Roy Roemer: A Life Remembered


GIBSON CITY — Every game, every practice. Every team banquet, gathering and event. Roy Roemer attended them all.

Roemer, 67, a longtime Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley sports fan, died Thursday night after a short battle with esophageal cancer.

More commonly known simply by his first name, Roemer spent countless hours watching GCMS athletes in all of their contests, encouraging the athletes throughout the game. He was well-known not just in Gibson City, but surrounding communities as well.

“I’ve been in Gibson City for 25 years and just found out his last name within the last few years,” said Susan Riley, GCMS High School math teacher. “Like Cher and Oprah, when you said ‘Roy’, everybody knew who you were talking about.”

Roemer spent his early years in the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park where his father was a farmer. In 1970, Wesley and Marion Roemer moved their family to ground they had purchased southeast of Elliott, near Pontoppidan Lutheran Church.

Around that time, Roemer began attending Gibson City High School athletic events. He remembered watching the 1971-72 Greyhound boys’ basketball team, led by Dennis Graff, which played in the state tournament at the Assembly Hall.

From the time he arrived in Gibson City until his diagnosis in January, Roemer attended over 3,600 sporting events, including all of the football and boys’ basketball games. Sporting an Illini cap, Falcon shirt, khaki pants and black Velcro shoes, he was a fixture at GCMS games, supporting every athlete—win or lose.

“It didn’t matter how good or bad the season was going,” GCMS head football coach Mike Allen said. “He was always there cheering the athletes on and being positive.”

“He was such a positive person for our kids,” Riley said. “Although he’d acknowledge and didn’t sugarcoat errors, turnovers or penalties, he always left you with ‘we’ll get ‘em next time.’”

Roemer also kept a multitude of statistics. At football games, he could be spotted with a clipboard and pen in hand, writing down various things during the game.

During basketball games, he could be spotted writing something down on a piece of paper. Frank McCullough, a former Falcon basketball player who now broadcasts the games on the radio, said Roy kept a number of different stats over the years.

“Points, rebounds, assists,” McCullough said. “He had his own code, and only he knew how to decipher it. He had stacks of notebooks full of games he’d kept stats of.”

Roemer was not just a part of high school athletics, but also in the community’s activities. He spent many a day at the basketball court at the North Park, rebounding the ball and encouraging the youngsters as they competed. When school let out in the summer, Roemer attended youth baseball and softball league games and practices.

Tim Leonard, a Gibson City physician who runs the summer youth baseball league, said Roemer always treated the players with respect.

“The thing I remember about Roy was that he was there for kids of all ages, sizes, shapes and ability levels, rooting them on and never criticizing them,” he said. “He never criticized the coaches, officials or the players.”

“Roy was not only a great supporter to any youth who was involved in an extra-curricular activity, but the example he set as being a fan for everyone and for doing it in a positive way is one of the things I will remember Roy for the most,” Allen said.

The first year of GCMS softball was in the spring of 1994. Judy Weber-Jones had coached the softball team at Melvin-Sibley for about a decade, but Gibson City High School never fielded a softball team of its own.

“I remember the first high school softball game Roy attended when we met 25 years ago,” Weber-Jones said. “He had left the game early. The next day I asked him where he went. He said he went to watch the boys’ baseball game. I said ‘Roy, we need to talk. You can watch the whole softball game and still have plenty of the baseball game left to watch when the softball game is over. Then you can see both teams win.’”

“He never missed another softball game from start to finish,” she said.

When his mother was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s and became a resident of the Gibson Area Hospital Annex in 1993, Roemer began volunteering at the home’s activities, calling Bingo cards, helping staff and residents, continuing long after his mother’s passing two years later.

Recognized by hospital staff for his commitment to the Annex, Roemer was also named Citizen of the Year in 2003.

Leonard, who first met Roemer as a visiting Blue Ridge basketball player in the early 1990s, said his treatment of both the Falcons and their opponents was hard not to miss.

“Roy was a gentleman till the day he died,” Leonard said. “’Please and thank you’ were the norm, and shaking your hand or giving you a fist bump greeting was the norm.”

In January, Roemer became ill and eventually found out that he had cancer. His diagnosis came just as the GCMS boys’ basketball team was about to host the class 2A regional tournament. Early that week, Roemer was hospitalized. The school and community banded together, selling white T-shirts bearing the hashtag “#RoyStrong”, and raised funds to help with his fight. Marketing students designed and created shirts featuring his likeness, which sold out. As the Falcons hosted Paxton-Buckley-Loda in the regional championship that Friday, the school honored Roemer by inducting him into the school’s athletic hall of fame.

Despite the initial scare, Roemer eventually returned to Gibson City, watching spring and summer sporting events. He received a standing ovation at the formal hall of fame induction ceremony at halftime of the Sept. 30 football game, and was presented with a plaque by cheerleaders and football players.

During a radio interview the next day, Roemer was asked about his favorite memories of Falcon games. He recalled the 41-40 four-overtime football win against Momence in 2004 as one of his favorites.

As his health continued to worsen, Roemer was unable to attend many games, though he kept up with the football contests on the radio. Several GCMS staff members drove him in a golf cart to the football games this past month, letting him enjoy the undefeated football team in its glory.

On Thursday night, the football team learned at its weekly dinner that Roemer wasn’t likely to make it through the night. In a tribute to the program’s biggest supporter, they walked to the window of his apartment and sang the school fight song.

Friday morning, as tributes were pouring in, a common sentiment was Roemer’s commitment to the athletes.

Weber-Jones recalled Roemer for his positive attitude, regardless of the team’s performance.

“Roy was always positive—win or lose,” she said. “I never ever heard him say anything negative to anybody. He always showed positive support to every coach and athlete.”

“Roy was about building people up,” Riley said. “We definitely need more Roys in the world.”

Roemer’s visitation is 4-8 p.m. Monday night at Lamb Funeral Home in Gibson City. A funeral service will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Buckley.

During the team’s first round playoff game against Eastland/Pearl City, fans are encouraged to wear white in honor of Roy. The football players will sport special stickers on their helmets.

Weber-Jones, who visited Roemer in the hospital several times, said his legacy will not be forgotten.

“Roy will be dearly missed by all of us that knew him,” she said. His legacy of how to treat people with kindness and compassion will live on forever in our memories. Roy was loved by all.”


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