Go fast, be happy. This was Ron Ciaravella’s mantra, often heard by loved ones and co-workers throughout the course of his life. The late founder and owner of Dolphin Aviation, a Phillips® 66 Aviation FBO, Ron had a true passion for aviation that drove immense growth over his 53 years with Dolphin.
On July 19, 2021, the beloved owner of the Sarasota-based FBO passed away, but his wife, president of the FBO, Shannon alongside the Dolphin team and wider community looks towards a promising future ahead – and it’s clear, blue skies all around.
Shannon met Ron in 1991. Believe it or not, he flew her on a lear jet from Atlanta to the Indy 500 for their first date.
“This was my first introduction to Dolphin Aviation, and now, here I am,” Shannon said. However, Ron’s history with Dolphin began over 20 years prior.
Ron joined the U.S. Airforce reserves in 1969, the same year he would begin as a flight instructor at Dolphin Aviation. A decade later, he would purchase Dolphin, which had grown from two acres to 25 acres during his time as owner. This immense growth over the years does not surprise his friends and family, as Ron was instilled with an entrepreneurial spirit when he was young and continually showed this enthusiasm through the entirety of his work and passions.
“Under Ron’s leadership, our hangar space increased tremendously as well, and the number of employees quadrupled,” Shannon said.
Ron also helped launch several businesses through creating the Dolphin Aviation Commerce Center – providing aviation entrepreneurs the chance to start their business with his counsel and investment support.
“People continue to come forward and tell their story of how Ron has impacted their life,” Shannon said. “I received a letter from an FBO owner this week sending his condolences and sharing his story of his early days working at Dolphin.” It read:
Much of the dream I chased (and am living today) was a result of observing Ron at Dolphin Aviation. Spending those years at Dolphin, and watching Ron build the business, shaped my career as much as nearly anything else in my life. I also know that I am not alone, and that Ron changed many others lives in the aviation community. He was a true pioneer, and his spirit will live on!
Ron’s entrepreneurial spirit and drive for success also extended to education opportunities, something near and dear to him. Every year for the past 20 years, Ron sponsored five scholarships, looking for individuals who grew up with the similar latchkey background that he did. Called The Dolphin Aviation Scholarship, Ron gave away more than 100 scholarships to Suncoast teens, most being hard-working young adults coming from single parent homes. This generosity and passion for people seeped its way into business, as Ron cherished hard-working individuals and was often recruiting them to the Dolphin team.
“He always reminded me to do everything the right way, and that that was all that mattered,” said Josh Hedrich, operations manager at Dolphin Aviation. “He was an incredible mentor.”
Before coming onto the Dolphin team, Josh met Ron while working for Dolphin as a contractor building the hangars and offices. Ron hired him directly, despite Josh having no aviation background, and began teaching him everything he knew.
It was during these lessons that Josh was introduced to Phillips 66 Aviation and their relationship with Dolphin. A Phillips 66-branded FBO since 1981, Dolphin Aviation offers the highest grade of Phillips 66 Jet A and 110LL fuel, and additionally utilizes its aviation learning resources.
“Phillips 66 Aviation has so many avenues for training and teaching – the continue to go above and beyond,” Josh said. “We are incredibly grateful for our relationships with the Phillips 66 Aviation team.”
Shannon also recalls the relationships she and Ron made with the Phillips 66 Aviation team over the years. “Ron always thought so highly of them and had friends there too,” she said.
Some of those Phillips 66 Aviation friends were able to celebrate their friendship with Ron at his celebration of life gathering, which was held last summer onsite in one of Dolphin Aviation’s hangars. From planes, race cars and boats to cigars and music, the celebration featured everything and everyone Ron loved.
As Dolphin Aviation moves forward while remembering Ron’s legacy, the company has announced several exciting renovations, including the addition of six new hangars.
“Many major events come to the Sarasota-area every year, so Dolphin is always bustling with excitement with planes coming and going,” Shannon said. “But the coming renovations have our office even more excited for the near future.”
Shannon and Josh also pride Dolphin as being a one-stop shop, providing more than fuel services including flight training, aircraft rentals, car rentals, aircraft maintenance and several other amenities.
“We really are a commerce center,” Josh said. “There’s always new changes and challenges, which is what makes the industry exciting.”
Ron’s legacy continues to permeate not only Dolphin Aviation, but the entirety of the Sarasota-area as he brought joy to the many in the community that he knew and worked with. Welcome changes are coming to Dolphin Aviation in the next few years, and the aviation industry looks to the company with an enthusiastic eye.
“Whether it was a car, boat or plane, Ron enjoyed life’s thrills and shared this with everyone he encountered,” Shannon said. “We honor him every day as Dolphin continues to grow and provide memorable experiences for all who interact with us.”