Biography - David G. Rognlie (1934 - 2013)

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The Boy Behind the Man Behind Blake Industries

David George Rognlie

By Fern Letnes




Dave grew up in a small northwestern Minnesota village (Climax, pop 250) settled by Norwegian Lutherans arriving for the rich prairie soil.

David R

 Dave when he was younger.

Dave graduated from Climax High School in 1952 as an outstanding student and athlete, excelling in basketball and baseball. He was captain of his basketball team when average height guys played the game! 

He enrolled at the University of North Dakota, choosing electrical engineering as a major but having no clue as to what an engineer did! Dave knew farming and small town merchants serving the needs of a farming community: three beer joints, one restaurant, two grocery stores, butcher shop, implement dealer, blacksmith, hardware store, post office, and gas station along with a consolidated school system and Lutheran church.

Dave financed his own college education by working summers as a farmhand and "bussing dishes" at college, along with a four-year scholarship from a regional lumber company.

Upon their graduation from UND Dave married his high school sweetheart, Marjorie Letnes. A job offer from General Electric took the Rognlies to various cities and positions. Ten years to the day of GE employment Dave struck out on his own, establishing Blake Industries (Scotch Plains, NJ). The new company was named after his partner’s wife's maiden name, but the partner quickly got cold feet and dropped out. A few major setbacks did not deter Dave. New opportunities arose with an introduction to Huber Diffraktionstechnik, Rimsting, Germany and a very close working relationship developed over two generations of Hubers.

Dave learned Business 101 at the knee of his maternal Swedish (only Swede in town) grandfather who had a successful local implement dealership. C.M., as he was affectionately known, ran it by himself with one mechanic who could fix anything and a part time bookkeeper. All transactions were verbal – phone and electricity were rare – along with a handshake. No paperwork; your word was good. C.M, knew everyone and knew who needed what. If there was a problem, he knew how to solve it, as well as the key ingredient: service, service, and more service!

You all remember Dave personally delivering your equipment, supervising the installation and making sure everything worked as required!! No matter how many miles from Blake Industries to installation! 

The Annual ACA meetings were his favorite, meeting and greeting, discussing new research, delighting in your fascination with the nail puzzles, plus socializing with scientists who were clients as well as friends. He especially looked forward to Judith Flippen-Anderson dropping by every year and berating him for his dated booth design, which truly was quite old and tired. Dave dressed in his uniform of blue oxford cloth shirt and khaki pants along with that wonderful smile – his best advertising! 


Al Larsen and Dave at the 2008 ACA meeting.

Dave’s planned early retirement at age 54 was on schedule for late 1989, but the death of his wife from cancer convinced him to continue on with the business. Friends who had been retired for years or were retiring always asked, "Why not retire?" His answer was always, "I just love what I do." Mainly he loved his life because of all of the scientific inquiring minds always exploring and experimenting with new frontiers of science. That is what kept Dave engaged, as he used to say, “There is always something new every day”, thanks to all the scientists who were clients as well as friends. 


Dave with Jeffrey Deschamps at the IUCr meeting in Geneva (2002).

On May 26, 2013 Dave realized something bad was happening and approximately eight weeks later he succumbed to inoperable melanoma deep in his brain at the too young age of 78. He left behind his only child Heidi Marie Rafanel, son-in-law Jean Rafanel and the “light of his life,” grandson Axel Tristan Dave Laurent Rafanel, all residing in Sceaux, France.

Rognlie  Dave with his grandson Axel in Paris.

ACA has honored Helen Berman, a great scientist as well as a long-time dear friend of Dave’s, as the first recipient of the Dave G. Rognlie Award (2017). Dave would say, "This is good!”