Donor Spotlight: Robert Rothkopf '67, M.S. '73
By Tony Scott

bob rothkopfRobert Rothkopf '67, M.S. '73

Before coming to NIU, Robert Rothkopf, ’67, M.S. ’73, had plans to become a veterinarian, entering as a freshman not at NIU, but at the University of Missouri.

“That dream was shattered two years later when I wasn’t selected as one of the 30 members of the 1965 vet class,” he recalled. “I quickly changed my major to business and began my studies at NIU.”

After graduating with Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in management from NIU, Rothkopf went on to have a successful business career, eventually leading three different companies as president.

He never forgot his alma mater, though, and has given back to NIU, including establishing the Robert and Catherine Rothkopf Leadership Scholarship, named for him and his wife of nearly 22 years. At least 15 students have received scholarships since the endowment was created in 2010.

Born in Evansville, Indiana, Rothkopf attended high school in St. Louis, Missouri.

“My father worked for Chrysler, and we moved several times in his career, which eventually brought us up to Rockford, Illinois, where he then worked at the Belvidere assembly plant,” he said.

Rothkopf’s first job was at the Belvidere Chrysler plant. 

“My dad helped me get this job and I was assigned to the tool crib handing out tools to the workers,” he said. “This job worked out well for me since I was able to use some of my free time at work to study and prepare for my classes at NIU. I was selected to be in the first management training class at Chrysler, and this opened more doors of opportunity for me to understand the business world.”

Rothkopf was married to his first wife, Pat, when they moved to DeKalb in 1965 to begin his academic career at NIU. Pat passed away in 2001.

“When I arrived at NIU in 1965 at the age of 20, I was recently married, all our possessions were loaded in a 4x6 U-Haul trailer, and we moved into a one-bedroom apartment on Twombly Road at Suburban Estates,” he said. “For the next eight years my routine was non-stop working full- time, attending classes full-time and sleeping.”

Rothkopf said during his NIU years, he wasn’t involved in extracurricular activities because he was so busy, but he received a first-class education in business and management. 

“My college life was dull and routine, but I received a great education at NIU, and my instructors all were focused on the students, and I remember a lot of them fondly as they gave me the tools to succeed later in my career,” he said. “My favorite professor at the time was Dr. Ralph Novak who took an interest in me and helped me interact with other business associates in my senior year and with my master’s studies.”

After graduating, Rothkopf said he made a promise to himself that if he ever had success in life, he would do all he could to give back to NIU, and to help fellow Huskies have a mentor that they could trust and depend on for advice.

“My life in business was focused on the fastener manufacturing industry and I was able to move up fast in this environment becoming president of Camcar Textron in Rockford, Illinois, at the age of 41,” he said. “Over the next 40 years, I was president of three different companies.  I like to point out that I did not start out as president of any of these companies, but had to earn this role as I moved along in my career.”

He came back to campus in the 1980s to give a commencement address and later decided to help out even more at his alma mater.

“I was asked to give the commencement address at the College of Business graduation ceremony in 1987 at the Holmes Student Center,” he said. “I remember driving home later and saying to myself that I was not really invested in NIU, as I had contributed less than $1,000 to the university up to that point.  I vowed then that I would step up my contributions and my support to NIU, and since then I have striven to be the best alumnus I can be.  When I am asked to help NIU I am there to do whatever is required.”

Rothkopf has taught NIU students and been a mentor to those going into the business world.

“After I retired, I asked the dean of the College of Business, Denise Schoenbachler, if I could teach classes in leadership,” he said. “She agreed, and for the next eight years I had the privilege to teach and interact with some very bright and talented students. Even years later I am still in touch with many of these former students as they check in with me and let me know how their own career is progressing. My goal was to provide all my students with the confidence to be anything they aspire to in their lives. I always referred to myself as ‘average Bob’ to let them know that anyone with the desire and ambition can achieve great things in their career.”

Rothkopf encourages other alumni to give back to NIU and to help students in any way they can.

“I would ask that my fellow Huskies consider building their own legacy with NIU, whether it is with the College of Business or any other NIU college,” he said. “I always say that you cannot outgive NIU. When you give and contribute, NIU always seems to find ways to give back to you. My awards from NIU are more than what my wife and I have contributed to NIU. Since that 1987 vow to up my giving at NIU, I have been faithful in my yearly contributions for over 36 years. Giving back to NIU should not be just a one-time or one-year event. It feels good to give back to the place that gave me my career start. Go Huskies!”