richard was instrumental in helping us develop the product we have today. He took charge of the production process; he took ownership.”

Soon Hopkins was moved into a lead position.

“I love where I work. Knowing that I’m doing something to help save someone else’s life makes me feel good,” Hopkins said. “Even though they are just stepping on it.”

Remembering his promise to his grandmother, Hopkins continued to come to Butler at night and take courses toward his associate’s degree.

He graduates from Butler on Saturday.

“Butler helped me with my career. The teachers are awesome,” Hopkins said. “I never would have pictured that I could turn my life around and be where I am at now. This has been a life lesson for my children.”