In the late 1970’s Ronald Rowland Sr., our Company’s founder, was working for Dorsey School Bus Co. in Corvallis. This was the beginning of school buses being fitted with wheelchair lifts to increase the mobility options available to elementary and high school students with disabilities. It was Ron’s job to install this equipment on the school buses and because there were few choices of ready-made equipment that would work with different buses and chairs, he often had to use his own mechanical skills to make things work and blend equipment that could accommodate different kids and chairs and buses.
This was a service not readily available in the valley and soon word got out that Dorsey was outfitting mobility vehicles. Before long, private parties came looking for help with modifying passenger vehicles. Ron gladly took on these projects spurred on by the immense personal satisfaction he received from fundamentally changing people’s mobility options, and by extension, the very quality of their lives. He got to know his customers and realized there was huge demand for this product which was new and hard to find. Disabled people were assimilating in to the working world like never before and they needed to be more mobile. Even some of the students that rode the buses grew up and wanted the freedom that a modified vehicle could provide. As word got out, the waiting list of customers grew and Ron learned more and more with each van retrofit.
Unfortunately, after one particularly challenging job, the Dorsey Bus company began to re-evaluate whether this portion of the business was fundamental to their overall business plan and decided to quit offering the service of retrofitting private vehicles. After the relationships he had built and the satisfaction he received from these jobs, it was too late for Ron to change course. He knew there was a need in the marketplace and he knew no one else was really filling it. An agreement was made between he and the Dorsey Bus Company; he purchased their equipment and he started his own shop in 1979. He brought that growing waiting list and all he had learned with him to borrowed space in Monmouth and R & J Mobility Services was born. Before long, he was able to buy his own building in Independence. This is where the business is located today.
Ron’s wife Juanita began working in the office, and at different times, four of Ron’s sons came on board to help their dad as well. These jobs were sometimes temporary as the business was not quite ready to support more than one family. All of the sons got good job experience working for others from time to time and eventually Kevin and Dave came to help their Dad full time. As the industry grew, the Rowland’s stayed informed about products and technologies that could add to their product mix and enhance the quality of their customers lives. The new generation felt the same deep satisfaction in making their living providing products and services that literally created new opportunities for freedom for their disabled customers. The work hooked them like it had their Dad. Soon Kevin’s wife Gayle joined to help Juanita keep the office running smoothly. She was instrumental in accessing business consultants and coaches so that the company’s operational systems keep pace and the business kept growing. Ron was forced into an early medical retirement in 1990, and his wife Juanita continued to run the business with her sons until 1994, when she retired. Ron passed away in 1998 followed by Juanita in 2000. The business was a partnership between two of the sons, Kevin and Dave, up until Dave’s retirement in July 2012.
Currently R&J Mobility employs one member of the third generation of the Rowland family, Jody, youngest daughter of Kevin & Gayle. She also feels that same commitment her Grandfather felt and she feels lucky to make her living working side by side her parents on a business once so important to her grandfather.
Ron and Juanita would not recognize or have imagined the growth of choice in the mobility industry and probably would be shocked by the incredible array of new vendors, services and technologies his company offers. Their show room and shop have also been expanded and updated over the years. They might not recognize them as their own. But what would be familiar would be their children and grandchildren who have picked up where they left off and have built a business so important to the family, the community and the customers they serve. They would also recognize immediately what they handed down to them, the deep satisfaction and commitment that they and every one of their associates feel when providing the gift of mobility to their list of new and returning customers. What a beautiful legacy!
Written by Marie Trucco, as told by Kevin Rowland