Biography: WOLFE, Rowland “Flip”

WOLFE, Rowland “Flip”

Inducted: 1959 – Among Original Class of Honorees
Born: Dallas, Texas – October 8, 1914

Rowland Wolfe was a surviving twin, but he was somewhat anemic, so his dad started him young working out at the Dallas Athletic Club where Marshall Brown from LSU was teaching several classes. Rowland became another in a long line of gymnasts who became a multiple sports champion. He won the club championship in his weight class in both boxing and wrestling. Brown saw Rowland’s potential as a tumbler, and it wasn’t long before Rowland was doing tumbling passes that surpassed anything done before his time. This was about the time he received the nickname “Flip” given to him by a high school friend and neighbor. It has stuck with him through the years. After his competition days, his scientific research may have contributed more to the saving of American lives than even he will ever know.

Olympic Games: Gold-TU, Los Angeles, CA, USA, (1932). The standing photo is a copy of the official Olympic photo taken in the Olympic Stadium in 1932. Now it is called the L.A. Coliseum. Southern AAU Jr. Championships: Gold-TU, New Orleans, LA, (1929).   This was Rowland’s first competition, and he won at only 14 years of age. Southern AAU Sr. Gymnastics Championships: Silver-TU, New Orleans, (1929) & Gold-TU, New Orleans, (1930). National AAU Championships: Silver-TU, Springfield, MA, (1931). In this national competition, he stepped off the mat bruising his heel on his second of two passes.  The rules in those days dictated that if he continued and finished the pass, the point deduction would be minimal; however, Rowland did not complete or continue the pass (only three moves were completed), and, as a result, the prevailing point maximum deduction was made. No tumbler in the world at the time could match his very high double twisting layout, so his silver medal was all but assured even with the deduction. National AAU/Olympic Trials: Gold-TU. This performance qualified him for the Olympic Team, Los Angeles, CA USA, (1932). After winning the Gold medal at the Olympics, Life Magazine took him and Coach Brown to NY for a four- page spread showing his layout back with a double twist. Life used a new photographic technology that allowed him to make his tumbling pass while the camera followed, shooting numerous times at very high speeds. Also, his coach, Marshall Brown, was made Assistant Olympic Coach for tumbling, and, after the “shoot”, they reported directly to the Olympic Village in L.A. and continued training. Rowland only entered one more meet in New Orleans where once again he prevailed; however, ironically, the medals weren’t available at the competition, so he received his last gold gymnastics medal by mail. Education: B.S at Western Reserve U. that is now Case Western U. During his period at Western Reserve, he helped start a gymnastic team and completed a film about learning to tumble and taught tumbling as well. He always took the sciences classes that he hoped would finally lead to becoming an M.D. Post Graduate Dreams: After graduating with his B.S. in the sciences, he went to Ohio State where he continued his studies in science working toward a medical degree, but he wasn’t able to complete his M.D. studies due to lack of funding. Wolfe was trying to work through a stringent academic program that took several years and relatively high tuition and lab fees during the worst of the Great Depression. Numerous academicians fell prey to the economy of the day, dropped out of school, and made lives that went in many directions. Winning a War: Rowland went to work for Central Ohio Paper Company in sales, but fate intervened.  His life changed drastically during a visit to one of his Western Reserve Professors, Dr. Booth, a chemistry specialist, who was well aware of his academic talents and dreams.  His professor friend simply “ . . . picked up the phone . . . ” and cleared a path for Rowland go to work for the Harshaw Chemical Co. where he worked in analytical and research labs. When WWII broke out, Rowland saw his duty clear. He had had 3.5 years of ROTC in high school and immediately volunteered for military duty, but was told he’d be more valuable as a research scientist. So, he returned to his lab working on various research projects. Unknown to him at the time is that the last or one of the last laboratory projects he worked on was a major phase of the Manhattan Project that was the development of the first nuclear weapon. Of course, various phases or elements of the Manhattan Project were conducted in many locations, and those who did the lab research seldom knew much if anything about what the finished project would be. After all, 130,000 people were involved in the race to beat Germany in the development of an atomic bomb. The Harshaw Chemical Co. was awarded the Army-Navy “E” for Excellence due to their contribution to the weapon’s development. Employees received a diploma and lapel pin, and the company received a Presidential Letter of Commendation. All were receive with honor. Finally, as Rowland neared retirement age, the Harshaw Chemical Co. petitioned the draft board for Rowland to work in sales, and the petition was approved even though Rowland was still eligible for military service, so Rowland went into sales. Later, the scientific division was sold several times, but he stayed with the company in scientific sales and retired from selling scientific products at age 66.  Retirement: Rowland traveled all over the U.S. after retirement. He and his wife motored in a van with a group of friends, all of whom had traveling vans. They also joined a group that toured England plus they took a Caribbean cruise before settling down. They are now living in a retirement community in Texas. Family: (m) Jo-Anne Zink. Children: Meriell Bea, & Bradford Louis. Grandchildren: Kevin Schoenrock who graduated from Indiana U. and owns a computer business, & David Rowland Wolfe who is a graduate of Texas A & M and is currently completing his law degree at South Texas College of Law.

Sources: Interviews with Rowland Wolfe with an assist and photo from Jerry Wright, author of Gymnastics Who’s Who, 2005. Introduction, commentary, and formatting by Dr. Larry Banner, Web Manager.

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