2011-04-09 / People

Island Remembers Friend, Firefighter Bobby Roach

By Karen Gould


Bobby Roach (Photograph courtesy of Armand “Smi” Horn) Bobby Roach (Photograph courtesy of Armand “Smi” Horn) Bobby Roach was considered a good friend who could be called on to help anyone at any time, and his Mackinac Island friends memorialized him last weekend with events that characterized his life - a hockey game, a barbeque, bonfire, and parade of fire trucks and snowmobiles. Mr. Roach has been missing since February 11 and is presumed to have perished in Lake Huron.

The activities began at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 12, and ended at 11 p.m., when Father Jim Williams blessed a message bottle that was slipped into a hole in the ice on the lake.

Mr. Roach and his snowmobile were last seen at the Village Inn, and friends believe he took the ice bridge to St. Ignace that evening. A two-day search by residents, area police, and the U.S. Coast Guard failed to produce any evidence of what might have happened.

“He was a Mackinac Island person and everyone always comes together, no matter what,” said Jody Chambers. “All of the different groups that we all are, when someone is missing or needs help, this is what Mackinac does. We just drop everything to do that for family or for that missing person. I don’t know how else to say it, this is the place you want to be taken care of.”


Preparing community bonfires at the end of the boardwalk on Sandy Beach was a volunteer job previously handled by Bobby Roach. In his memory, at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 12, residents set a fire in his favorite spot, burning a piano Mr. Roach had hoped to burn this year. Now, the community says it would like to establish a permanent bonfire spot at the site. (Photograph courtesy of Greg Main) Preparing community bonfires at the end of the boardwalk on Sandy Beach was a volunteer job previously handled by Bobby Roach. In his memory, at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 12, residents set a fire in his favorite spot, burning a piano Mr. Roach had hoped to burn this year. Now, the community says it would like to establish a permanent bonfire spot at the site. (Photograph courtesy of Greg Main) Mrs. Chambers, Steve Cotton, and Kathy Andress came up with the idea to give people a chance to recognize Mr. Roach and to hold activities in conjunction with the street hockey game usually held on St. Patrick’s Day.

Mrs. Chambers’ daughter, Maggie, a senior at Mackinac Island Public School, painted a bottle. On the outside is an email address so people can let the community know where it is found. The bottle is marked not to be opened. The idea, said Mrs. Chambers, is for the person who comes across it to put it back in the lake. Friends tucked messages in the bottle before it was sealed, blessed by Fr. Williams, and placed in Lake Huron.

“I just know sometimes people need some closure of some type,” she said. “We feel that with that message in the bottle, as long as his body is out there, these good wishes from the Island are going to be with him.”

Paul BeDour and Brian Thomas provided music at the Village Inn. A memorial fund was established at First National Bank of St. Ignace.

“Everybody is participating and donating,” said Donna Adams of the Village Inn. “This is a community event.”

Helping to organize the memorial were the Village Inn, the Mustang, Doud’s Market, Island Hardware, and the Mackinac Island Fire Department, on which Mr. Roach served.

The street hockey game in memory of Mr. Roach began the day’s activities. It meant a lot to Jamie Bynoe, captain of Mackinac Wings.

“Bobby always liked hockey games,” said Mr. Bynoe. “He was my hockey coach and he was one of my great buddies on the fire department.”

Kirk Lipnitz, the captain of the opposing team, the St. Ignace Wings, said there was a good turnout of fans and the game was a nice memorial for Mr. Roach.

“We all knew him,” said Mr. Lipnitz. “He was the kind of guy who had a good soul, and everyone who knew him liked him.”

At 3 p.m. a bonfire was set on the sand beach at the end of the boardwalk. The fire was a fitting tribute, Ms. Andress said, because Mr. Roach had been in charge of community bonfires held there. The makings of the large bonfire were in place by Friday morning, March 11.

The fuel was to be an old piano, given to Mr. Roach from the Island House, and something he always said he wanted to burn, said Ms. Andress. Placed on wooden pallets with tree branches encircling it, the piano stood ready to become a blaze fitting for the man known for preparing the popular evening activity.

“Bobby was a great person,” she recalled. “He would take the shirt off his back for anyone. He was a giving, kind person.”

At 6 p.m. Fire Chief Dennis Bradley gathered firefighters outside of the fire station on Market Street, where the crew offered a traditional send-off by ringing the station bell. Fr. Williams offered a prayer. Chief Bradley said Mr. Roach, a volunteer firefighter, would be missed.

“Bobby was one of us,” he said, “and by one of us, I don’t just mean the fire department, I mean the whole community. As a firefighter, he was a very valuable team player. He was front line.”

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2011-04-09 digital edition