Carl H. "Ky" Rohman, a prominent Lincoln businessman and supporter of the arts, died Wednesday. He was 97.
An avid art collector, Rohman was, for decades, a primary supporter of the Sheldon Museum of Arts and helped found and develop the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney.
He was a strong advocate for opera, both Opera Omaha and at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a driving force in the merger of the Nebraska Chamber Orchestra and Lincoln Symphony into the Lincoln Orchestra Association, and was responsible for much of the development of the historic village of Brownville.
“If there’s a person who has had more impact on the arts in Nebraska, I don’t know who it would be,” said former Sheldon director George Neubert, who worked closely with Rohman at Sheldon and in Brownville.
Rohman was born in Lincoln and grew up two blocks south of the State Capitol and remembered the Capitol being built in the 1930s and roller skating on its concrete floors before permanent flooring was installed.
He graduated from the Phillips Exeter Academy prep school in New Hampshire before returning to the University of Nebraska for his undergraduate education. He enrolled in the University of Nebraska College of Law. But his education was interrupted by World War II, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
After finishing law school, Rohman joined his family’s linen supply business, Sanitary and Towel Laundry Co., now called UniService. While growing the business, he was active in a number of national industry organizations.
Rohman’s dedication to the arts began in tandem with his first wife Lorraine, who in the 1970s served on 10 boards related to the arts in Lincoln, Omaha and Brownville. Defining himself as the “partner, co-host and helpmate” of Lorraine in a 1991 interview, Rohman moved onto many of the boards and into more public activism following her 1988 death.
He was joined in that effort by his second wife, Jane. They received the Partners in the Arts Governor’s Arts Award in 1993.
Rohman was honored for his support of Sheldon in 2005 with the naming of The Rohman Family Gallery, the first space a visitor enters in the museum’s second-floor permanent collection galleries. A gallery at MONA is also named for the Rohmans.
“Rohman and his family are distinguished by a keen interest in and discerning appreciation of American art, the passion to share it with others and a commitment to the Sheldon,” Nebraska Art Association president Bob Nefsky wrote in the Journal Star in 2005. “The Rohman family has given of its time, talent and treasure. No shrinking violet, Rohman consistently acts in a clear-eyed manner that transcends both personality and the whim of the moment while allowing for the differences which distinguish great art and great institutions. At the same time, Rohman works with little fanfare. His generosity of spirit extends to the new generation of collectors and art enthusiasts, encouraging them to pursue their passion.”
The next year, Rohman and wife Jane received the Distinguished NEBRASKAlander Award for services to the state’s social, historical, cultural or economic well being, the award citing their support for Sheldon, the Museum of Nebraska Arts in Kearney, opera, the Meadowlark Music Festival and the Brownville projects.
The Brownville projects included historic homes that the Rohmans restored, founder of Builders’ Row, the Governor Furnas Arboretum, the Whiskey Run Creek Trail, the Brownville Concert Series, the Schoolhouse Art Gallery & Nature Center, the Brownville Fine Arts Association, as well as the Flatwater Folk Art Museum.
The Rohman Garden, designed to honor the Rohmans, is now being developed in Brownville.