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 C&O Canal Association

Kenneth Stewart Rollins, Sr., 1920 - 2008

(Note: Since this article was originally published, the C&O Canal Association has established the Kenneth Rollins C&O Canal Fund for the preservation of the park and the education of visitors.)

The C&O Canal Association lost one of its most respected leaders on October 13, when Kenneth Stewart Rollins, Sr. died at his home in Kensington at the age of 88. A member for more than four decades, Ken was a past president and a recipient of the Association's highest commendation, the William O. Douglas Award. He also served on the C&O Canal National Historical Park Federal Advisory Commission for several years.

A memorial service was held on November 9 at Brookmont Church in Bethesda, Md. In lieu of flowers, donations in Ken’s memory to help restore the Catoctin Aqueduct will be appreciated and may be sent to: The C & O Canal Association, P.O. Box 366, Glen Echo, MD 20812, with notation for The Catoctin Aqueduct Fund.


Ken (far right) with C&O Canal Association canoeists. “All for one, one for all.”

The following obituary information was supplied by the Rollins family

Rollins, Kenneth Stewart, Sr., passed quietly in his sleep on the morning of October 13, 2008 at Kensington Park Assisted Living in Kensington, MD. 

Ken was born in Atmore, AL, to Stacy L. Rollins, Sr. and Grace S. Rollins on May 23, 1920.  He received a B.S. Commerce & Business Administration in 1950 from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Although his occupation was in accounting, he was always more of a photographer, writer, leader, teacher, seeker of knowledge, and consummate storyteller with great appreciation of music, literature, history and heritage, along with a special fondness for cats. Ken enjoyed camping, canoeing, sailing, surf-fishing, target shooting, and tinkering; he was the ultimate well-rounded, problem-solving, do-it-yourselfer.


Barbara Sheridan, Carl Linden, and Ken on the Frostbite Hike at Great Falls overlook.

He was an avid supporter of the C & O Canal for over fifty years.  He served as Virginia Regent for the Clan Douglas Society of North America for several years. He had also been an active member of the Izaak Walton League of America and the National Rifle association for many years.  

Ken served in the U.S. Army during World War II as a photographer at Ft. Bragg, NC.  He moved to the Washington, DC, area to pursue his accounting career very soon after graduation from the University. After a brief stint at Price-Waterhouse, Ken shifted to the Federal Government.  He worked for the General Accounting Office in Washington, DC, and resided in community of Brookmont, MD, for many years. He retired in 1980 and built his own home in the woods of Ladysmith,VA. 


Ken inspects the ruined Widewater towpath during the campaign for its restoration.

His marriages, first to Mary Jane Lloyd and second to Mary Anita Pitts, both ended in divorce. Ken was predeceased by a brother Stacy L. Rollins, Jr., a sister Elise Nihart, and his first son, Kenneth S. Rollins, Jr.  Survivors include: daughter Peggy Sauer and husband Richard of Voorheesville, NY; son Charles Rollins and wife Anne of Boulder, CO; daughter Celeste Rollins of Frederick, MD; and sister-in-law Beatrice Rollins of Chevy Chase, MD. He is also survived by three grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and loyal friends.

A memorial service will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 9, 2008, at Brookmont Church, 4000 Virginia Place, Bethesda, MD  20816.  In lieu of flowers, donations in Ken’s memory to help restore the Catoctin Aqueduct will be appreciated and may be sent to:  The C & O Canal Association, P.O. Box 366, Glen Echo, MD  20812, with notation for The Catoctin Aqueduct Fund.  Graveside services in Atmore, AL, are still being planned.

Tributes to Kenneth Stewart Rollins, Sr., 1920 – 2008

For the past half century Ken Rollins was an eloquent champion of the C&O Canal and the Potomac River. A warm-hearted friend of his fellow canallers, Ken slipped away in his sleep this past Monday morning. In his eighty-eighth year his health had become fragile. Ken once remarked that he would like to die as his father died-in his sleep. His wish was granted.


In the bow, Ken paddles down Paw Paw Bends, loaded for a campout.

We will miss Ken’s wise voice ever reminding us of the inspiring story of how the C&O became a national historical park. How Justice William O. Douglas and his hardy band of hikers against the odds saved the C&O from destruction at the hands of first, highway and, then, the dam builders. How Douglas’ C&O Canal Association went out in force on the towpath year-after- year for seventeen years - on “reunion” hikes until the C&O Canal National Historical Park was established by law.

Ken Rollins understood and wanted us all to understand that knowing this story is essential to an appreciation of the national treasure that is the C&O canal park. He understood that the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal recalls to us the early history of our nation’s bold venture westward. He well knew that venture goes back to the vision of George Washington of a waterway west to the Ohio.


Ken (third from left) at work with the Monocacy Aqueduct Committee.

Ken taught this lesson in various ways. Some asked: “Why does Ken show up at Association banquets in formal kilt to deliver a toast to Justice Douglas?” The answer lies in Douglas’ pride in his Scottish heritage which Ken shared. Douglas always had a bagpiper at hand to stir his hikers to full stride with such classic tunes as “Scotland the Brave,” and “Road to the Isles.” The piper send-off began with the famous 1954 hike and all the subsequent hikes he led. This ritual will be observed again in next year’s through-hike in April marking the 55th anniversary of Douglas ’54 trek.

Ken, above all, wanted people to get out and discover the history and natural beauty of the canal and river for themselves. To see it, to feel it, to know it. He walked the towpath’s 185 miles four times, he was a moving spirit and presence in innumerable Association hiking, canoeing, and cycling trips along the canal and river. He knew the sheer enjoyment that people experienced on these trips, but also that there was no better way to learn to love the canal and river.

Ken now has “crossed the berm” with a generation of other remarkable friends and leaders who have recently left us. They all held the C&O and the Potomac in deep affection and, in turn, did so much noble work in preserving and protecting these treasures for us and coming generations to enjoy and cherish. We canallers will miss Ken, but will always remember him for his friendship and high dedication.
-- Carl Linden


Ken juggles a canoe down the weir at Pennyfield Lock.

We have lost a friend…

The Character of Canal Characters has crossed the berm.
From him of our beloved canal … many have learned.
A Gentleman, Advocate, Confidante, and most trusted Friend,
One who was loved and respected to the end.

‘Til we meet again, Ken, Thanks for the memories.
-- Robert C. and Jane Dodson Perry

Ken was one of those who goes back to the earliest memories many of us have of our experience with the canal and so, like the canal itself, he simply seems immortal in a way. I find myself thinking of Ken on so many hikes and at banquets and other events --his warmth, his quiet, humble but strong demeanor. Certainly he is one of the most memorable of the Association leaders in my experience. I will certainly miss him!
-- Karen M. Gray 

We’ve lost a very dear friend, and the solace, to me at least, is the knowledge that we will all do our best to carry on his legacy! Ken, my first contact with the Association, drew me into the history of the canal and of the Association, and now he’s part of it!
-- Gary Petrichick 

I was Ken’s neighbor for many years, as well as a companion on canoe trips and canal hikes, most memorably on the famous 1975 Gude trip from the Fairfax Stone to Point Lookout, where we spent days tramping on cross-ties – and over abandoned box cars – of the Western Maryland Railroad.

I recall, too, the many times we’d cram gear and provisions for canal trips and hikes – often enough to sustain a Lewis and Clark expedition – into Ken’s vintage Dodge van.

On those forays Ken was our steady hand, dispensing vintage bourbon and good stories at day’s end, with invariable good humor.

His abiding concern for the canal and river valley, and his good deeds, seem to me beautifully reflected in lines of the poet Emily Dickinson:

“How many cast a nameless Pod
Upon the nearest Breeze –
Unconscious of the Scarlet Freight –
It bear to Other Eyes.”

-- Ed Wesely


Ken with piper Alisha Julienne.

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     C & O Canal Association     P.O Box 366      Glen Echo, MD 20812-0366     Phone: 301-983-0825      Email: inquiries@candocanal.org