Max E. and Mary Roha Found the Right Chemistry for Successful Lives

Max E. Roha will tell you that, throughout his career, critical thinking played a major role in his success as a research chemist. Look beyond the obvious and consider in detail the underlying assumptions of what is considered to be true, the 1944 Allegheny College graduate advises today’s students.

“Pursue goals which are important to solve, even when others may ‘know’ that there is no solution,” Roha says. “Bring all of your knowledge, from college, from scientific literature, from life, and from your associates, to bear to solve your problems.”

Max Roha, a 1944 Allegheny graduate, has established a scholarship for chemistry students at the College.
Max Roha, a 1944 Allegheny graduate, has established a scholarship for chemistry students at the College.

While attending Allegheny, Roha received several scholarships that encouraged him in the study of chemistry. And as fate would have it, those scholarships also led Roha to meet the love of his life, the late Mary Chapman, in the College’s chemistry labs. They would form a lifelong partnership that brought happiness and success to them both.

As a way of paying it forward, Roha has established the Max E. Roha and Mary Chapman Roha, Class of 1944, Chemistry Scholarship to inspire new generations of chemists at Allegheny College. The scholarship provides support for rising juniors and seniors majoring in chemistry.

“I enjoy supporting worthwhile causes and helping solve worthwhile problems,” Roha says of his decision to fund the scholarship. “I hope the Roha Scholarship will reaffirm students’ pursuit of chemistry, in research, in education, or in some other area that needs creative chemical input.”

He urges students especially to question what they are told, especially in the field of chemistry. “It’s important to know that other people draw chemical conclusions based on things that are not so. Be sure you are not misled by these erroneous conclusions,” says Roha, who lives in retirement in suburban Cleveland.

In 1940, Roha was considering going away to school, but his parents needed help on their dairy farm in Meadville, so he chose to stay and enroll at Allegheny. Luckily for him, there was another first-year student, Mary Chapman from Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, who had to take a course in chemistry to fulfill her science requirement. Mary eventually became a chemistry major as well, partly to prove she could hold her own with the men.

Mary took a summer job at H.J. Heinz in Pittsburgh in their lab to monitor the mold content in ketchup. But Heinz would hire her only if she agreed to stay on until the tomato crop was finished. She worried about missing classes and finding a lab partner at Allegheny, but the late Professor Herbert Rhinesmith had a plan and matched Max and Mary. It was instant chemistry, as they say. Max and Mary began dating and remained lab partners throughout their Allegheny years and beyond. They prepared for advanced study in chemistry at Harvard after graduating from Allegheny in 1944.

However, with World War II raging, Max joined the Navy and headed to the Pacific, where his ship supported the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. After Max returned stateside, they were married. Both then enrolled at Harvard, where Max pursued his doctoral studies in organic chemistry and Mary continued to work on a sponsored graduate-level chemistry project until the birth of the first of their three children.

After receiving his Ph.D. in 1949, Max started work at BF Goodrich as a research chemist in Brecksville, Ohio. He stayed with Goodrich his entire career with increasingly responsible roles involving innovative processes, mostly in Ohio but including four years in the Netherlands as a scientific liaison to European universities and chemical companies. Mary taught chemistry at the American High School in The Hague and at Hathaway Brown School for Girls in Shaker Heights, tutored chemistry at a community college in the Cleveland area, and was involved with science education until her death in 2001.