Former bartender on the near-death experience that inspired a career change
Longtime Dick's Den-izen Rob Schorr founded the bar's Monday night pool tournament, now considered to be the longest-running consecutive pool event in the state, in 1997. Schorr is also responsible for organizing the First Aid volunteer program at ComFest, for which he received that organization's Honored Volunteer Award in 2008.
“Nothing I've ever done would be anything without other people, but people have been known to say that, ‘Rob's always at the heart of it,'” Schorr said in a recent sit-down at the historic Old North dive.
Schorr's own heart — not to mention most of his other internal organs — was seriously threatened in a 2013 incident involving a drunk driver in the Short North. Walking on Henrietta Street on his way to his car, Schorr noticed an out-of-control car heading his way. Schorr sought safety in a dumpster corral area, but the car found him, slamming into a dumpster which first threw Schorr backward into a concrete pylon, then trapped him against it as the car pushed the dumpster, pinning him between the pylon and the dumpster and car.
“I could feel my tissues tearing, my internal organs moving inside of me. It was crushing me, and I could feel my heart beating hard against my chest wall and then stop because it ran out of room to beat,” Schorr recalled. He continued to describe, in painstaking and pain-inducing detail, his desperate attempt to extricate himself, his abdominal wall further tearing with the effort.
“I was being crushed alive. No matter how hard I was trying to tear myself from the wreckage, I knew right then I was going to die. And the only thing that came to mind was not the stuff I'd done, but that stuff I hadn't done,” Schorr said.
A native of Lithopolis, Ohio, Schorr was a science kid growing up. His father and grandfather were versed in assembling and reassembling all things mechanical, and young Rob learned at their feet. As a student in Bloom-Carroll local schools, Schorr gravitated toward the sciences, later moving to Columbus to study Health Sciences at Columbus State Community College. He was living in an apartment near Dick's Den and attending school in the mid-1990s when he and his friends started hanging out there to play pool.
“It was pretty rough early on when we were coming here. There were times I felt like Wyatt Earp back there in the pool room,” Schorr said. “I came to play pool. But I never got in any fights, and [owners] John [Sondej] and Jimmy [Bryan] fostered the idea that we all were protecting what was good here. Now it's a community home for artists, musicians, teachers … inventors.”
Schorr had been running the weekly pool tournament for about a year when he was approached to join the Dick's Den staff in 1998. (He left the bar — as an employee but not as a member of its extended family — in 2005 to help run the family business, a sign-making company.)
“My friends were here and I was already here much of the time, so I came to work here, and I loved it,” Schorr said of the seven years he spent on staff, mostly behind the bar, while still running the pool tournament.
He would need that community again in the weeks and months after suffering his life-threatening injuries.
“I didn't know how long I might have to live,” Schorr said of the time he spent in the hospital. “I had always wanted to be a patented inventor. With pain and fear pushing me, I decided I was going to create something that made a difference.”
For 17 hours a day for at least two years, and through 300 design modifications, Schorr worked to create a device that would allow the user of a microscope or telescope to physically attach their smartphone to the scope to allow for photography, video and sharing via existing webcasting technology.
“I knew I had an idea that would expand science education,” Schorr said of his SyVu, which can share an image to a projector or classroom SMART Board, and which received a U.S. utility patent in 2015.
Among Schorr's SyVu customers are Rutgers University and Doctors Without Borders. He has sold the device around the world. And he has been donating devices to local school districts. “I was never interested in the capitalism of it. Every time I sell one, it allows me to donate more,” he said, adding he imagines a future in which the SyVu is standard equipment in science classrooms.
But none of it happens without his Dick's Den family, Schorr said.
“The community of creative people here at Dick's Den has … allowed me to do so much more with it than I could have on my own. I don't know how to design a brochure, or do a proper video presentation, but people here stepped up and helped me out,” Schorr said. “The whole thing is bigger than me.”