Remembering Rowan: Industrialist's legacy one of 'innovation, humanitarianism and courage'

Henry Rowan, the multimillionaire industrialist from Westampton and the namesake of Rowan University, died Wednesday night. He was 92.

Rowan, originally from Ridgewood, Bergen County, was the founder of Westampton-based Inductotherm, the world's leading manufacturer of industrial furnaces and other melting, thermal processing production systems for the metals and materials industry.

He and his late wife, Betty, built their first furnace in the backyard of their Ewing home in 1953, shortly after he graduated with honors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His business grew into a global powerhouse and now has more than 40 subsidiaries and over 3,500 employees worldwide.

His death was announced by the company Thursday afternoon.

"It is with deepest regret and a heavy heart we announce that Mr. Rowan, or 'Hank,' as he was affectionately known in the industry, passed away peacefully last night at age 92. His contribution to his employees, customers, the local and global community, and the foundry industry at large will carry on for generations to come," the company said.

"Mr. Rowan’s dedication has greatly influenced others, and his personal challenge to make a difference has been highly successful. Mr. Rowan’s ambitious and innovative developments established less expensive and more efficient methods of melting metal. His achievements have made the foundry industry safer, more productive and more technologically advanced."

For his contributions to the industry, Rowan was inducted into the 2003 Foundry Hall of Honor.

Notoriously publicity shy, Rowan and his wife lived quietly on an 85-acre estate on the banks of the Rancocas Creek in Westampton.

He became an instant celebrity in 1992, when he pledged $100 million to Glassboro State College to establish an engineering school. In recognition of the gift — at the time the largest donation privately bestowed on an American college — the Gloucester County school changed its name to Rowan.

At the time, Rowan said that he wanted to make a contribution to the area and that he dreamed of the school someday rivaling his own alma mater, MIT.

"By building an engineering school in South Jersey, we can make a real contribution to the area. We built our business here in South Jersey and our employees are mostly from here," Rowan said in a Burlington County Times interview. "I think MIT is the best engineering school in the world, bar none. Whether we'll ever rival them is a matter of conjecture, and maybe of some hope, but if we can rival them we'll have really made a difference."

The college welcomed its first engineering class in 1996 and gained university status the following year. Its engineering college rapidly grew and now offers bachelor's and doctoral programs in five disciplines. Rowan donated another $15 million to the engineering college last year, bringing the total gifts of Rowan, his family foundation and business to close to $126 million.

Rowan University President Ali A. Houshmand said Rowan's impact was "incalculable."

"Henry Rowan's remarkable generosity has shaped the university into what it is today, and I have no doubt we will come to see he indeed has helped transform our entire region," Houshmand said. "The impact Mr. Rowan has made is incalculable, and he has touched many lives because of a desire to change engineering education and give a small school in South Jersey a change to prove itself. Rowan University has lost a wonderful friend."

In addition to the gift to the college, Rowan donated $17 million to Doane Academy to set up an endowment that will sustain the school in perpetuity, then-Headmaster John McGee said when the gift was announced at the school on the Delaware River in Burlington City in January.

Current Headmaster George Sanderson said Rowan's legacy is "tangible and visible" because of Rowan Hall, a campus building that opened this year thanks to an additional $5 million gift from Rowan.

"I think, more importantly, it's not just his resources but his inspiration that is really part of his legacy here," Sanderson said. "Students and faculty members certainly knew Mr. Rowan well. He visited campus fairly frequently in his younger days, and certainly his life story is an inspiration to all of us."

Rowan and the Henry M. Rowan Foundation have donated to several other organizations in South Jersey and beyond, including recent contributions to the Williamson College of the Trades in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and the South Jersey chapter of the Boy Scouts of America. His donations to the Scouts funded the construction of the chapter's original Westampton headquarters in the 1980s and a subsequent 2014 donation funded its expansion.

Besides philanthropy, Rowan had a passion for sailing, and he once skippered a 22-foot sailboat to victory in a world championship race in San Diego. He also competed in the 1992 Olympic sailing trials in Miami.

Another passion was flying. Rowan, a veteran of the Army Air Corps, graduated from B-17 pilot training just as World War II ended. He later became a regular pilot of Inductotherm's fleet of corporate aircraft, based at a small strip near the Westampton headquarters, and is a member of the Aviation Hall of Fame.

In 1995, Rowan published his autobiography, "The Fire Within."

Word of Rowan's passing produced an outpouring of condolences and praise for the late industrialist from officials in education, business and politics.

Gov. Chris Christie called him "one of the greatest philanthropists of our time," and said his vision and commitment to higher education "has had and will continue to have a profound impact on the State of New Jersey."

"He has made a difference in the lives of individual students and in our state," Christie said.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Rowan's investment "touched every part of the state" and has improved education and kept students in New Jersey.

State Sen. Diane Allen, who has known Rowan and his family for decades, described him as a "fascinating man — staid industrialist, yet passionate philanthropist; internationally successful businessman, yet ardent supporter of education in New Jersey."

"Hank and his family have set the bar so high when it comes to giving back to the people of this area. He will be greatly missed, but I know his family will continue his legacy of making such a difference," Allen said.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton, a Rowan University alumnus and former trustee, said Rowan's legacy would be remembered for generations.

"The footprint that he cast as an industrialist and a philanthropist has created a legacy that will endure for a long time. I am privileged to have been one of the many whose life was impacted by his tremendous generosity," Singleton said.

Paul Drayton, president of Rowan College at Burlington County, said the entire college community was saddened by the loss. The college took on the Rowan name last summer as part of a new partnership with the university to allow the community college's graduates to seamlessly transfer into Rowan University programs.

Rowan College at Gloucester County has a similar agreement.

"Rowan College at Burlington County is deeply saddened by the loss of our friend Henry Rowan, and we offer our sympathy to his family and friends," Drayton said. "Mr. Rowan’s legacy grows beyond the fact that three outstanding higher-education institutions bear his name, but more importantly by the countless number of students in Southern New Jersey who have access to better educational opportunities because of his generosity."

Inductotherm officials said Rowan would be remembered best for his "innovation, humanitarianism and courage."

"His contributions continue to promote change. His employees, both past and present, are proud to have known him, and they continue to carry on the core values he has instilled in each of us. Mr. Rowan once stated, 'I want to leave Inductotherm in a position to continue and to grow. The most excitement I’ve had is to take a little company and help them grow into a leading world company,' " the company said.

Rowan was predeceased by his first wife, Betty, and two sons, James and David. He is survived by his wife, Lee; his daughter, Virginia; his son-in-law, Manning J. Smith III, and two grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held in January. Rowan University announced that it will also hold a memorial service on its Glassboro campus.


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