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Ron Schoenheit standing in front of his innovative curtains

Wire-working pioneer receives Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award

By Mary Hare
Ron Schoenheit ('65) has a lifelong fascination with science and learning that continues to inspire his innovative business practice.

Ron Schoenheit (B.S. Mathematics ’65) is the recipient of the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award for his accomplishments that have brought honor, distinction and visibility to the College of Science. 

As founder and president of Cascade Coil Drapery, Schoenheit brings more than 55 years of experience to his role as a member of the College’s Board of Advisors and is an active supporter of initiatives to enhance student learning. “I’m glad my interest in science has been recognized. It makes me feel that I’ve achieved something during my life,” he said.

Schoenheit started his career early, sweeping sidewalks at five years old and delivering newspapers. “I had four routes at one point. I learned spelling by going around taking orders for subscriptions,” he said. At 15 years old, he began working for the family company, Pacific Fence and Wire. 

He credits his experiences working at every level of the company for his current success.“I think that one of the advantages I had in communicating with people was that I used to work in a blue-collar job so I had respect for the people in all the companies I worked for,” he said. “A lot of the best ideas would come from people down in the ranks – not my engineering boss.”

“You use math in everything, whether you call it engineering or you call it science.” 

Schoenheit founded Cascade Coil Drapery in 1987, building on what his grandfather established in 1921. With endless creativity and a passion for learning, he broadened the company lineup from primarily fireplace curtains to the innovation powerhouse it is today. Today, Cascade Coil Drapery makes metal curtains that serve a variety of purposes throughout the world. From the backdrop for a Rolling Stones concert tour, to providing window coverings for embassies overseas, Schoenheit’s wire drapery provides beauty as well as blast protection.

Staying up to date on all the latest innovations, Shoenheit often finds ways to incorporate them into his own work. At the request of an interior designer, he even began making high-end wire mesh shower curtains. 

The innovation and flexibility of the company model has consistently adapted to diverse uses for its environmentally friendly, sustainably designed metalworks. A timely new collaboration with Oregon State microbiologist Maude David works to design copper screens that they hope can be used in public areas to reduce virus and bacteria transmission.

Man standing in front of a table in a factory with metal coil wire screening laying on it.
Ron Schoenheit in the Cascade Coil Drapery factory, which makes metal curtains that serve a variety of purposes, from the backdrop for a Rolling Stones concert tour, to providing blast-protecting window coverings for embassies overseas.

A lover of math and science from an early age, Schoenheit became the first in his family to attend college in 1960. “The strength in engineering and science at Oregon State has always been really attractive to me, as well as being a fan of the sports teams,” he said.

Remaining an active member of the Oregon State community, Schoenheit is on the College of Science Board of Advisors and has held season tickets to OSU football games for the past 15 years. “I’d like to see OSU become even more famous for what it produces in jobs and for society,” he said. “That has to make a person proud, that they’re associated with the university doing that.”

“The education I got at Oregon State was a major part of my success,” he said. “You use math in everything, whether you call it engineering or you call it science.”

Schoenheit is also a strong supporter and benefactor of the Learning Assistant Program (LA Program) in the College, which puts high-achieving undergraduate assistants in large enrollment, often first- and second-year STEM classrooms, to facilitate and strengthen undergraduate learning. Over the past five years, the LA Program has reduced the drop-fail-withdrawal rate in several key courses by half.

"I think the dedication, especially in the science department, is really paying off. They’ve helped the lives of thousands of students over the course of the years."

In 2020, Schoenheit and alumni partners pledged $200K to sustain the LA Program and to ensure that its transformative impact on student learning in STEM courses and professional development continues. “I made a donation to the program because I really believe in it,” he said. “I felt lost in large lecture classes when I was in college – I think it would have helped me.”

“I think the dedication, especially in the science department, is really paying off,” he said, reflecting on the College’s increased focus on student success initiatives in recent years. “They’ve helped the lives of thousands of students over the course of the years.”

He has served as Vice President of Pacific Fence & Wire Co., a major Pacific Northwest chain link fence manufacturer, and cofounder and President of Pacific Fireplace Furnishings, Inc. In addition, he has held facilities engineering positions with FMC (Gunderson) in Portland and with LTV in Dallas. He also is a co-owner of Stickman Brewery with his oldest son, headquartered in Tualatin, OR.

With a lifelong drive to continue learning, Schoenheit received his MBA from Marylhurst University more than forty years after leaving OSU. “I’m still learning, even at my age,” he said. “In fact, if I wasn’t working, I’d be taking classes yet.”