Halls of Fame
Rolf Engen’s educational roots are deep in Santa Ana, starting as an attendee of Santa Ana Elementary School. The seeds of the two dominant themes in his adult life were sewn during the time he spent at Santa Ana College. Those themes are world-class athletic competition and business entrepreneurship.
Rolf attributes his involvement in basketball to John Ward, whom at the time was the football coach at Garden Grove High School and later took the position of assistant football coach at Santa Ana College. Rolf lived across the street from the high school where John also ran the local after-school sports programs. When Rolf decided to attend SAC, he remembers Coach Ward placing an old leather basketball on his hands and telling him “this is your sport.”
Rolf attended SAC from 1947 to 1950 academic sessions, spending a year in the Army in between. While at SAC, the former Santa Ana Register wrote that Rolf was “regarded as one of the top basketeers in Santa Ana College history,” and he was dubbed “the little giant of the hardwood” in the el Don campus newspaper. Rolf set a conference scoring record in 1950. With those accomplishments and his SAC degree in hand, Rolf was accepted at the University of California, Los Angeles, on a basketball scholarship. But fate intervened, and a car accident cut his basketball career short. Rolf then moved to volleyball, where he proved equally proficient in a sport that turned into a lifelong love.
At UCLA, he served as player-coach for the 1953 and 1954 volleyball teams which both earned a spot in the national championships. After UCLA, he played for the Hollywood YMCA team that achieved six national titles and two runner-up positions. Rolf was twice voted outstanding player on the All-America Team. The team also won a gold medal at the 1955 Pan American Games in Mexico, and gold again in 1959 in Chicago. They also took fifth place at the 1960 World Volleyball Games in Paris. In 1966, Rolf was selected as the United States Volleyball Association (USVBA) all-time great player.
Seeking a way to continue contributing to the sport and young athletes, Rolf became a walk-on coach at Laguna Beach High School in the late 1970s, where he extended his winning ways with two CIF championships. He also started the Laguna Beach Volleyball Club and led the junior boys team to three gold and two silver medals at the Junior Olympics in 1975 to 1979. He then moved on to the world stage as volleyball commissioner for the 1984 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles, which welcomed 12,000 people twice a day for two weeks for world-class competition. In 1991, Rolf was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame and in 2003, was named to the volleyball 75th anniversary all-era team for the 1953-78 years at the USVBA Diamond Jubilee Celebration. He has amassed an incredible performance record that includes 10 First-Team All-America selections, two Player of the Year honors, and nine Open National Championships.
Off the court, another significant influence on Rolf was his bookkeeping and accounting instructor at Santa Ana College, Tom Jackson, who founded World Travel in Santa Ana. He inspired Rolf to have an interest in business and to become an entrepreneur. After a five-year stint as a teacher at Santa Ana High School, in 1954, Rolf founded Rolf Engen Inc. to operate a group of fine wine retail stores. As a business major, Rolf took a keen interest in the beverage industry through this experience and was able to observe retail outlets in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica to learn what made them successful. Over the years, his stores have been located in cities including Irvine, Orange and Tustin and a current store in Newport Beach. Rolf’s entrepreneurial spirit also led him to become a founding director of El Dorado Bank in Tustin, which he helped supervise for 25 years.
Rolf notes very simply that without Santa Ana College, in all likelihood, he would not have attended college and been able to experience the exciting and fulfilling life he has led. Having attended his first classes in 1947, housed in military barracks from the nearby Air Force base, he was “dumbfounded and amazed” when he returned recently to see the “mind-boggling” progress of the college and its importance to the community in filling a tremendous role as a first-rate educational institution for thousands of young people.
Rolf and wife, Carol, live in Laguna Beach. Their children include, Janalea, who recently passed away; Matt, who resides in Laguna Beach; Kip and Holly, who live in Australia, and David and four grandsons, who live in Park City, Utah.