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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fort Thomas Monument Man is Fourth Generation to Make His Mark in Stone

Tim Rolf
You may not know Tim Rolf, owner of Rolf Monument in the west end of Newport, but you have no doubt seen his work - around the county, the tristate, in area businesses, and maybe, if you know where to look, even on film. 

But first a little side story. When I  visited Tim at the shop I was greeted by Duke, the canine ambassador. He is all wags and doggy smiles. Turns out that Duke adopted Tim when Duke was a pup and didn’t have a name or a home. He wondered into the Rolf Monument shop in Newport’s west end one day and has stayed for the last twelve years. Tim takes him everywhere. He generally works as the grief therapy dog for customers.  

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Oh, and Duke speaks. Really. Tim showed me first thing. We have this regular dog a and pony show. And I am the pony. I tell people that if Duke ever gets lost he can say his name. What’s your last name? Then Tim peppers him with a series of questions. What’s that called on top of a house? What’s sandpaper? The greatest ball player of all time is Babe…?” And Duke barks out a resounding “Roff!” Which could be interpreted as Rolf, roof, rough, and Ruth. Duke is a smart and affectionate ambassador. And he is the second Duke. Tim’s uncle had the first Duke that hung around the shop many years ago.

Duke, the mascot and talking dog.

Now on to the main story. Tim is the fourth generation owner of Rolf Monuments that started in 1895. That’s 121 years and counting.  And as you can imagine, it’s been through a lot - the ’36 flood, expansions, and a variety of technologies. It began as Newport Cut Stone in a shed in the west end of Newport and eventually became Rolf Monument,  and is now the only remaining monument company in Campbell County. This interview took place on Tim’s birthday so I thought that he’d take the day off, but he says I like what I do. That’s important. And he does. He becomes animated when he talks about the projects that he’s done. 
The first three generations of Rolf men and the original Duke.

Tim says that  My grandfather’s uncle started the business. Then there was my grandfather. And then my father and my uncle Bill ran it until I took over in 1984… My dad dabbled in everything. The monument company was always the flagship but there were always these little offshoots…He did a sculpture for Middletown Steel, created works for Kings Island, Mason halls, and more. And now there is Tim, who also dabbles in some interesting things as well. But more about that later.  

In addition to cemetery monuments, Tim has created civic monuments around the tristate. For example, he designed and built monuments for Fairfield’s Veterans Park, Newport City Building, the 911 Memorial at the Peace Bell, the Northern Kentucky Firefighters Memorial, monuments for Cold Spring, the Beech Acres Firefighters Memorial in Anderson, the Marcus Fiesel memorial, and the Matt Maupin Memorial at East Fork Lake.  This [business] has a lot of soul to it. We aren’t making a widget…it’s personal. And it’s the last step in the bereavement process. This is the most permanent and personal thing that they will ever buy….When I go to these events and see the memorial and the families and to know that I helped with that is quite satisfying.  And there are more. So chances are good that you have seen his work somewhere. 
Newport Veterans Monument
Tim also etches glass, ceramic, high end executive gifts, and whatever else for businesses and personal wants. He etches addresses on boulders and pavers for fundraisers. He and his crew did some restoration work on Fountain Square. And perhaps most notably he created the grave markers for the movie Rain Man. And, yes, it’s on the showroom floor along with other pieces he made for the film as well as sculpture models that his father made for Middletown Steel and other storied projects. 

The grave marker from "Rain Man."
He really is an artist and an artist has to create. The average person might think of yard art as gnomes or flamingoes or those concrete geese. Not Tim. My wife, Kim, was in Manchester for a weekend so I worked on the piece and then it sat in the shop collecting dust. So when we moved into Fort Thomas we had a big bush torn out of the front yard and I thought, you know what, I think the Manchester would look good right there. And there it is. “You have to name your art. It adds value.” Then he chuckles.  I’m thinking about swapping it out someday but it has to be abstract.  That will give the neighbors something to talk about. In fact, there is a section in the shop that houses his abstract works of art that are either finished or in progress.  They would be the coolest yard art around. There is motion, intricate design, and real emotion in each piece. They will provoke a conversation for sure. 
"The Manchester" in the Rolfs front yard.
Sure Tim’s work appeared in movies but Tim has appeared in front of the camera as well. He played a convincing Bad Santa in a holiday internet commercial for Newberry’s Prohibition Bar last year. He was wickedly funny in that piece. He laughs. There is talk about a Bad Santa II this coming season he says. 

He tells the story of how one day a filmmaker walked into the shop who needed some cemetery props for a film. As that conversation progressed the filmmaker (also the lead actor) said Out of the blue the guy says to me, ‘I want you to be my general.’ Okay.  General what? So that is how Tim was cast as a general in the low budget movie, “Liberty’s Prisoner.” Tim recalls that He was persistent. But then our conversation went to place that no one could predict. The legend surrounding the movie is that the filmmaker sold a kidney to finance the film. The low budget meant no special effects so when there was scene where a doctor made an incision in the side of the filmmaker/lead actor, he really made an incision! The blood was not a special effect. Well, that is a filmmaker committed to his art. There was no CGI in this film!  Fortunately, Tim doesn’t have plans to quit his day job to follow that star.

Tim reflects about his career. The most gratifying thing is the interaction with the families. He really understands his clients and he produces a quality product.  I get the most satisfaction from the civic monuments and how it affects people. Tim makes one final observation. I want my obit to say “He was good with people.” Tim makes one final observation. I want my obit to say 'He was good with people.' 

Tim Rolf tries to capture a life or a memory in stone.  His job is just not to make a marker but to offer comfort and compassion during a difficult time. His wants to add dignity, honor, and a sense of beauty to the memory of a life.

Monuments can be built of stone or of deed. We visit the former but talk of the latter.  Tim has built a business and a life where both will no doubt happen. 

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1 comment:

  1. Tim is an awesome guy- always willing to pitch in an offer his time and talents