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40th Anniversary: one story of the founding of Rolf Institute of Structural Integration

After a full year of investigation, I finally heard something about the legalities of the founding of the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (RISI) in a bar in Boulder CO.

Over this past year I have asked everyone I know who could have been there what actually happened. Why did Ida Rolf decide to make a legal foundation as a repository for her work? How did that founding happen, actually? Why did the founding take the non-profit form?

Questions were out there: Ida Rolf started working way before 1971. Did she decide to do the founding because she knew she had cancer? Because she wanted to leave something of an inheritance to her children? She wanted to solidify the organization?

So, back to the Boulderado Hotel bar, October. I’m sitting in the bar with Joy Belluzzi, a Chevy Chase Rolfer™ who is married to one of Ida Rolf’s sons, Alan Demmerle, who is also at the table.  After a bit, their son Justin shows up, a recent graduate of the University of Chicago in philosophy and epigenetics, who knows really good brainy jokes.

Also around this small table: Dean Rollings, an old time Rolfer, whom I knew only slightly from afar, partly through a visit to his restaurant in Key West. He once helped lead a secession of the Florida Keys from the United States, in the ’90’s.

What I didn’t know was that Dean was busy in the early ’70’s as the Vice President of the proto-RISI. Ida Rolf was trying to get some continuity going for her demise, which looked seriously near, and had appointed Dean as Vice President of the proto-RISI and Joseph Heller as the President of the proto-RISI.

Alan knew nothing of the legalities of the founding. He had been busy at his job in middle management at the National Institutes for Health. Joy knew nothing, even though she was Ida Rolf’s secretary at the end of Dr. Rolf’s life. (Ida Rolf introduced Alan and Joy, by sending them to the hospital cafeteria and out of Ida’s hospital room.)

Dean was filling us in, from his viewpoint. We had all just been to a presentation where several other old-timers were on the dais and told mostly Ida stories, nothing about the legalities of the organization of RISI. This might have been a little aggravating to Dean, that nothing was said about this part of the anniversary, and I had questions. Maybe this sparked the stories, or maybe it was the Scotch.

Dean is probably about my age, 73, a huge difference between us being that while I was spending time in the Mid-West playing oboe and teaching performance practices, he was at Esalen and knew all that personal growth stuff first hand, got trained as a Rolfer™ and was one of Ida’s major go-to guys for Rolfing celebrities. He is smart, financially astute, and noticed right away when Joseph Heller got a big fish supporter to offer Ida Rolf a million dollars for the rights to the work.

Right away, he knew that offer would take structural integration work down a whole other garden path, one of big money and big advertising and loss of control of the Ida-anointed teachers of the work, because any one would soon be able to teach in that scenario.  (Joseph Heller and Dean Rollings were not chosen by Ida Rolf to teach, whatever her reasons were.)

The million dollars was a lot of money in 1971.

Dean set to work and got the disparate players, Ida Rolf, the faculty members, Richard Stenstadvold, then the executive director of the school, and other players to agree to have the legal founding of RISI as a non-profit in the jurisdiction of San Francisco.

Dean was motivated by the loss of structural integration as a discipline, the possibility of the diaspora spreading out too quickly. He certainly doesn’t seem to be currently (or in the past) motivated by money or even wanting to teach, that necessary but oh-so-political choosing and being chosen which infests thoughts at RISI.

It is easy to see why the faculty supported the project of the non-profit founding; their self-interest was all there, as well as their idealism of the path of structural integration and keeping in discipline.

Dean and others were also interested in checks and balances, and made sure that a democratic governance was set up, with a Board of Directors elected from the membership. (Nowadays, there can be two outside Board Directors of 9 total, which also includes 2 members from the Faculty of RISI.)

Dean was also interested in countering the offer from Joseph Heller so that Ida Rolf could have a legacy to pass on to her family. He managed to get folks together on having RISI make a payment of $20,000 a year for 20 years to Ida Rolf’s 2 grown children. This 20 years is long since up, paid and done. I remember during the ’80’s when Alan deferred receiving the payment through some bad times at RISI but we of RISI have long since honored the full of the agreement.

So, the trademarks including Rolfer™ and Rolfing®Structural Integration were established, to become a bone of contention to every other school who believes they should be able to use them.  The legal defense fund at RISI is alive and well, and spent into the 6 figures last year on the bad dogs.

Because of the haste of the last minute items of the founding, the “little boy logo” service mark, which I have written about in these blogs, was not cleaned up by the artist, John Lodge, whom I personally heard bemoan not cleaning up the overnight drawing showing the rotations in a small boy’s structure before our (RISI) use of it as a trademark.  The digital world has made that drawing even more needing clean-up, but it will need some lawyers and some filings to change it legally.

Perhaps, that will happen in this year, young Rolfers™ are howling for it.



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