John Rothkopf’s Legacy

by | Nov 7, 2022 | Company

“Don’t write about me, write about someone interesting!”
This is what John Rothkopf would have said if we had asked to write about him during his storied life. If you had the pleasure of knowing John, you know the way he would enter a room—calling everyone by name, asking about their families, and shaking hands with everyone from the CEO to the custodian, president to production worker. What you might not know? John donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to various charities and helped countless folks who were short on paying their bills—all anonymously (he’d likely be embarrassed with just the mention of it here). Staff members at restaurants tell us that he was their best tipper, bar none—and that he genuinely and effortlessly shrugged off every “Thank You Soooooo Much” he was given. His mailman cried when he heard of his passing. His trash hauler came to his burial ceremony. John led his business the way he led his life—with the kind of generosity, attention to detail, and thoughtfulness many of us can only aspire to. John Rothkopf was the founder and the heart of the Rothkopf business, and left a legacy to his daughter Sue, son Mike, and grandson Stephen, that will live on for generations to come—carrying that legacy on is both a constant challenge to meet and an honor for this family. John created a company with a rock solid reputation, founded on a commitment to his customers that was unmatched; when he said it would happen, it would, no matter what he had to do to make it happen. His word was golden. The work ahead of us now is not to keep our promises—that’s a given for our family—but rather to carry on the standard of friendship and connection he had with every single one of our customers and their teams. To do so, we look to John’s history.

Formative Years of John Rothkopf

John was born the only child of Margaret (Cronin) and Roy Rothkopf on September 30th, 1931, in Kirkwood, Missouri, a train station town outside of St. Louis. Although he had lots of Cronin Cousins in his neighborhood, perhaps growing up without siblings is what gave him the ability to make friends wherever he went—a skill that served him through the rest of his life. John was the kind of guy you immediately felt comfortable around, who could put a smile on your face within the first 20 seconds of meeting you, and who would remember what you said, even in passing.

John Rothkopf, mother Maggie, and father Roy at “10 Mile House,” Roy’s bar, in January, 1943. The bar is now called “Charcoal House.”

John attended St. Peter’s Catholic grade school where he was a Boy Scout, and then Eugene Coyle High School (for locals, the school closed in 1960 with boys heading to the newly opened St. John Vianney and girls to Ursuline Academy). He had friends across the social spectrum, and was the life of every party. He never had much interest in schoolwork or sports, but from the time he was 11 or 12, he could be found helping in his father’s bar, making himself useful with a determination unusual in a boy his age.
Upon his graduation from high school in 1950, John applied to serve in the US Army Air Corps, but was turned away for his (famously) flat feet and a hip issue. Always working, he held a series of jobs that, while seemingly random, perfectly prepared him to eventually build the Rothkopf business into what it is today. He worked in concrete as a finish mason, as a bartender, and as a route salesman selling chewing gum. After marrying in 1955, he found his way into building and roofing products sales first for Celotex, and then with Johns Manville through the late 1960s. Each of these jobs further developed his already substantial people skills, gave him insight into the world of blue collar work, and honed his instincts for selling folks the things they needed in the exact moment they needed them.

Formative Years Of The Rothkopf Company

While John was in his formative years, so, too, was the company that would eventually become Rothkopf. Founded in February of 1938 by Fred R. Patterson as Prim Corporation, the company manufactured and distributed “Prime” cleaning fluid. Upon Fred’s death, the company was inherited by his daughter, Geraldine, and her husband, Russell F. Carlson, Jr., who was a purchasing agent at then McDonnell Aircraft. With that experience, Russ saw the opportunity to add O-Rings to the company’s product list to serve the many large OEMs with sizeable presences in St. Louis (Carter Carburetor, McDonnell Aircraft, and Wagner Brake), and in 1958, Prim became the R. F. Carlson Company.

In 1964, the headquarters of the company moved to a new location with a small warehouse attached… right next to John Rothkopf’s Brentwood, MO home, where he lived with his wife Peggy and three children.

Five years later, seeking a new opportunity, John went next door and asked Mr. Carlson if he needed a new salesperson—Russ had him apply on the spot (we still have his original application on file!). Starting in January 1970, John began laying the foundation for what would become his life’s work: relationships with customers, co-workers, and suppliers built on trust, results, and friendship. Russ passed away in 1976, and a few years later, John and a partner bought the company from his estate. John’s son, Mike, joined the company in October of that same year, and in early 1984, John purchased the St. Louis’ assets of the R. F. Carlson Company, leaving the company name with the partner in Florida and renaming the company we know and love today as “Rothkopf & Associates.”

The Rothkopf Of Today

With ownership of the company (and in his personal life), John Rothkopf had three absolutes he followed:

  • People First!
  • Always do what you said you would do.
  • Always be of help to your customer, neighbor, co-worker, supplier…(really everyone, no matter who).
John built a team of dedicated people to help him operate the company, but he himself would talk to every single person at every level, everywhere he went. As a colorful, fun, and open guy, he built Rothkopf’s brand recognition and reputation as the “go-to” solutions provider for high-quality precision-molded rubber components by running around shaking hands and knocking on doors. John never worried about the balance sheet or P&L, instead operating with the belief that caring for his people, his customers, and Rothkopf’s reputation would do more for the company than any KPIs or formal business plan.
He was right—over the course of 50 years, his outlook built a customer base who loved him for those same values. John Rothkopf was a hands-on, face-to-face kind of guy, always reaching out to and calling on customers until, at the age of 88, the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined him.

Looking To The Future

In all John Rothkopf’s years in the industry, he saw countless changes, both for the good and the not so good. One lesson (among many) we’ll take forward—the power of relationships. The technology of today’s world advanced incredibly fast, and with it, John began to see a growing tendency towards hands-off, impersonal transactions with clients rather than a relationship of both work and personal connection. Separating the people from the conduct of his business was anathema to the way John lived his life and ran the company he built. Our challenge now is to take full advantage of the digital era while building and maintaining the relationships we value so highly.

John Rothkopf died in February of 2022, earlier this year. With his passing, Sue, Mike, Stephen and the rest of the Rothkopf team carry the legacy of John Rothkopf on their shoulders and into the future—and we’re well prepared to do so. We have our world class supplier network of resources; a proactive approach and extensive experience; and a customer base of companies who have relied on us for decades. We also have John’s values: to always do what we say we’ll do, to always aim to help, and to put people first—to partner with engineering, purchasing and supply chain managers, not just in their roles as employees, but as whole people with interests, relationships, and values outside of work.

Looking forward, we’ll continue to work with our customers to deliver optimized solutions and the highest quality product every time. Thank you for taking a moment to read about our beloved John.

Related Posts