It’s a national tragedy that too many young men these days lack father figures, role models or any sort of guiding hand. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 15 million U.S. children, or one in three, live without a father. In 1960, just 11 percent of American children lived in homes without fathers.

I have been very fortunate in my life. I have had many role models. I have a father and an uncle from whom I learned honesty, hard work and diligence. I had a high school English teacher who put me on a career path and taught me more about writing in one year than I learned in four years at college. And, I had Don Hegland, who died July 21 at age 77.

A former NASA engineer, Don was chief editor of ASSEMBLY from 1985 to 2009, and it was my privilege to work with him for 12 of those years.

Staying at any job for a quarter century seems like an achievement all by itself. (According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure for any job is just 4.2 years.) Lasting 24 years in the tumultuous world of B2B publishing is an eternity. (Anyone remember New Steel, Robotics World, Office Products Dealer, Industrial Paint & Powder orCircuiTree?)

During his tenure, Don shepherded ASSEMBLY through five ownership changes, two name changes and six design changes. When Don took the helm, ASSEMBLY was published just 10 times annually. Today, the magazine is published 13 times annually, and the ASSEMBLY brand encompasses a Web site that is updated daily, a weekly e-newsletter, webinars, social media, and a stand-alone trade show and technical conference. It is no exaggeration to say that ASSEMBLY would not be where it is today without him.

I came to ASSEMBLY in February 1997 after a 10-year stint at a medical news magazine. I knew little about manufacturing or automation, and I knew even less about the people and companies important to our specific niche of manufacturing. Don showed me the lay of the land. I could always count on him to thoroughly (and patiently) explain a unit of measurement, an assembly process or even something as basic as torque or electricity. (Unlike Don, I do not have a master’s degree in physics.)

But the most important thing I learned from Don has nothing to do with manufacturing or technology. It’s this: Journalism is a relationship business. Don was the face of ASSEMBLY, and he relished that role. He was passionate about the magazine, and he was dedicated to serving the community of assembly technology suppliers. To Don, the people in our industry were more than just customers or sources, they were friends.

 So to you, ASSEMBLY’s readers and customers, I pledge to carry on that tradition. And Don, wherever you are, rest in peace, Old Man. You will be missed.