Orville Roth: A man who made a difference to his community, friends, family

November 2013 Posted in Business, Community, People
Orville Roth

Orville Roth

By Brenna Wiegand

Silverton resident Bill Schmidt realized Orville Roth was getting older but he never thought of him as ever passing away.

“He had so much energy and he acted like a kid most of the time,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt was one of Roth’s many friends who were shocked and saddened by the news Roth died on Oct. 13 while visiting family in Hawaii. He was 79 years old.

And like many people who knew Roth, Schmidt has fond memories of the times they spent together, from Beaver games to vacations. Orville Roth and Verlene Beard and Bill and Judy Schmidt had dinner together at least once a week. Their 30-year friendship, Schmidt said, began as a business acquaintance.

“I was in the beer and wine wholesale business for years and everybody was afraid to call on Orville – he had a reputation for being tough.” Schmidt bit the bullet one day.

“I walked in and he barely looked up from his desk,” Schmidt said. “He had one of those hourglass timers; he flipped that thing over and said “You’ve got two minutes, kid. Sell me something.”

“I start telling him my name and the company and he said ‘I know who you are and where you’re from; don’t waste your time…’

When the sand ran out, Roth said to Schmidt, “Your two minutes are up – I don’t want anything.’ I thought, ‘Holy smokes! This is a tough guy.’ He basically tossed me out. It took six sales calls before Roth agreed to buy something.

“… once he committed to you it was like he was both feet in and he did everything he could to make sure it was a success and for the next 25 years in the business I was successful with Orville. He always said he liked to do that to weed out the people that weren’t in it for the long haul.”

Their business relationship became friendly – the business entails numerous social events – but Schmidt wasn’t sure what would happen when he got out of the business about 10 years ago.

“He just came to me and told me how much he appreciated me as a friend and that he hoped we’d stay close and we became much closer after that.

“It’s no secret – he could be a real tough guy; right to the end,” Schmidt said. “He could be hard on people but when it came right down to it there isn’t anybody with a bigger heart than that guy.”

Schmidt said Roth loved to take photos and make double copies which he gave away.

“We were late for our dinner reservation one night and he stopped in Keizer at a Shutterbug. He reached in the glove box and he had like 15 rolls of film. I said, ‘Good Lord, how long have you had those?’ and he said, ‘Oh, it’s just this month.’

“He never forgot a birthday or an anniversary,” Schmidt said. “He loved to send cards, but you figured out that you had to open them up over a garbage can because he always filled them with confetti or little sparkles or glitter; he made sure that it made a big mess. I used to just curse him when I’d open those things.”

“He cares so much for Silverton,” said Jane Jones, a Silverton Area Community Aid board member and a friend. “We have a fundraising event every year, and with Roth’s help we have been able to raise $41,000 in the last couple years.”

Roth was responsible, she said, for jazzing up Silverton’s First Friday a couple years ago so it’s only fitting the Nov. 1 event honor its benefactor. The theme is “Thank You Orville.”  Events are planned to honor Roth.

Andrew and Chanelle Koster have worked at Roth’s Silverton store over the past several years; Andrew while finishing his degree at Oregon State; Chanelle is on maternity leave with their third child. Andrew said their relationship extended beyond the store.

“We would help with working at his house,” Koster said. “We’d go up after Thanksgiving and help clean up all the leaves and all that good stuff.”

Both avid Oregon State fans, Orville welcomed them at his football tailgate parties and they’d visit at basketball games.

At the store, “When you saw that green Suburban roll in word went around that Orville was in the building,” Koster said. “You might be watching a little more, but not much; the managers Darin and then Georgia knew his expectations and that would come down to the rest of us and grow from there.”

Orville Roth was well-known for tossing candy at the Homer Parade.

Orville Roth was well-known for tossing candy at the Homer Parade.

The Silverton store closed the afternoon of Oct. 22 so employees could attend Orville’s Celebration of Life at The Oregon Garden.

Verlene Beard knew Orville for 50 years; the last 40 they were close companions. She worked for Roth’s for 32 years.

As the years went on Beard saw Roth’s focus shift more toward family and spending time with friends. He always liked a new audience, she said, for all the one-liners he came up with – “Orvillisms.” Now she never knows when one of them will come to mind  including “If you didn’t have Mondays, you wouldn’t have Fridays,” or “If you can’t be on time, be early.”

“He always could tell you, by about the middle of summer, how many days it was ’til Christmas; always had them counted. Everybody would just moan and groan,” Beard said.

Beard also plunges into the community in many capacities and has volunteered extensively as a member of Silverton Health Auxiliary. In February she received Silverton’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Yet the magnitude of the life Orville led makes you wonder whether he could be in two places at once or was allotted an extra 24 hours in each day. His secret lay not in multitasking.

“He did one thing at a time,” Beard said. “Whatever he was obligated to do first, he did it and then everything else would fall into place.”

Jeff Nizlek, owner of Silver Grille, said Roth was a frequent guest, generous and magnanimous. He sent them flowers at Christmas time. “On more than one occasion if he was at the bar waiting and we had a table that needed to be sat for whatever reason, he’d give his up.”

Roth dined at Silver Grille the Wednesday before he left for Hawaii and he was one of Nizlek’s first customers the Wednesday he opened more than 13 years ago.

The Wednesday after Roth’s death the menu was green bow tie pasta with Italian sausage and Alfredo sauce.

“And he always had Caesar Salad so we had a course with that,” Nizlek said. “And, of course, a hot fudge sundae.”

Ken Hector said he and Darby are having a hard time accepting Orville’s gone. Over the past 30 years the couples traveled, dined, went to Oregon State games and endeavored to serve their community.

“For me personally, it’s a tremendous loss; and for our community, Marion County and the state of Oregon it’s a tremendous loss,” Hector said. “The breadth and depth of the people he touched; the list of organizations and charities he supported just goes on and on.”

Roth’s support of the Mayor’s Ball during Hector’s 16 years in office “took our fund raising abilities to incredible levels.”

“For the first 10 years, it was a family thing … we’d raise maybe $5,000-7,000,” he said. “When we changed the format year 11 the first thing he did was get many of his vendors involved … the last several years we did it we were raising $50-60,000 a year … and of course all that money just turned right around and was plowed back into local community nonprofits.

“You look at it and it’s just incredible; he started the Brewfest that the Garden now puts on … his huge support for Doernbecher; for Family Building Blocks, for Oregon Special Olympics and the Children’s Garden at The Oregon Garden; he left a big imprint,” Hector said. “His hallmarks certainly include how friendly and outgoing he was to everyone he met; and his loyalty was incredible and he had a great sense of humor. He was a fiercely independent businessman who really believed in the independent businessman.”

For Stacy Palmer, Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, when she thinks of Orville Roth it is of all the high school students he gave their first job, and how many sports teams he sponsored – all the little things you don’t really think of until you start recapping somebody’s life.

“He was instrumental in reinvigorating Silverton First Friday, complete with printing a banner and the signs you see in so many businesses – that was Orville, wanting to support his community. He helped Molly Ainsley when she was developing SortaSausage…,” said Palmer.

“He was definitely what you would consider a mover and a shaker,” Palmer said. “To have leaders in your community that are so compassionate and proactive about business, not only for themselves but for the community, definitely helps us to recruit and retain some of those businesses.

April Purdy was general manager of The Oregon Garden from 2006-11 and before that an executive assistant.

“I can’t remember a time when Orville wasn’t involved,” Purdy said. “The Roths were instrumental in designing The Children’s Garden and the fifth-grade Environmental Education Program was his project. He recently surpassed his goal of 50,000 school kids enjoying field trips to the wetlands.

“He was definitely a good example,” she said. “The most powerful thing has been reading through everybody’s stories … how many kids he impacted.”

Perhaps nobody knew Orville Roth the way Darin Rybloom did. A Roth’s employee for 30 years, they worked hand-in-glove the last two decades, Roth continually challenging the persistent Rybloom, who Orville brought to Silverton as manager upon that store’s remodel in 2000.

Rybloom was the face of Roth’s in Silverton for a dozen years until Roth promoted him in January to grocery buyer for the store chain.

“In the last 13 years we went to lunch probably 700 times; you get to know somebody pretty good,” he said. “And I probably paid for 350 of them; we were friends.”

With all his exposure, Orville always had a vibe on the store.

“I had to have my A game on all the time because I knew that I was always running in front of him,” Rybloom said. “But when I made a mistake he’d let me know he had my back.

“As a manager I always knew that if I got to him first and said ‘Hey, this bothers me’ or ‘I don’t feel good about this decision’ – and believe me I got better over the years – that it was fine. We have thousands of customers coming through every week and if three or four complain they react to that. Every customer means so much to them.”

One night in year three of Rybloom’s management career Orville called him as he was getting off shift. Roth wanted him to come up to the house; Rybloom wasn’t sure what was about to happen.

“He was watching a baseball game, had a glass of wine in his hand,” Rybloom said. “He asked me if I wanted a glass of wine. He said, ‘I’ve got 95,000 air miles. You want to go to Phoenix with me in a couple weeks? Let’s go down and enjoy Phoenix.’

“It was fantastic; we had a great time,” Rybloom said. “But I was on needles and pins there for awhile.”

Though it had come up before, a couple months ago Orville told Rybloom and his son Michael Roth, company president, that he’d like to have his own mural when he’s gone – of him in the Homer Davenport Parade.

“He’d get out of the golf cart and dump the whole box of candy out and 30 or 40 kids would come running around,” Rybloom said. “We all have that vision of Orville in the parades, don’t we? We have that picture and we’re going to do that mural.

“The symbolism for me is that his initial investor was Herman Jochimsen, who was a candy man, and now Orville ends up a candy man.”

“I know how Orville’s built; I grew up with him; I know what he’s thinking so it was easy for me because I always tried to stay ahead of him,” Rybloom said. “I knew his expectations and they were very high and I had those built into me.”

First Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 5 o’clock Orville came into the Silverton store where Rybloom was already greeting customers. He worked the crowd and by 5:50 both were front and center by the check stands.

“There was a display and the product wasn’t ‘faced up,’” Rybloom said. “And with his bad knee he got down on his knees and said, ‘Darin, you always got to take the product from the bottom and put it up top.’ And he did it and as far as being a grocer that was probably one of my last memories of him.

“‘Til the end, he was relentlessly working; it was in his DNA.”

From his friends stories, it’s clear Orville Roth left a legacy and gave guidelines to live by: always do your best; serve others; give to your community; be loyal to your friends and family… the list goes on.

At his memorial service, his son Michael Roth shared his dad’s toast. The words are simple but meaningful. Words to be treasured and lived by.

“Health, happiness and love forever.”

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