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Daniel J. Shybunko, defense company founder, dies at 86

Daniel J. Shybunko, founder and former CEO of

Daniel J. Shybunko, founder and former CEO of GSE Dynamics Inc. in Hauppauge, died Oct. 30. He was 86. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Employees of GSE Dynamics Inc. knew the military parts manufacturer had won a new contract when founder Daniel J. Shybunko played the William Tell Overture over the public address system in the Hauppauge factory.

“Any time a contract would come in, he’d be the first one to get it and he would play this song from an Army tank [children's toy] over the loudspeaker so everyone knew,” said Shybunko’s daughter, Anne Shybunko-Moore, now owner and CEO of GSE. “Everyone would ask, ‘What are we going to make, what are the contract details?’ ”

GSE is among a handful of small defense contractors started by people with ties to aerospace giants Grumman, Fairchild, Republic Aviation and others. As a Grumman engineer, Shybunko founded GSE in 1971 in Farmingdale.

The company now employs 76 people working to fulfill nearly $100 million worth of military contracts, executives said.

“My dad loved making stuff,” said Shybunko-Moore, of Setauket. “He loved seeing a drawing and being able to produce the part.”

Shybunko, of St. James, died Wednesday of congestive heart failure and pneumonia at Stony Brook University Hospital. He was 86.

Shybunko was born on June 25, 1933 in Hempstead Town to Stephen and Helen (Lotocka) Shybunko. He attended Jackson Elementary School and Hempstead High School, where he graduated in 1951 after serving as class president.

Shybunko worked for Grumman in the summers while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. His summer work assignments including riveting, wiring and drafting, according to a GSE video from about 10 years ago. His father was foreman of the Grumman paint shop.

A couple of months before receiving his college diploma, Shybunko married his high school sweetheart, Laura Swanson, in April 1955. Together they raised five children. 

Shybunko, while at Grumman, served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, rising to the rank of first lieutenant before being discharged in 1964. He earned his professional engineering license during this period.

At Grumman, Shybunko worked as a structural engineer on aircraft design, ground support equipment and people movers, according to the video. He eventually was tapped to help Grumman’s subcontractors to better produce parts, which led him to found GSE with the blessing of Grumman.

Aerospace giants such as Grumman “needed better subcontractors who could take on and complete big, sophisticated projects,” said Pete Rettaliata, former senior procurement executive at Grumman and former CEO of Air Industries Group in Bay Shore.

“Dan Shybunko helped these subcontractors and became a subcontractor himself. In doing so, he helped build a sustainable aerospace industry on Long Island that can compete globally for business,” Rettaliata said Friday.

Shybunko retired from Grumman in 1978 to devote all his energy to building GSE. His children would accompany him to the office on Saturdays, learning how to cut and bend sheet metal and to do welding.

“He was very passionate about what he did,” said his eldest son, Daniel, a clinical psychologist in Lexington, Virginia. “He was very optimistic, always seeing problems as opportunities.”

The son recalled his father's advice to him and other family members: "If you don't enjoy what you are doing, if you don't have a passion for what you are doing, you shouldn't be doing it." 

Shybunko embraced the Grumman credo of respecting employees and treating them well. He enlisted the help of Suffolk County Community College to improve his employees’ skills. GSE was the first client of the Advanced Manufacturing Training Center on the college’s Brentwood campus.

“He was a pioneer in the manufacturing industry on Long Island,” said John Lombardo, the college’s work force training chief. “When in his presence you felt motivated to achieve goals that were unexpected.”

Among his volunteer activities, Shybunko served as mayor of Head of the Harbor village for eight years ending in 2002.  

Shybunko's first wife predeceased him. Besides his son and daughter, he is survived by his second wife, Carol (Fonda); his children Stephen, of Setauket, Donna of Westminster, Maryland, and Nora Holland, of Ware, Massachusetts; stepchildren Davida, Chip, Mitch and Russ Fonda and Karen Fisher; 11 grandchildren and one great grandson.

Visiting hours will be Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at Moloney’s Funeral Home, 840 Wheeler Rd., Hauppauge.  A memorial service will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at Setauket Presbyterian Church, 5 Caroline Ave., Setauket.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Shybunko’s memory to the GSE Shybunko Memorial Fund, c/o GSE Dynamics Inc., 25 Corporate Dr., Hauppauge. The new fund will support training for local manufacturing workers and entrepreneurship.

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