BY PATTIE DURHAM
As a youngster living on a chicken farm in Pennsylvania, Ronnie Rohm chopped down a hemlock tree to fashion a wooden raft a la Davy Crockett so he could float on the stream that ran through the farm. After moving to Florida in the 1950s, he spent all of his spare hours in or on the Indian River Lagoon.
“I guess I always was just a water bug,” he says.
In the late 1940s, the Rohm family ran a turkey farm in south central Pennsylvania, but the turkeys drowned during a wet spring. When Rohm was about a year old, his father started an egg farm. For vacations, the family would pile into the car and head for Fort Pierce, towing a small boat named the PatRonJon, for the Rohm children.
They would stay at the Fort Pierce Cottages, near St. Lucie Village. Life was good, until the bottom fell out of the egg market and the family’s finances faltered. In the late ’50s, Rohm’s father, who had been building a house in the village, moved the family south.
“I learned as a child that faith, family and friends are what’s important in life,” Rohm says of that time in his life.
Rohm also says he had the most idyllic of childhoods. Sitting under a shade tree along the water, he reminisces about his life in St. Lucie Village, the small enclave north of downtown Fort Pierce. From the start, Rohm’s life has been intertwined with the water.
Attending St. Lucie School in the village, Rohm became friends with Sammy Wolkowsky. It wasn’t long before the boys discovered that Sammy’s father, Dr. Melvin Wolkowsky, had an account at East Coast Lumber & Supply. Sammy then charged the wood for a small cabin they wanted to build on a spoil island in the lagoon. Rohm’s father bought metal for the roof and wood for bunkbeds so the boys could finish it.
“We were just always in the river,” Rohm says. “After high school, I worked at Seeley’s boatyard with Sport Jacobs, scraping and painting boat bottoms. Tommy Padrick had a little trout boat and I had a motor, so we shared and went out fishing. We sold our catch at Seeley’s.”
Rohm says he really became enthralled with the ocean and fishing as a youngster when the Wolkowsky family took him along on a trip to the Bahamas on their boat.
“It was paradise,” he says. “The water was so beautiful and the fish and lobsters were so plentiful. I was hooked then.”
The Wolkowsky family also had a Critchfield ski boat with a 100-horse Johnson motor on it. Rohm says it was the biggest motor along the river at that time. Rohm and Sammy spent days practicing their skiing on the lagoon, filling up with gas on the doctor’s account at the Pelican Yacht Club.
“I just fell into it here,” Rohm says. “Everyone was willing to help.”
In the 1970s, he and his father decided to buy a sailboat together so they took a trip from Fort Pierce, along the coastal roads, to the Columbia factory in Virginia, stopping at marinas along the way looking for sailboats for sale.
It was at Miner’s Marina in Cocoa Beach where they eventually found what they wanted. It was a beautiful 34-foot Columbia sailboat with a retractable centerboard that drafted only 3 feet. The boat was named The Anhinga, known by fisherman as the water turkey.
Wishing to stay in the village, Rohm started building his first home on Old Dixie Highway. At that time, he was working at the Chrysler facility near Harbor Branch, testing outboard engines and boats.
It was only partially completed when Lee Iacocca took over Chrysler and closed the local testing facility. Out of a job, Rohm and his father sold the sailboat so he had the money to finish his home.
For a time in the early ’80s, Rohm went to work for Herman Summerlin, eventually becoming a crew member on the Easy Money doing longline fishing out on the Gulf Stream.
“The Summerlins,” Rohm says, “just took you under their wing.” Rohm remained a close friend with Herman Summerlin and is still close friends with Summerlin’s family.
Switching to carpentry, Rohm did mostly home construction, but also learned to build custom cabinets from Mike Halsey at Halsey’s Workbench on Summerlin’s property. Sometimes he replaced or added wood trim on boats.
“Christina Haynes [of St. Lucie Village] liked my work and told me, ‘Some people have a lot of money and you need to know them.’ She got me some work and gave me a little rowboat.”
One afternoon, Rohm’s friend, Paul Sinnott, was headed to Dynamite Point for a beach day with his girlfriend [now wife], Anne Nelson, and invited Rohm to join them. Anne brought her sister, Cathy, along for the outing.
After a long-distance romance – Cathy was studying nursing at University of Alabama at Birmingham – the two married and settled into a home along the lagoon. There they raised three daughters, two of whom worked after college with the Ocean Research & Conservation Association [ORCA]. Just like their father before them, they worked out on the water. Middle daughter, Retta, teaches marine science at Fort Pierce Central High School.
Still a self-employed carpenter, Rohm always has a boat at the ready for fun and fishing on the water, just as he has for most of his life.
RONALD E. “Ronnie” ROHM
Lives in: St. Lucie Village
Family: Wife, Cathy; daughters, Halley, Retta and Gina; grandsons, Easton and Liam
Education: Member of the last class to graduate from Dan McCarty High School; attended Indian River Community College
Hobbies: Fishing, diving, sailing, hunting
Who or what inspires me: “The good Lord is at the wheel is all I have to say.”
What is something most people don’t know about me: “I’m a Yankee, but I think they have grandfathered me in. Also, people don’t often know how religious I am.”