Duane Rosenheim died on January 24, 2021 at home, surrounded by people he loved. Born August 31, 1932, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Duane was the son of Olive Molly Grasser and James Rosenheim. After James’ death, Duane was much like a second father to his younger siblings, though he himself was only 18. Graduating from Waukesha High School, he worked for the Ford Motor company until drafted into the Korean War. He saw considerable action while stationed in Japan, none of it military. Thanks to the GI Bill and to pressure from his fiancé Marlene Lutzow, he became the first in his family to go to college, graduating from the Milwaukee School of Engineering in 1960. Hired by Delco Electronics, he spent much of his career building guidance systems for NASA and the military, first in Wisconsin, and after 1972 in Santa Barbara. When oxygen tanks exploded on Apollo 13, crippling its controls, it was the intact gyroscope his team created that brought the astronauts safely home. (NASA gave him a small part of the capsule in thanks.) Later, he and son Shane both worked for Delco on a top-secret military project designed to make tanks invisible. (In the end, nothing beat covering the tank in branches.). Following retirement from Delco, he briefly owned a moving company – big mistake – and then joined Turbodyne Technologies in Carpinteria, rising to the post of Chief Operating Officer. Throughout his adult life he donated blood, delivered meals to the elderly, and helped support both friends and family when they needed a hand.
But what was he like? He was exceptionally stubborn, but quick to joke around. He had a jealous and bad-tempered Chihuahua named Mister who loved him, and him alone. He loved to gamble, and in the end probably made more money in Vegas than he did on Wall Street (for twenty years he led a running family poker game, but no one ever found his tell). He was a rock to his family (“immutable, if not immortal,” in the words of his niece Amy Van Zant.). He found the Big Bang more plausible than the Bible. He was brave. When, many years ago, the house across the street from his mother-in-law exploded in smoke, Duane, wearing just his underwear, instantly dashed inside, emerging first with a German Shepard, then with two toddlers, and finally with the children’s mother, just as the house became an inferno. He loved jumping off of the roof of his house into the pool, grandchild in hand, a habit he continued until he was 78. He threw loud backyard barbecues. When he said “the more, the merrier,” he meant it. But Duane was equally comfortable sitting alone at night on the patio, smoking and watching the International Space Station pass overhead. He didn’t care about possessions. He was more honest, and more comfortable in his skin, than anyone we know.
After his wife Marlene came down with dementia, he visited her nursing home every single day for the years that she survived. His kindness, his patience, his generosity did not depend on external sanctions or rewards. As he wrote in Confessions of a Depression-Era Baby, a short memoir:
And what do I believe? “If you tell someone you’re going to do something do it.” I have many times not lived up this advice, but it is the closest thing to a religion that I have ever subscribed to.
The memoir concludes like this:
I expect that the grim reaper will be paying me a visit ere long. I neither look forward to it, nor do I fear it. I have lived a blessed life, thanks in large part to the people I have dedicated this screed to.
Duane is survived by his children Shawn, Shane and Kelly Rosenheim, his son-in-law Marco Andrade, his dear friend Kerry McCoy, his ex-daughters-in-law Jennifer Zoltanski and Cassandra Cleghorn, and his beloved grandchildren Oliver and Jasper Rosenheim, Eve and Ripley Cleghorn, and Ava and Aidan Andrade. He remained close to all his brothers and sisters, and their spouses: Rita (James) Robinson; James (Amelia) Rosenheim; Jennie (Robert) McIntyre; Katherine (Walter) Van Zant; Emanuel (Carole) Rosenheim; and Victoria (Richard) Penstein, and to his many nieces and nephews.
He will be greatly missed. Donations may be made in his name to the Santa Barbara Red Cross.