Ralph Rudolph, Founder of Sheboygan based Rockline Industries passed away peacefully in his sleep at 1:30 AM, Sunday 22 JAN at St. Nicholas Hospital.
A resident of the Landmark Senior Living Center in Sheboygan, Rudolph is survived by his wife Clare, 4 children, Robert (Cindy) of Springdale, AR, Renee (Mike) of Milwaukee, Randy (Mary) of Crystal Lake and Richard (Paula) of Sheboygan, 14 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild.
Born in Leipzig, Germany on October, 21, 1922, Rudolph was the son of the late Walter and Lizbeth Rudolph. After completing his education, Rudolph was inducted into the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) in 1940. He flew a Messerschmitt ME 109 in combat from 1941 until being shot down over Holland on February 26, 1945. Rudolph survived the crash, was captured and sent to England as a Prisoner of War. At the end of the war, Leipzig was occupied by Russian troops and Rudolph was unable to return home. He remained in England working a variety of temporary labor jobs until a relative was able to sponsor his immigration to the US.
Upon his arrival, Rudolph initially settled in Minneapolis. There he met his wife Clare, whom he married on June 9, 1951. In 1953, Rudolph successfully completed the requirements for US citizenship and took the oath of allegiance. In Minneapolis, his jobs ranged from janitor to sewing machine mechanic to selling freezers door to door. Along the way, he acquired training in plastic molding and electroplating. To learn the business customs of his adopted country, he joined the Minneapolis Jaycees.
While in the plastic industry, Rudolph met a Manitowoc business owner who recruited him to relocate to Plymouth. There he worked to develop the molding and electroplating business for the Douglas Company, a major producer of the tap markers used to identify different beer spigots in taverns. Rudolph left Douglas to work for the Gilson roto-tiller factory in Plymouth, later returning to Douglas as Vice-President of Sales. When Douglas was sold, Rudolph lost his job and found employment with the West Bend Company eventually joining their Rockline Division. Subsequently, West Bend was sold to Dart Industries, a Los Angeles conglomerate. Dart developed a restructuring plan that included shuttering the Rockline Division and eliminating all jobs. Unemployed at 54, Rudolph gained the support of his wife to mortgage everything they owned. Using this collateral, they made Dart an offer to buy Rockline as an alternative to a shutdown. Dart accepted and Rockline Industries was born as an independent company in 1976. Originally located in Plymouth, the company moved to Sheboygan to gain space for expansion. It has remained headquartered in Sheboygan ever since.
Besides building a local business, Rudolph was an active volunteer in many local activities in his original adopted home town of Plymouth. Rudolph was an early member of the Plymouth Ski Club. That group arranged the donation of Nutt Memorial Ski Hill to the City of Plymouth. The group also provided the labor to add the original rope tows, lights and warming shelter. Rudolph served as a volunteer committee member for the Boy Scouts of America as well as being a volunteer usher and committee member for St. John the Baptist Catholic Parish in Plymouth. He was a member of the German-American Heritage Club and was honored by that group for his contribution to growing a business and jobs in his adopted home.
Prior to his death, Rudolph lived in Plymouth, Crystal Lake, Elkhart Lake and most recently Sheboygan. Together with Clare, the pair was able to travel the world before Ralph became incapacitated. A final request was that Ralph’s obituary include his frequently stated belief that a story like his could only happen in America and symbolized all that was best of the country he grew to love.
Funeral Mass will be held on Friday morning (January 27th) at 11:30 A.M. at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Plymouth. Very Rev. Dennis Van Beek, pastor of the church will officiate. Cremation will follow the services and inurnment will be in the Parish Cemetery. Friends may call at the Suchon Funeral Home in Plymouth from 4:00 – 8:00 P.M. on Thursday, and also at CHURCH on Friday morning from 10:30 A.M. until the time of services.
The Rudolph family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be made to local chapters of the St. Vincent DePaul Society or the American Diabetes Association. Persons overseas wishing to remember Ralph are requested to direct their donation to a similar local organization.
The Suchon Funeral Home and Cremation Services are serving his family. For online condolences please visit www.suchonfh.com.