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Ralph Rohweder was born July 4, 1917 in Winona, Minnesota. His parents were E. Bernice Duffy and Arthur V. Rohweder, both of Winona. The family moved to Duluth, Minnesota shortly thereafter where Ralph and his sister Jean and brother James grew up. Ralph graduated from Duluth Central High School in 1935. He attended Duluth Junior College from 1935-1937 and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities from 1937-1938.
Ralph married the late June McClellan in 1937 in St. Paul, MN. They had four daughters: Gwen Cox of San Jose, CA, Marilyn (Lynn) Kniebuehler of Albany, OR, Juliet Hawksley of Warwick, RI and Robin Van Castle of Barrington, IL; and three sons: Ralph Rohweder, Jr. of Lake Villa, IL, Rex Rohweder of Leonardo, NJ and Roger Rohweder of Durham, NC.
Ralph's transition from a starting job into a professional occurred when a band leader came to the department store where he was working as a window shade and drapery technician. He had heard of Ralph and hired him to play trumpet in his orchestra. He had to start by sight-reading the lead trumpet part on a radio broadcast. No rehearsal. From the start he progressed gradually to playing trumpet in a nationally-known band.
The most money he ever made in his life came when he became the proprietor of the number-one jazz spot in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, The Depot. When, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and gas rationing was instituted business at the establishment on a lake north of the Midway District evaporated when people believed they could not afford to use their gas coupons for trivial purposes.
Ralph's father made possible Ralph's getting into the civic endeavors that became the main activity of his life. He was literally given a job on the staff of the Minnesota Safety Council and began his work with state bureaus of vital statistics in 1938 to learn more about causes of death. There were data on industrial accidents, and information was beginning to be assembled about automobile traffic accidents. It was not realized at the time that there were large categories of accidents for which almost no information was available. In one effort, Ralph organized a study of all accidents in Olmstead County, Minnesota where nearly 100 percent of medical care is provided by the Mayo Clinic. One direct consequence of that work was a program to eliminate causes of accidents in homes. That program has reduced the rate of home-accidents and prevented at least 2,200,000 home accident deaths in the United States in the past 40 years. This success led to a position as a consultant and editor for National Safety Council in Chicago.
Ralph continued to play jazz trumpet. A week-end job at a hotel in Chicago's "Loop" paid more than his full-time job at the National Safety Council.
Ralph first joined the St. Paul, Minnesota Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1939, where his fellow members included then 32-year-old Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen and Warren Burger, who later became Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. In 1942 he moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he became the youngest President of the Chicago Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1945-46.
Ralph devoted his inaugural address as president of the Chicago Jaycees to the fact that Chicago's laws relating to building-more than half of all municipal laws-were a collection of provisions serving partisan interests of particular industries and labor unions. For example, it was illegal to install windows with frames around the glass-even in skyscraper buildings. This meant that sheets of bare glass had to be maneuvered into place in "The Windy City." Obviously dangers and costs were excessive.
There was no way that a single civic group could match the briberies of the special interests. So a program was instituted that involved speaking engagements by dozens of Jaycees before every association, club or other group of citizens that could be found. Over a period of several years, a juggernaut of public opinion was created that overwhelmed the usually corrupt Chicago City Council. A straightforward, performance-type building code was adopted.
Ralph became President of the Illinois Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1947-48. During his term speaker-members of the Illinois Jaycees activated hundreds of citizen groups to force entrenched politicians to redistrict the state. The Constitution of the United States requires that congressional districts have approximately equal numbers of citizens entitled to vote. However, Illinois, in 1947, had the most extreme inequalities in the nation.
Ralph went on to serve the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce as National Vice President in 1948-49. As National Vice President responsible for governmental affairs, he led the Jaycees' efforts to gain adoption of the recommendations of the Hoover Commission to reorganize the federal government during the Truman administration. An interesting event during that period was a banquet held at Chicago's Shoreham Hotel, where he was introduced as a speaker by then-Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson. The only other speaker was former President of the United States Herbert Hoover.
Forty-eight hours before the 1950 election for President of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce, Ralph had received commitments from 80% of the committed delegates. Although he was one of four unsuccessful candidates for President that year, another of the unsuccessful candidates that year was Jaycee Creed author C. William Brownfield. Since that time, Ralph has been a stalwart member of The Crew of the S.S. Fellowship, a group of former national Jaycee officers formed in 1931 by founder John Armbruster. Ralph has also been co-Keeper of the Log for The Crew since 1995, and chaired the 1999 Crew Reunion in Washington, DC. He received JCI Senator #58184 in 1998 from United States Junior Chamber President Eric Seidel. He was inducted into the Illinois Jaycees Hall of Fame on May 31, 2003.
During the 1950's, Ralph was president of Safe Flight, Inc., a company that developed a twin-engine amphibian aircraft, and in 1956 he taught Miss Illinois to fly solo in one day. For a short time he took some classes at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Ralph was appointed Executive Director of the National Society for Medical Research (NSMR) because of the publicity his projects for the Jaycees in the Chicago area received. The function of NSMR has been to bring about public policies for maximum progress in biomedical science. During Ralph's 20-year tenure, every new local, state and national statute and every new court decision was advocated by NSMR.
Ralph married Pilar Magaņa in 1959 in Chicago, IL. They had three daughters: Alicia Norberg of Gaithersburg, MD, Elena Turner of Plano, TX and Sonia Wagner of Centreville, VA; and one son: Alfredo Rohweder of Oak Hill, VA.
Ralph moved to Washington D.C. in 1968 and settled in the Mount Vernon area of Northern Virginia in 1970. He served in the early 1970's as a consultant to the Health Services and Mental Health Administration. In 1972, President Richard Nixon asked all Federal departments and agencies to suggest technological initiatives for the new term. All aspects of science were eligible. Five were to be selected for implementation.
Two of the five adopted were proposed by Ralph, who was acting as a consultant to the Administrator of the Health Services and Mental Health Administration. One of Ralph's proposals led to the Emergency Medical Services Act of 1973. Huge numbers of people were dying from injuries and illnesses that could be fixed if treatment could occur fast enough. The problems to be solved required faster communication and faster transportation. Soon modern communications technology commonplace in emergency medical care systems. And soon helicopter ambulances that saved so many of the lives of military personnel in the Vietnam War were widely used for civilian casualties in the United States.
The second proposal enlarged research and development for prosthetic devices. The result has been new capabilities for millions of persons with physical disabilities who otherwise would have more limited lives.
Upon the formation of the U.S. Department of Energy Ralph became in charge of allocating fuel to domestic airlines. Upon discovering the corruption of his boss and others in the department he set out on a whistle-blowing campaign, with the help of 900 articles, a book and many members of the U.S. Congress.
Ralph married Mary Ward in 1985 in Alexandria, VA. They had two daughters: Christina and Mariana Rohweder, both of Centreville, VA.
In recent years, until ill-health intervened, Ralph presided over the Science Information Service, which afforded opportunities in the broader ranges of science. Clients included the Smithsonian Institution, the General Electric Company, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and famed inventor, Bill Lear.
Upon retirement, Ralph took up many activities at home and in the Northern Virginia community including lending his practical and mechanical expertise to the Aquinas Montessori School, Alexandria, VA; tutoring in science at Carl Sandburg Intermediate School, Alexandria, VA; auditing economics classes at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA; patronizing many political and scientific organizations; and writing political, social, scientific essays.
Ralph died at home in Mount Vernon, Virginia on Friday, July 18, 2003. Ralph is survived by his wife, 13 children, 21 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and brother.