It was Sunday. The Lavignas were in the kitchen making homemade linguini. The tomato sauce they’d canned earlier in the year soon would be added to the pasta.
“The food was always a feature attraction,” recalls Bill Lavigna, D.D.S. ’68 of his youth. “It always included some type of homemade pasta dish, whether it was spaghetti, linguine, ravioli or lasagna.”
Today, the family still cooks the same traditional Italian dishes whenever they gather at the holidays. In between, Lavigna experiences as much of the world as he can.
Talk to Lavigna at any given time and there’s a good chance he’s recently traveled. His affinity for exploring new places and revisiting familiar ones has taken him to five of the seven continents, plunged him into many of the world’s seas, and allowed him to look down on domestic and foreign landscapes from a hot air balloon.
“Traveling is one of the things I thought I should do a lot of in life, so I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been able to go to many places,” Lavigna says.
Lavigna first dabbled in one of his longtime passions, scuba diving, in 1979. To date, he has made about 600 dives around the world. “I was never a strong swimmer, and diving gave me confidence in the water,” says Lavigna, who majored in zoology as an undergraduate at Miami University. “Fish life is interesting to me, and being in an environment that man’s not supposed to be in is fun and exciting.”
Lavigna’s love of the outdoors also sparked his interest in ballooning nearly three decades ago. He’s had a lot of early mornings and memorable flights since then, logging 800 hours as pilot in command. For both leisure or competition, his hobby has led him to Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Spain, Canada and New Orleans, “another foreign country,” he jokes.
When Lavigna has gone ballooning, some of his Gilmour friends have gone along with him. Many of them still are his best friends today. Michael Resch ’68, for one, joined Lavigna in Australia and New Zealand, competing against 78 other international balloonists in a race celebrating Australia’s bicentennial.
Lavigna and Resch also joined Gilmour buddy Paul Murphy ’68 on a bike trip through Spain’s Pyrenees last year. Lavigna says Gilmour enriched his life in many ways, most of all through those lasting friendships.
But the knowledge he acquired there has been just as lasting. “I’ve been fortunate. I’ve attended great educational institutions. It all started with Gilmour,” says Lavigna, who received his dental degree from Case Western Reserve University.
“I didn’t look at Gilmour as a vocational experience at all, and I don’t think it should be,” he says. “Instead, it was a process where they taught us the classic elements of education that we needed to have and to know and I think that helped me when I went to Miami.”
During his sophomore year at Miami, Lavigna decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a dentist. He established a successful practice that gave him the opportunity to know his father in a unique way – as a business partner. “I shared a practice with him for 12 years,” Lavigna says. “The experience was great – for both of us.”
Lavigna’s father started the practice in the 1940s. Even now, Lavigna treats some of the same patients his father treated. “This philosophy of continued care for people that lasts through generations is one of the great fulfillments of my practice,” he says.
He’s also gratified by the active educational role he’s played in his profession. He’s spent half of his career directing the hospital-based residency at Saint Luke's Hospital and now St. Vincent Charity Medical Center.
“It’s been a great opportunity to support my profession and provide needed services to indigent populations of Cleveland,” says Lavigna, who also is a Diplomate of the American Board of Special Care Dentistry and a fellow of the American Association of Hospital Dentists.
If he could do it all over, he probably would become an actor instead of a dentist, he says. But if his career enabled him to work closely with his father and educate others, it also allowed him to fully experience the world’s wonders from land, air and sea.
Lavigna’s travel goals have become more laid back as time’s gone on. Where he used to make about 50 dives a year, he makes only a handful now. His ballooning days also are less intense than in the past, when he competed in national and world competitions.
“These days,” he says, “I’m a little more relaxed. But I still like to have a travel focus, whether it involves a balloon, a bike, a dive or another adventure.”
What’s your favorite way to pass the time?
Having dinner with friends or watching classic movies
What is your favorite meal?
My mother’s cooking
If you could master a talent overnight, what would it be?
Playing a musical instrument. Second choice would be to become fluent in multiple languages, or at least one, probably Italian.
That I didn’t embrace music and art education at Miami when I had the chance.
What’s your ideal vacation?
I’m not somebody who lounges in the sun, so it would focus on an activity.