Obituary: Roger Christenson / PPG chemist, do-it-yourself guy

Sept. 28, 1919 - April 29, 2014

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Roger Christenson never threw anything away.

"There are shelves and racks in the garage full of everything from old broom handles to miscellaneous small pieces of wood. Old sports toys, pieces of plastic, you name it," his son, Jim Christenson, said about his father's house. "I think he thought there might be a further use for it down the road."

Mr. Christenson, a chemist who retired from PPG in 1985, died Tuesday at Good Samaritan Hospice House of Wexford after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 94.

Though Mr. Christenson may have been the author of 14 publications, holder of 136 patents and an inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, he never forgot his Norwegian roots, his family said.

Mr. Christenson was born in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., home of many Norwegian immigrants.

"Dad loved the fact that he grew up in a small-town American environment. He really liked his roots and always promoted his childhood," his daughter, Susan Christenson, said.

Mr. Christenson was the first in his family to go to college, according to Ms. Christenson. He received his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1944.

"He put himself through college and earned his degree without any kind of model in his home life. He never forgot his debt of gratitude to the university, and when he was able to later in life, he gave a really substantial financial gift to a researcher at the university for stem cell research. He had Parkinson's disease for the last 15 years of his life and he wanted to help scientists find a cure," Ms. Christenson said.

After graduation, Mr. Christenson got a job as a researcher at PPG's coatings and resins research facility in Milwaukee. It was there that he met his wife, Patricia, another chemist. They would have been married 67 years on Saturday.

"He was very loyal to his family," she said of her late husband.

After being named director of research for the coatings and resins group in 1980, Mr. Christenson led the development of electrodeposition, which is a paint process used to protect cars from rust; he received two PPG President's Awards for Outstanding Technical Achievement and was honored as a charter member of the PPG Collegium for his research.

"I think he got quite a bit of recognition in terms of the trade that he was in but that certainly was never his goal," Jim Christenson said. "I think his goal was to solve problems and come up with better ways of doing things."

Because he worked in the paint industry, Ms. Christenson said, he was always bringing paint home.

"He could concoct almost anything we needed to paint anything. Instead of throwing anything out, we would paint just to get rid of it," Ms. Christenson said.

Her younger brother, Tom, still remembers those days. "When you're a teenager and you're painting with your parents, it's torture," he said.

Mr. Christenson also tried to fix everything himself -- sometimes in unconventional ways.

"It was a challenge with him to fix it himself. We grew up being somewhat skeptical of that approach but we've really grown to appreciate them," his daughter said. "He was part of the greatest generation who we are losing so fast. That generation had so much to teach us."

Her brother, Tom, agreed.

"I remember he couldn't get a pump hose in for the dishwasher and he cast his own out of epoxy," he said. "That was before epoxy was available in hardware stores -- he brought that home from the lab. It took several times, I remember several attempts, but I think he finally got it."

Jim Christenson, who has been a chemist with PPG for more than 30 years, said his father inspired his career choice.

"My feelings about my dad are he was really a do-it-right kind of guy. Whatever aspect you want to put that in it probably fits. Coupled with a firm amount of tenacity is I think what enabled him to be so successful," Jim Christenson said.

Mr. Christenson is survived by his wife, Patricia Christenson of Valencia; daughter Susan Christenson of York, Pa.; son Tom of Bakersfield, Calif.; and son Jim of Gibsonia.

A service will be held today at 11 a.m. in First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown, 5825 Heckert Road, Richland, followed by a reception at noon.

Arrangements are by Schellhaas Funeral Home in Richland.


Madasyn Czebiniak: mczebiniak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1269.

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