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Lab Coats and Hawaiian Shirts

Quality Control Analyst Larry Burkard celebrates 50 colorful years at CSL Behring in Kankakee, Illinois.

Man looking at a closet full of Hawaiian shirts
Photo illustration

The year was 1964. Larry Burkard had just graduated from high school and was thinking about getting a job. He didn’t have to think long. 

“My first boss, Darwin Schlessinger, called my high school chemistry teacher,” Burkard recalls. “He was looking for two guys to work who weren’t going to college. I was one of those guys.”

Five days after graduation, he went to work at what was then called Armour Laboratories, the company that preceded CSL on the Kankakee site.

“My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college, so I got lucky, Burkard recalls. “I didn’t think much about it. I thought it would be a good job.”

What was his first day like?

“I showed up and they put me to work. I did the same assays for years until they were discontinued. I also did HEPA filter testing. I remember working on Christmas Day one time to change out filters to keep production going.”

But before long he resigned to do a stint in the Navy from 1965 – 1969. Then he went to college full-time and got engaged. He returned to the plant in 1971 and would work at the Kankakee site for the next 50 years. 

You might think this is a retirement story, but Burkard is still going strong as a quality control analyst. He’s such a fixture that it was a shock the day his wife called to say he had an emergency appendectomy. 

" I work with good people. That makes all the difference. "

Larry Burkard in a Hawaiian shirt shaking hands with a colleague and with a coworker in the lab
Larry Burkard, in one of his signature shirts, greets a colleague in the hall (left). At right, Burkard in the lab.

Since he almost never misses work, recalled Jill Rieken, a former lab coworker, “We just thought he was in the cafeteria.” 

Burkard is the sort of coworker who is happy to meet a new face. On her first day in 1994, Cathy Moody said someone asked her if she had been introduced to him. 

“I said, ‘not yet.’ They said, ‘You’ll know it when you do. He will know your life story before you’re done.’ ”

Moody says everyone misses Burkard when he goes on vacation because he normally comes in early and gets everything ready for the rest of the team.

A little quirky, definitely memorable, Burkard describes himself as “200 pounds of rompin’ stompin’ dynamite.” He makes a regular fashion statement with eye-popping shirts that can be seen from a mile away.

Another colleague, Lisa Messier, also remembers meeting him on her first day in 1994. He taught her assays, a kind of laboratory analysis. 

“I learned them, but nowhere near as good as Larry. He was so patient with me.” Messier notes, “Larry loves to talk, but he is a workhorse – he runs circles around everyone.”

He became especially skilled at assays for a legacy product called ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), used to treat, among other things, arthritis and infantile spasms. The “legend of ACTH testing” was sought after by another company when they purchased the product. But Burkard stayed put.

In his free time, Burkard says he enjoys drinking coffee on the swing in his yard and listening to the birds. On Saturday mornings, he joins the guys at a local restaurant, where they solve the world’s problems over a cup of joe.

When will it be time to leave the lab and spend Monday mornings in the backyard? He’s not sure. 

“I’m going to work until I say the heck with it. I enjoy what I do, and I work with good people. That makes all the difference.”