Saturday, January 22, 2022

GOODLAND’S SWEETHEART: Residents rally around Carolyn Roth

Photo by Barry Gwinn
Richard and Carolyn at their “purple and yellow” Goodland cottage where only two rooms are suitable for habitation. Half the house is at ground level and even the raised half was flooded.

Carolyn and Richard Roth have lived in Goodland off and on since 1983, splitting their time between Michigan and Florida. They have been married since 1975, a second marriage for both. Carolyn brought four of her own children into the marriage, Richard brought three. They settled in Romeo, Michigan, where Richard owned a funeral home. As blended marriages go, things went relatively well until the kids started turning into adults. Then tragedy struck, not once but twice. On a chilly Easter Sunday, in April 1981, the Roths got the call that parents of teenagers dread the most. Carolyn’s daughter Mary Beth, age 17, had been killed in a car accident. While riding around with her cousins, the collision had caused her to be ejected from the car; she died on impact. Two years later, in April 1983, Richard’s daughter, Pam, age 20, took her own life, using a handgun. Richard, who was the local funeral director, buried both of their daughters.

After Mary Beth’s death in 1981 the Roths had struggled with their grief and at the same time continued raising the remaining five children. Pam’s death, two years later, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. By that time all of the kids had left home and were independent. Carolyn thought a change of scene and weather would help them to recover. In the summer of 1983, when they came across an ad, offering sailing lessons from Goodland, they sold everything they owned and moved here. For the next four years they lived on the sailboat which they had bought as a result of the sailing lessons. Cruises on the gulf and down to the Keys helped them to forget. “We thought we could go on forever like this,” Carolyn said. It was not to be.

In 1987, they had to return to Romeo in order to head off a bank foreclosure on some property they had sold four years before. It was heartbreaking, Carolyn said, to have to leave all that they had come to treasure here and return to the place they were trying to forget. It took Richard years to straighten things out.

Once you live in Goodland however, you can never get the sand out of your shoes. The Roths were no different. In 2000, they bought a cottage in Goodland where they have resided for seven months of the year ever since. They return to Honor, Michigan each spring, to open their “Riverside Acres Resort,” consisting of six cottages, on a salmon filled river, and six miles from some of the most pristine Lake Michigan beaches. During their time in Goodland, they became integral parts of the community and active in the Goodland Civic Association. Richard served on GCA’s board of directors and Carolyn always volunteered for GCA and community events, especially when there was money to be raised for a good cause. During fundraisers, of which there are many in Goodland, her favorite spot was in front of the Little Bar selling raffle tickets. With her warm smile, gorgeous blue eyes and tossing blond ponytail, she sold a lot of tickets. She also made a lot of friends along the way. Betty Bruno was one of those friends.

Bruno, the de facto mayor of Goodland until her death in 1998, spent her last years lobbying for a bike path along Goodland Road. Her efforts were ultimately successful, but she never got to see the bike path. It wasn’t built until 2002. “I thought that bike path was a wonderful memorial to Betty,” said Carolyn, “and that got me to thinking.” Winding through a lush mangrove forest, the bike path quickly became popular destination for bikers and walkers who wanted to experience the serenity of the forest up close. Carolyn’s daughter, Mary Beth, was born on Christmas (Like Jesus, Carolyn said) and died on Easter Sunday. “With such a beautiful setting, I felt I could finally do something to memorialize Mary Beth (and coincidentally Richard’s daughter, Pam), and do it on the days of her birth and death.” She and Richard began hanging the stars and Easter eggs in 2003. They would mysteriously appear every year thereafter.

Richard and Carolyn hung 100 silver stars that first year, the first of about 13 years when they labored alone and under the radar. Carolyn made them out of pie plates, which she saved and got from her friends. She worked on them summers in Michigan and falls in Goodland. On two of the stars, she wrote the names of their deceased daughters and soon others were following suit with their own loved ones’ names. The familiar silver stars became a memorial for many and a public celebration of Christmas – Goodland style. The colorful plastic Easter eggs lent a dash of color in the spring. Few of us knew who was doing this, or why, but it gave us an added sense of pride in our community.

By 2016, Carolyn’s recent stroke had become a problem. She had taken to using a walker at times and knew that she and Richard would need help with the stars. She made an appeal at the November Goodland Town meeting and about 15 Goodlanders showed up a couple weeks later to help the Roths hang ‘em up. Many of the same people showed up in the spring (2017) to help with the Easter eggs. And then in September, Irma struck. Survival and reconstruction, not stars, took precedence for everyone else – except for Greg Bello, the GCA’s “can do” peripatetic president.

Bello announced at a November 2017 town meeting, that except for the frame of their house, the Roths’ home had been wiped out. They would be unable to return until their house was restored. He explained how the stars were Carolyn’s way of memorializing the untimely deaths of their daughters and how disappointed she would be if they weren’t put up. “Can anyone help put them up this year?” Bello asked. Sitting in the Community Center that night were two of the leaders of the Drop Anchor Mobile Home Park. Most of their members had joined the GCA during the past 10 years and were enthusiastic supporters of what we were doing. Linda Chamberlain and JoAnn Methner were moved by what they heard and after a nod to each other, announced that the folks at Drop Anchor would get the Christmas stars up, which they did a couple weeks later.

The Roths did return in January after Richard and his neighbors had cleaned up and restored two rooms of their cottage. Carolyn’s thoughts turned to the Easter egg memorial. She was still recovering from a devastating stroke, suffered last spring, and all the eggs (about 450) had been destroyed in the storm surge. (The stars had been stored at the Community Center, which wasn’t damaged.) Once again, the folks at Drop Anchor jumped into the breach.

Eggs on the otherwise mostly bare mangroves add a splash of cheer and color along Goodland’s favorite road.

Eight hundred sixty colorful plastic Easter Eggs were ordered online, and additional supplies were bought. Drop Anchor covering all expenses. On March 1, an assembly line was set up in the Drop Anchor clubhouse to make the eggs suitable for hanging. Seventeen people showed up. There were five stations, starting with burning holes in the eggs for insertion of string and ending with putting the dismantled eggs back together after the strings had been knotted and placed inside. Carolyn Roth came to help and cheer them on. “You are my angels,” she told them. By the end of the day, the denuded mangroves had once again bloomed with all 860 eggs – a pretty good day’s work for us old whippersnappers who always seem to rise to the occasion down here.

“It’s a beautiful thing to remember people,” said Chamberlain, “We really wanted to help cheer people up. It made us feel good to see how grateful and appreciative Carolyn was.”

Carolyn will no longer have to worry about her beloved memorials going up each year. The community has taken her into its heart.

Barry was a practicing attorney before he worked as a Special Agent of the FBI for 31 years.  Barry worked for several government agencies another ten years before retiring to Goodland in 2006. Barry is presently the Secretary of the Goodland Civic Association.

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