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Obituary: Harold W. Roeth '61

An intellectual who was good at fixing things, Harold W. Roeth promoted education for all.

He died, surrounded by his family, on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010, at his home in Slingerlands after a battle with cancer. He was 78.

“He was a very bright person, but he never bragged about his thinking,” said his wife, Monique Roeth. “He was extremely good at fixing things.”

Born in Brooklyn, he was the son of Harold Roeth, a mechanic, and Gladys Nickerson Roeth, a nurse’s aid. Mr. Roeth grew up on Long Island. “Harold was inquisitive and energetic,” his family wrote in a tribute. “As a youth, he initiated ventures, including paper routes and photography businesses.”

“As a boy, he used to ride his bicycle and deliver papers when there were still potato fields on Long Island,” said his wife.

Mr. Roeth met his wife while in the United States Army, stationed in Europe. “My sister was a war bride. Her husband was in the Army in the occupied forces in Germany. I went to visit her. I met Harold in a bank…The chemistry was incredible,” Mrs. Roeth said.

Their marriage lasted 50 years.

They raised two sons and a daughter — Jacques, Neil, and Janine.

“The boys say he set a good example by being handy and fixing things,” said Mrs. Roeth. His daughter fondly remembers his involvement in 4-H.

Mr. Roeth was a master craftsman with a variety of skills, from woodworking to all aspects of home remodeling. He had a passion for trains and model railroads and also loved MGs, restoring two in his lifetime and serving as editor of the national MGA magazine for 13 years.

The Roeths fixed up the old Lakeview Nursing Home in Westerlo, remodeling it into their house. They named it La Bonne Terre. “When you stood on the front lawn, you had a beautiful view of the Catskills,” said Mrs. Roeth. “I thought it was a good piece of earth,” she said, explaining the name.

Mr. Roeth, with the help of his two sons, built two barns on the property and the family raised goats there.

The Roeths lived at La Bonne Terre for 37 years, moving to Beverwyck in Slingerlands in 2008, after Mr. Roeth was diagnosed with cancer.

While at Beverwyck, Mr. Roeth continued with his woodworking. He was working on a cabinet for the library there at the time of his death. His children will finish the project for him, said his wife.

Mr. Roeth used his head as well as his hands. While a student at Antioch College, he and two other students got a grant to found an FM radio station, WYSO, said his wife. “He inaugurated the radio station before we got married,” she said.

Mr. Roeth went on to become program manager at WRVR at Riverside Church in New York City when it won the Peabody Award for its Civil Rights programs. The Harlem church is famous for its Gothic architecture and its promotion of progressive causes.

Asked about the award, Mrs. Roeth said with a chuckle, “One problem with my husband, he never talked much about his accomplishments.” She added, “He was not an extrovert, but he enjoyed people.”

“Harold valued humanitarianism,” his family wrote, “from recording the March on Washington, the belief that all should have access to an affordable college-level education, serving on the Westerlo Planning Board, and continuing in retirement through Meals on Wheels and Habitat for Humanity.”

As director of the University of the Air at the State University of New York, Mr. Roeth developed a statewide program to promote distance education through the broadcasting of college courses on radio and television — a precursor to the SUNY Empire State College where he was the director of the Learning Resources Information Center.

“He was ahead of his time,” said his wife. “He felt everybody should have access to education, that it shouldn’t be just for the wealthy.”

She concluded of her husband, “He will be terribly missed.”

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In addition to his wife and children, Harold W. Roeth is survived by his grandchildren: Gregory Roeth, son of Jacques and Maureen Roeth; Alison and Liam Roeth, children of Neil and Cynthia Roeth; and Simone and Roger Hooker, children of Janine Roeth and Henry Hooker.

He is also survived by two sisters, Janice Roeth O’Donohue and her husband, John, and Muriel Roeth.

As Mr. Roeth wished, there was a family-only service, with a celebration of his life expected the last weekend of June.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Habitat for Humanity (http://www.habitat.org) or to community Hospice of Albany (http://www.communityhospice.org), 445 New Karner Road, Albany, NY 12205-3809.