August 28, 2013

Lt. Col. John F. Roach


— PERU - Lt. Col. John F. Roach, 82, of State Route 22B, Peru, died Saturday, August 24, 2013, at CVPH Medical Center with his loving family by his side.

John Francis Roach was born in Plattsburgh on Jan. 30, 1931, the eldest child and only son of Francis Daniel and Agnes Cecelia Quinn Roach. He was soon followed by four little sisters, Anne, Marilyn, Margaret and Eleanor. A man of great Catholic faith, pride in his Irish heritage and love for his country, John was a graduate of St. John's Academy Class of 1948, where he was the youngest in his class due to the fact that when he started school in Keeseville, there was no kindergarten section, so he went directly to first grade.

A child of the depression, John was no stranger to hard work. Growing up, he worked the milk trucks before school, at Nitzi's during college and drove truck for Texaco during summers and holidays through the 1970s.

John's long and distinguished military career began when he left Plattsburgh on St. Patrick's Day 1948 for basic training in San Antonio, Texas, and ended 43 years later when, as a Lt. Col., he aged out during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. He was a Korean War veteran and remained active in the USAF Reserves during the 1960s, even when there was no financial compensation for doing so. He served as the area Liaison to the United States Air Force Academy for three decades.

Upon returning to Plattsburgh, John enrolled at Champlain College in Vermont and transferred to Plattsburgh State Teachers College, where he was the first King of the Winter Ball, and graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in 1956. He achieved Master's Degrees from Plattsburgh State and Syracuse University. John did his student teaching in Peru under the tutelage of Loretta Bull. He spent one year teaching in Colonie and the next 54 years at Peru Central. Mr. Roach inspired generations of students, their children and grandchildren. If you had his class in room 214, you were a "214'er" for life! He retired from teaching in June 1991 and began driving bus as a substitute in September. He greeted every child with a smile, a story and often a song. "When The Saints Go Marching In" holds a special place in the hearts and memories of many children he drove to school.

John was a forward-thinking entrepreneur. He founded the Peru Central School Credit Union in 1963 and co-founded St. Augustine's Home and School Club which initiated one of if not the first Bingo games in the area. He was instrumental in founding the Teacher Welfare Society, now known as the Peru Association of Teachers. He owned and operated an Ariens repair shop. He then opened Apple Valley Beverage, the first convenience store in Peru, on the site of the current Pasquale's. He planned to open Sunporch Gifts, which would have been the first flower and gift shop. While ordering business cards and stationery at the Village Print Shop, he bought that business instead. John printed prayer cards, wedding announcements, posters and tickets for events by hand on his 1910 Clymer printing press, with hand set type, in an age before computers. He could be seen working late into the night to make sure every need was met.

John married Patricia Mary Ryan on June 26, 1961, at St. John's Church in Plattsburgh. Their union was blessed with four children. John Jr. was born in 1962, James Edward in 1964 and the twins, Eileen Agnes and Kathleen Elizabeth, followed in 1966. They survive him. Shortly thereafter, Pat was diagnosed with cancer. John tended to her for seven years until her passing in 1973. Now a single father to four young children, John continued to lead by example. He served his beloved Peru for three decades as an assessor, town councilman, town supervisor and eventually historian. He is perhaps most well-known for his 50 year membership in the Peru Fire Department. He was among the first EMTs in the area, maintaining his certification from the late 1960s through the 1990s. He served as a firefighter, assistant chief, administrative officer, committee chair and mentor and had several commendations including two CPR saves. He was recognized by his fellow firefighters as Clinton County Firefighter of the Year in 1999. He served on the scholarship committee, combining his passion for education with providing young people with as many opportunities as possible. He was partial to red fire trucks and was sad to see them phased out in Peru. In the 1980s, John was again among the first Clinton County 9-1-1 dispatchers.

On July 5, 1980, John married Mary Elizabeth Woodward Keefe. They blended families as he became a much loved stepfather to Patrick, Kevin, Doreen, Danny and Donna, who also survive him. John adored "his bride," as he called her and she adored "her boyfriend," as she called him. They spent 33 wonderful years together in true partnership built on respect and love. In their later years, they traveled to every corner of the U.S. in their RV. Mary was up for any adventure he could plan and was by his side until the end! Theirs was a love to be emulated.

Generous beyond compare and equally humble, John never sought the limelight or recognition for his deeds. He lived his faith. He was proud of his 40 year association with the Knights of Columbus. In true John fashion, he never felt as if he gave enough time to warrant the 4th degree status and declined it several times. John was also a member of the Elks.

For nearly 50 years, the Colonel would give a speech to Peru Jr. and Sr. high school students on Veteran's Day and Memorial Day. You could hear a pin drop while 1500 students and staff stood silently in reverence to the man and his message. Many a tear were shed in response to his love of his country and way with words. Upon retiring from teaching, his gift was shared with students in the elementary, as well as students in the AuSable Valley District.

The epitome of a gentleman, he insisted on ladies first, no hats in the house, and always lending a hand. John never met a stranger. He greeted everyone with a smile and treated them equally regardless of rank or status. He was one of a kind. He will be missed greatly by his family, including his loving sister, Ellie Douglas of AuSable; his sister-in-law, Donna Merlow of Glens Falls; and his grandchildren, Tim, Lizzy, Christina, Emma, Aidan, Regan, Kaylee and Emily. In addition, he is survived by his sons-in-law, Don and Bruce; daughters-in-law, Kim and Nancy; as well his many nieces, nephews, cousins and other relatives.