George Rouman, Cinema Operator and Industry Champion, Dies at 51

By J. Sperling Reich | June 13, 2024 5:30 pm PDT
George Rouman - 2022 Geneva Convention - Save Our Screens Award

George Rouman, President of the family-owned century-old movie theatre circuit Rouman Amusement Company, died on 9 June 2024 in a car accident in Skanawan, Wisconsin. He was 51-years-old.

Rouman, whose cinema chain owns and operates ten screens in two locations in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, was a well respected leader in the North American cinema industry, serving on the Advisory Board of the National Association of Theater Owners for over 20 years. He was on the Board of Directors for the regional association, NATO of Wisconsin & Upper Michigan, since 2002, becoming the organization’s President in 2016.

For nearly two decades, Rouman served as Co-Chairman for the Lake Geneva Convention, a regional movie theatre conference which provides educational seminars, panel discussions, movie screenings, and networking opportunities for other independent cinema owners. In May of this year, Rouman and John Scaleta, Vice President of F&F Management and Co-Chairman of the Lake Geneva Convention, announced that this year’s event would not take place this autumn due to unforeseen logistical challenges at their host facility in Wisconsin.

During the early days of COVID-19, Rouman organized video calls with members of NATO of Wisconsin & Upper Michigan, to discuss ideas and ways to get through the pandemic. He was the first regional leader to convince Wisconsin lawmakers that movie theaters were the heart of many small towns across state and would ultimately need financial assistance to stay afloat. The grant program he initiated was modeled across the country. The Board of Directors of NATO of WI & Upper Michigan honored Rouman at the Geneva Convention in 2022 with the Save Our Screens Award for his tireless advocacy on their behalf. Rouman was known for his selfless, humble leadership skills, business acumen, and experience, freely offering support, advice, knowledge and mentorship to others in his community and across the nation.

John Scaleta, Chris Aronson, George Roman at the 2022 Lake Geneva Convention
John Scaleta of F&F Management (left), Chris Aronson of Paramount Pictures, George Roman of Rouman Amusement Company, at the 2022 Lake Geneva Convention. (Photo: Carol Brown)

George Rouman was born on 3 July 1972 to Michael J. Rouman and Evdokia Rouman (née Manolakos). Michael Rouman had taken over Rouman Amusement Company in 1967 after the death of his uncle Peter Rouman, who began the company with his brother in 1921. George Rouman grew up working at the State Theater in Downtown Rhinelander with his father, mother, and sister, Patti Rouman. He did everything from selling tickets and concessions to operating the projectors. Rouman graduated from Rhinelander High School (RHS) in 1990, where he took up leadership positions for the senior class. He was cast in every play at RHS during his tenure there as well as two productions at Nicolet College in Rhinelander. He also participated in forensics while at the school.

He then attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he began studying film eventually earning a degree in marketing. While at UW-Milwaukee, Rouman was the school mascot for two seasons, challenging him not to talk while in character. Shortly after college, he worked as a college recruiter for Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois near Chicago. He traveled to job fairs and universities, talking to everybody who would listen about the opportunities at Great America. Rouman loved the role of meeting people in new settings and was looking forward to doing international recruiting. At the same time, the cinema industry was changing and, in 2000, his family committed to building a new cinema in Rhinelander. Rouman decided to return to his home town of Rhinelander and chose to take up the family business.

For over 30 years, Rouman followed in his father’s footsteps and channeled his dedication and hospitality – working hard and rarely taking a day off. He appreciated the business his family had created and was always looking for ways to build on new ideas. Rouman was at the forefront of modernizing and installing cutting-edge technologies in his theatres to enahnce the moviegoer experience. Improving concession options was essential to George. He would often call on his sister, Patti, for her thoughts and advice on movie theatre related matters.

In July 2005, Rouman purchased the Fun Factory Sweet Shoppe. He relied on his mother, Evdokia, for her advice on making chocolates and improving the customer experience. Every Christmas, the Fun Factory’s busiest time of year, the business ships gift boxes and chocolates nationwide.

George Rouman's Gelato Stand
George Rouman added gelato catering to his portfolio of business ventures (Photo: George Rouman)

Always the entrepreneur, Rouman had an idea for another company: a gelato catering business. Gelato catering quickly grew from a few local weddings to weekends packed with events across Wisconsin. He would travel around the state with his gelato carts, providing specialty desserts at special events.

Most people in the Rhinelander knew George Rouman because he grew up there and was so involved in giving back to the community he loved. For over 20 years, George coordinated the donations and delivery of hundreds of Thanksgiving meals to families in need in Rhinelander and across Oneida County. He offered free summer movies, Christmas Day screenings, Easter, New Year’s, and After-Prom parties for the community at his cinemas. He was involved in many organizations and committees that benefited his local community, including the Nicolet College Foundation.

Rouman was an avid runner and loved to travel. He traveled around the world, visiting family in Greece and exploring Southeast Asia with his sister. He even climbed to the base camp of Mt. Everest. He was a sports enthusiast and enjoyed going to Milwaukee Brewer and Green Bay Packers games, including an epic road trip to Super Bowl XXXI.

He is survived by his mother, Evdokia, his sister, Patti, and his niece, Mikaela. He was preceded in death by his father, Michael Rouman, in August of 2023 at the age of 87.

Even in death, Rouman’s altruism is on full display, for in lieu of flowers, he requests mourners take a moment to learn about and consider a donation in his name to one of the charities serving the motion picture industry including the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation and Variety – the Children’s Charity of Wisconsin.

J. Sperling Reich