If David Rommelmann has accomplished some very big things, he credits at least part of his success to starting small.
“I grew up in Ferrin, a little farming community in Illinois,” says Rommelmann, his Southview Drive office decorated with the achievements of a lifetime. “It had about 30 people then, and I think it has about 30 people now. When you come from such a small place, you learn to do things for yourself, not ask someone else to do things for you.”
Rommelmann graduated from a one-room schoolhouse to the University of Missouri at Rolla, and in 1970 graduated with a civil engineering degree. Instead of immediately setting out to find a civilian job, he deferred on the grounds that a government gig was about to find him.
“I had lottery No. 36, and that told me what I was going to do after college,” he says. “Vietnam was such a mess I decided to go in, get it over with, and get on with my career.”
Rommelmann married his sweetheart, Patti, just in time to kiss her goodbye and ship off to his post at the Army’s massive Strategic Communications Command in Long Binh, Vietnam. After honorably serving his country, Rommelmann mustered out in 1972 and started doing things for himself.
Aside from his own energy and ability, Rommelmann’s career got a boost from the nation’s growing environmental awareness. He found a job with an Illinois engineering firm hired to design municipal wastewater treatment systems.
“At the time, cities were still dumping their minimally treated wastewater directly into the environment,” Rommelmann explains. “The Environmental Protection Agency dumped a bunch of new regulations on them and they didn’t know what to do with it. I worked on one of the first municipal wastewater treatment systems in Illinois to obtain grant funds under the program.”
Following that successful home-state tour, the Rommelmann family – by then increased by two lovely daughters – picked up stakes and moved to Michigan where David hired on with a consulting firm helping to set new wastewater standards for the Wolverine State.
“We created some of the first wastewater reclamation and reuse systems in Michigan, all from scratch. In one case,” he smiles, “the reclaimed water was used to irrigate Christmas trees.” He and Patti also created two more baby girls before moving to Florida, where Rommelmann’s career hit its stride. In 1983 he signed on as a project manager with industry leader Boyle Engineering and was handed the reins of the firm’s premier project, Water Conserv II.
“The state had mandated a zero-discharge system for Orlando. We designed a system that reclaimed the city’s 30 million gallons of wastewater a day and re-used it irrigating 18,000 acres of orange groves near Disneyworld. We helped set wastewater regulations for the state of Florida with that project, and in 1985 the American Consulting Engineering Council named it Project of the Year.”
Water Conserv II would be an enviable capstone on any career, but Rommelmann was just warming up. Tapped to head Boyle Engineering’s Maryland office, he oversaw the creation of the Western Branch treatment facility intended, among other things, to strip nitrogen and phosphorus from the 30 million gallons of daily effluent produced by suburban Washington D.C. before they could cloud the Chesapeake’s historic blue waters.
“It was the first large-scale nutrient-removal wastewater plant in the country,” says Rommelmann, without a drop of conceit. “My whole engineering career has been designing stuff that hadn’t been done before, and it’s worked a high percentage of the time.”
Asked to launch a Boyle Engineering satellite in Charlotte, NC, he helped Charlotte-Mecklenburg create a Water Master Plan to keep track of every ounce that flows within their borders. Rommelmann chaired the committees that created wastewater reuse regulations for Maryland and North Carolina. He was named Boyle Engineering’s vice president of quality, appointed to its board of directors in 1994, and in 1995 re-named vice president in charge of the huge region spreading out between Dallas and San Diego. The Rommelmanns took a moment to settle on a plot of green earth high up Buffalo Park Road in Evergreen, and then David got back to work.
Boyle Engineering was the primary consultant on Denver Water’s mammoth reclamation plant in Commerce City, developed La Junta’s desperately needed reverse-osmosis water plant, and forged a new path in Dillon with one of Colorado’s first micro-filtration facilities. Rommelmann chaired the committee that set the Centennial State’s wastewater reclamation regulations. “Water is scarce out here, and it amazed me that these states didn’t have these regulations.” After nearly four years as chairman of Boyle Engineering’s board of directors, in 2002 Rommelman decided to call it a day. Sort of.
“I was tired of traveling,” he says. “I decided I could never retire, so I looked into financial planning.”
These days, Rommelmann helps his mountain-area neighbors manage their money as a certified financial planner with Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., a sociable and rewarding second career that leaves him plenty of time to spend with Patti, their four daughters and six grandchildren. And when he and Patti aren’t moseying along some woody trail, Rommelmann is often laboring on behalf of Evergreen Rotary.
He volunteered as project manager for Evergreen Lutheran’s recent expansion, and now spends much of his free time serving his community through American Legion Post 2001. Commander of the Evergreen’s “Millenium Post” in 2012, Rommelmann was instrumental in winning Evergreen Park and Recreation’s approval for “The Sentry,” a striking bronze tribute to the men and women who’ve served in uniform that’s now central to the Buchanan Park Veterans Memorial.
Interestingly, although Rommelmann has come farther in his career and his life than many of rural roots would dare to dream, in a way he’s only come home again. The way he sees it, the same civic spirit and independent attitude that he learned long ago on the Midwestern plains is alive and well in unincorporated Evergreen, which makes his mountain hometown even dearer to his heart.
“Because we’re not a municipality, you see a lot more citizen involvement. There’s no city government in Evergreen to run to. Around here, when people see a need they get together and get it done.”