Industry icon Donald Rohn passes away at 72
November 23, 2011 – Donald D. Rohn, an industry leader in communications tower manufacturing, passed away on Nov. 21 at age 72 at Riverview Manor Care in East Peoria, Ill. where he was being treated for an injury he suffered from a fall a number of months ago.
In the late1950s Don began working at his father Dwight’s tower manufacturing plant prior to graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Illinois.
Founded in 1948, Rohn’s primary product line was small residential television towers.
But as TVs evolved in the 1950s from utilitarian wonders to pieces of fine furniture art, coupled with speakers that were as large as the screen, the tower structures didn’t change.
In fact, they began to show considerable weathering as rust streaked sides of homes they were attached to.
Rohn was the country’s first manufacturer to see the need for galvanizing their towers and built their own galvanizing plant.
The extra hot dipped galvanizing production cost paid handsome dividends for the company in a competitive market as their sales increased dramatically, requiring the company to expand to 40 employees.
Although the company had grown by building small guyed towers, Rohn’s largest tower order ever, a major contract for towers for Nashua, New Hampshire-based Sanders Associates was sold in 1965.
Don told Wireless Estimator last year that the deal provided the opportunity for the company to consider other manufacturing options in the telecommunications industry and they moved quickly to capture the opening.
Don was part of the team that introduced the Rohn catalog, a catalyst for thecompany’s rapid growth as it became the largest tower manufacturer in the world for a number of decades.
The Rohn catalog was iconic in the industry and was known as the “tower bible”. Its wealth of products and industry information served as the basis for buyer and design decisions for many years.
Retiring as Rohn’s president in 1997, Don was an early advocate of climber safety and created a company culture that saw Rohn provide safety climb systems before it became an industry requirement.
“He knew that non-professionals were climbing towers and he went to great lengths to warn people because it was the right thing to do,” said David Brinker, Rohn’s Vice President of Engineering.
“Don truly put his heart, soul and life into the company and made it grow the way it did throughout the cellular boom. He will be long-remembered as a leader in the tower industry,” Brinker said.
Bill Carlson, President of Tower Systems, Inc. of Watertown, SD, recalls working with Don on numerous projects since the 1960s.
“It would be typical for me to be in the office on a Sunday and whenever I had a question, I would pick up the phone and usually Don was there to provide assistance,” Carlson said.
“We communicated more on the weekends than during the week. I respected his work ethic and he was the type of person that knew what was going on at all ends of the business.”
Competitors always spoke highly of Don’s business acumen.
“Don was a really fine individual. I remember meeting him and his brother Richard for lunch many years ago in Kankakee, ILL. We were competitors, but it was good to see that they nor we had three heads. I got to know Don later in the 90’s and Pi-Rod and Rohn came very close to merging,” said Myron Noble who was then president of PiRod.
“It is a shame that Don did not have the opportunity to continue to be part of Rohn. I always marveled at what great shape Don was in. He was a good person and he will be missed by many,” Noble said.
Born on Sept. 3, 1939, in Beardstown, Ill., Don was preceded in death by his parents, Dwight and Lela M. (Dodds) Rohn.
Surviving are his wife, Joyce of Dunlap and three sons, Thomas D. (Belinda) Rohn of Dunlap, Timothy D. (Malisa) Rohn of Peoria and Alan D. (Wanda) Rohn of Bradenton, Fla. Also surviving are five grandchildren, Emma, Kyle, Hunter, Kamy and Daniel; one brother, Richard L. (Dixie) of Birmingham, Ala.; and several nieces and nephews.
He was a member and Past Chapter Chair of S.C.O.R.E. and a member of Central Illinois Angels. He also served as treasurer of the Limestone Alumni and Friends Association and served as a board member of the Greater Peoria Family YMCA.
He was an avid volunteer and supporter of the Peoria community as well as being an avid Bradley and Illini basketball fan.
A memorial service will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011, at Davison-Fulton-Woolsey-Wilton Funeral Home in Peoria. The Rev. Jack Thompson will officiate. Memorials may be made to the Greater Peoria Family YMCA, 7000 N. Fleming Lane, Peoria, IL 61614, or to the Salvation Army, 414 NE Jefferson Ave., Peoria, IL 61603.