Date: June 5, 1988
Location: St. Louis, MO
By: Joan Dames
Newspaper: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
David B. Flavan is the entrepreneur who paid more than a million dollars to have the Spirit of St. Charles built by a company in Utica. Ind., that primarily builds tugboats.
It’s far more than a rich man’s toy. It’s a working business proposition through which Flavan intends to recover his investment and also increase tourism in St. Charles.
Flavan said that when the Julia Belle Swain came to St. Charles several years ago, he made an effort to get the owners to make St. Charles a permanent part of its run.
“St. Charles needed a boat,” Flavan said. “It’s an old riverfront town, and it needs a boat. Also, the river up here runs through some pretty country. The boats that operate on the Mississippi from downtown St. Louis don’t have the great scenery we have here. And we have ample parking and the option of dinner cruises for those who want a longer excursion.”
When he failed to persuade the Julia Belle Swain to come to St. Charles, he decided to launch the new venture himself. He entered into a contract with the Utica company three years ago, and less than two years ago he took delivery on his new boat. Aided by staff from his Noah’s Ark restaurant-hotel in St. Charles, Flavan navigated his new boat back to St. Charles.
Flavan, who is a former Eastern Airlines pilot, said, “I get on a boat and all my troubles evaporate.”
He became a river rat at 14, when, with h1s 13-year-old brother John and a circular saw to cut the wood, they built their first boat for messing around on the Mississippi. Later, when he was married to the late Martha Vatterott, he built another boat, the Mary Clare, out of plywood. His sidekick, Ci Bamert, “built the second one out of stainless steel, and we used it for fun,” he said.
Flavon graduated from St. Louis University High and St. Louis University and has a degree in electrical engineering from Washington University.
“I invented a multisequence pulse code transmitter that is still being used and most recently an automatic steak-cooking machine that has three U.S. and one Canadian patent,” Flavan said. “It cooks a steak perfectly in four seconds, but it takes us 15 seconds to get it to the table. Microwave makes meat tough and tasteless. My method doesn’t, and we actually take the steaks out as people order them, so we won’t need a cook. The insurance company won’t let us use it at Noah’s Ark unless I run it.”
According to Flavan, there are many similarities in flying an airplane and captaining a boat
“A lot of the technology is the same – the charts and controls – but the big difference is that in a plane you are going 600 mph and on a boat it’s 13 mph. A day’s work on a plane once meant that I would get on the airplane in the morning and fly to Miami and Huntsville, Ala., from St. Louis, go on to Omaha, Seattle and Portland and then go to bed for the night. On a boat, I may go from St. Charles to Washington, Mo., and stop for the night.”
All the while Flavan talked, he was piloting his boat as the calliope played “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.” which, except for the age difference (Flavan is in mid-llfe), could be his signature song.
When not running his business enterprises or mucking about as the behind-the-scenes man in St. Charles politics, Flavan flies his amphibian Republic RC-3, which he coils “a flying boat with a hull.” He loves to take off in it on vacation to Africa or Australia.
“It’s slow,” he said, “It’s primarily designed to be used on the water.”
ln recent years, he has helped out Wings of Hope, a philanthropic group formed and headed by a local man, Bill Edwards, that flies medical help and supplies to obscure regions in Central and South America.
“I was flying one of Wings of Hope’s six planes last year in Honduras,” Flavan said, “taking doctors from the International Health Services into that country’s backwoods. They want me to go back, and I think I wi11 in February. One of the doctors I flew in was Dr. Knewt Paunska, a dentist and facial reconstructionist, and Dr. Paul Gensen, part of an old M.A.S.H. team. People in these countries who need medical help can die without it, because you can’t get anywhere in these countries without a plane. These people I flew in have been going down there for 16 years to help out in a program overseen by Dr. Miriam Deagan.”
Rumor has it that the fly-boy can’t stay out of the sky and that, despite his retirement, he is thinking about signing up again as a temporary pilot with Eastern.
Between inventing steak-cooking machines, building million-dollar boats and running a restaurant and hotel and captaining the Spirit of St. Charles, David Flavan manages to keep busy enough for three men.
Maybe that’s why he invented a water-borne minivacation designed to let the traveler slow down and see the scenery.