By Madina Toure
Kew Gardens Hills resident Michael Rollhaus isn’t your average furniture company owner.
When he’s not building bar stools, French bistro chairs or sofas or collecting unconventional ties, he’s climbing the stairs of famous buildings such as the Chicago Presidential Towers and the Empire State Building.
“Almost everything I do is really whacky. None of my friends are into manufacturing,” said Rollhaus, 57, who has been running Rollhaus Seating Products in Long Island City for the past 42 years. “How many people manufacture furniture, which is somewhat creative? How many people climb steps for fun? People might do running for fun, but it’s a very underrated sport. I also collect ties. I always wear funky ties.”
And this Friday morning, he will be climbing 147 flights of stairs in the Azrieli Center, a group of skyscrapers in Tel Aviv, Israel, for the third time, along with 29 other climbers — an elite group that climbs all three towers.
He teamed up with Standing Together, a non-profit that supports Israeli soldiers on active duty, to raise money for their members who have been dispatched to northern Israel, which is typically cold and wet. Rollhaus, who is an Orthodox Jew, raised about $5,000 to fund winter gear for the Israel Defense Forces.
“My father, he fought in World War II in the Pacifics,” Rollhaus said. “He was a soldier and he was really all alone. He didn’t know if anyone cared for him and if he would make it back or not. He was about 21, 22. You’re all alone. Just to get a slice of pizza, warm socks, that you’re not a forgotten soldier is a worthwhile endeavor.”
A resident of Kew Gardens Hills, Rollhaus received his bachelor’s degree in economics at the City College in 1976 and studied finance at New York University’s Business School for a year and a half.
For the last 42 years, Rollhaus has been running his father’s business, Rollhaus Seating Products. The business was initially based in Manhattan before finally settling in Long Island City three years ago. He has been married to his wife for nearly 28 years and they have three daughters, ages 22, 25 and 27.
After he quit baseball, he was looking for another sport to fill the void. He began climbing the stairmaster at the gym on a regular basis and got into the sport. His climbing adventures include climbing the Chicago Presidential Towers, the Aon Building in Chicago, the Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building in anywhere from 18 minutes and 55 seconds to 28 minutes.
He previously climbed the Azrieli skyscrapers in 55 minutes in 2012 and 51 minutes in 2013. This year, he hopes to break even and do it in 50 minutes.
The complete winter gear package for the Israeli soldiers includes a waterproof fleece jacket, a thermal undershirt, gloves and three pairs of socks. The essential package includes a waterproof fleece jacket, gloves and socks.
David Landau, founder of Standing Together, delivers pizza to the soldiers at the outposts in a hot oven. The non-profit’s accomplishments include donating mini-fridges and microwaves for wounded soldiers in hospital rooms, a mobile cell phone charging unit and underwear and toiletries for soldiers during the 2006 Second Lebanon War and the 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
“They’re all 20, 22 years old and they’re guarding a cold outpost. My friend (Landau), he delivers pizza to these guys in a hot oven,” Rollhaus said. “The soldiers shouldn’t think that they’re all alone. These are the three buildings in Tel Aviv. Instead of doing ‘Standing Together,’ we make it ‘Climbing Together.’”
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour[email protected]local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.