Class of 2002

Walter C. Abendroth
Walter was born May 15, 1898, in Reed City, Michigan. After graduating from the University of Michigan with an engineering degree in 1922, he joined the family business, Robbins Flooring Co. in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. His first assignment with the company was to convert the flooring mill from steam-powered belt-driven machinery to all-electric production. The Rhinelander mill became one of the first all-electric flooring mills in the country. This achievement was later recognized by the MFMA.
Walter became involved with the MFMA upon joining the family business. In 1924 the association faced a Federal anti-trust lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice. He was assigned to assist with the preparation of the defense of the association. In 1926 the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in favor of the MFMA, and this became a landmark case still studied in law school today. Walter was closely involved with the MFMA throughout his career. As Chairman of the Advertising Committee, for many years he helped develop a positive national marketing plan, which is the foundation of the association's responsible position in the architectural community today. During WWII and the Korean War, Walter was the MFMA representative in the Forest Products Industry Advisory Committee for price controls in Washington, D.C. Walter also served as the MFMA President from 1946 through 1951.
In 1938 when the Newberry, Michigan plant burned, Walter engineered the rebuilding of the plant and it was back in operation by the end of 1939. The Newberry plant was sold in 1946 to a plywood manufacturer. Walter and his brother, Paul, oversaw the design and construction of a new plant in Ishpeming, Michigan, starting in 1945. The new plant went into operation in September 1947. During some additional construction work at their Rhinelander plant, the mill was completely destroyed by fire in 1948. Robbins needed to replace the lost production quickly so Walter purchased a flooring mill in Reed City, Michigan, then owned and operated by E.L. Bruce Co. This was the same mill where Walter's father, Albert, was associated with William Horner in 1891. The Robbins Reed City plant ran continuously until April 1962 when it was permanently closed.
In 1955 William Gamble sold a half interest in Yawkey-Bissell Hardwood Flooring Co., White Lake, Wisconsin, to Walter and Paul. In 1959 the brothers bought the balance of the company following the death of Mr. Gamble. During the years of 1955 through 1962, Robbins operated three flooring mills, located in Reed City, Ishpeming, and White Lake. Walter coined the marketing phrase "Millions Walk Daily on Robbins Floors," since Robbins was the largest maple-flooring producer in the world.
Throughout his career he was instrumental in the development of wood floor systems, including the end-to-end systems, cushioned underfloors, channel-and-clip techniques, and others. He was the first to add the nailing groove on strip flooring, now used by almost all mills. Walter retired in 1962 and relocated to Florida in 1964. He passed away at the age of 88 in 1986 and was laid to rest in Reed City, Michigan.
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