Community Rallies Around Manahawkin Family Following Loss of Husband and Father

Dec 12, 2017
Photo by: Supplied photo

When Kevin Rohrer passed away on Nov. 28, his wife, Kelly, and their two children, Matthew and Madison, were shattered, their world turned upside down by the loss of their devoted husband and father.

“He was a wonderful man and an amazing father,” said Kelly, a bartender at The Mainland on Route 72 who also worked a second job at Zano’s Italian Market in Waretown. “He had a heart attack in July and was out of work for a while, so I took the second job to help us out. But he didn’t want me working so much, and he battled back so he could get cleared by his doctor to go back to work. He wanted to support his kids.”

Kevin had received clearance days earlier and returned to his work – he cleaned gutters for a living – just that day. Later that day, Kelly received a call from Eric Wilhelm, the principal at Southern Regional High School, where the children attend school.

“He said I had to get to the hospital, that Stafford police officers were looking for me, so I went,” Kelly said. “That was a call I never wanted to receive. It was devastating.”

In the days following Kevin’s funeral, Kelly had told friend Angela Randall about Matthew’s only request for Christmas – to have an angel placed up on the roof and lights decorating the house in honor of his dad.

“Matthew and Madison were so close to Kevin, and decorating the house was something Kevin did,” Kelly explained. “And all Matthew wanted – he has Asperger’s, and this was his way of relating to this tragedy in our lives – was to have lights and an angel on the house, to remember his dad.”

Randall, who administers the “Stafford Parents!!” Facebook group, immediately took to social media in an effort to have Matthew’s request fulfilled.

“I need help for a family that had a tragedy last week,” Randall’s post began. “The family’s dad suddenly passed away. The oldest son (a senior in high school) of my friend would like lights and an angel on the roof ‘for Dad.’ This would have to be put up and taken down by some volunteers. My husband and I DO NOT do roofs anymore (I never did). Please message me if you think you know someone or are someone who could make this happen.”

Randall made the request at 7:12 p.m. on Dec. 4. Within minutes, the responses flooded the comment section. Six minutes after Randall’s post, Timothy Kohlheim answered, “I got that. Just give me the address.” By 7:30 p.m., Filomena Arocho inquired about donating 12 sets of blue LED lights, to which Kohlheim replied 23 minutes later that he’d use them. Amber Meyers private messaged Randall that she would get the angel at The Home Depot.

“After Kevin passed, I was texting back and forth with Kelly, checking on her, and I had asked what we can do about getting things for the kids for Christmas,” Randall said. “All they wanted was the lights and an angel on the house. I knew it was doable. I knew there had to be somebody out there who could help. But I didn’t expect it to be all organized and settled within an hour. It was incredible.”

The next day, Kohlheim went to the house on Outrigger Lane and set it all up – he placed the angel over the front door to the house, strung lights along the front of the ranch’s roof, and used additional lights to spell out “Dad” on the right side of the roof. Kelly was home at the time.

“I was home for a little bit, going through some papers in the basement,” she said. “I heard somebody on the roof, but I didn’t make the connection. Angela had told me that she found somebody who was going to come along at some point and do it, but my mind’s all over the place and I didn’t realize that was what was going on at the moment. He did it fast, though, because when I left to get the kids from school, he was gone.”

When she returned, the electric was out in one part of the house. Kelly contacted Atlantic City Electric to investigate the issue and was outside the house awaiting a service technician when Kohlheim showed up.

“The electric was out, so my sister picked up the kids and took them to her house, and this guy shows up, introduces himself and asked why I hadn’t turned the lights on yet,” she said. “I told him that the electric was out, and it just happened that his father was an electrician, so he checked out some things and got the electric to work. But I still didn’t know which switch controlled the outside lights. Eventually, we found it in the kitchen.”

Once the switch was flipped on, Kelly couldn’t believe what she saw. She said the blue lights were particularly significant, since blue often is a color associated with autism awareness.

“It was overwhelming,” she said. “The kids came home a half-hour later, and they were ecstatic. It meant so much to them that some man they didn’t know did this for them. And the fact a whole bunch of people we didn’t know came through to help do this, it was just overwhelming. It made us realize how much people care and that we’re not alone.”

Randall thanked those who responded to the call to help later that day – of course, with another Facebook post.

“It’s days like Tuesday that make it worth keeping that Facebook page up, even when there are days I feel like taking it down,” she said. “The power of social media is crazy, and on that page I see everything, the good and the bad. But the good of that page far outweighs anything bad some people post there.”

Rohrer said “these lights are never coming down.”

“When you pull up to the house and see ‘Dad’ on the roof, and the angel watching over us as we go in the door, it’s just so special,” she said. “We go out and look at it every night. It means so much to us. We live in an amazing town full of amazing people.”

Several of those individuals – Christine Kenduck and Sari McGovern – have organized along with Randall a “Caroling for the Rohrer Family” event at the old Manahawkin Baptist Church building, now operated by the Stafford Historical Society. On Sunday, Dec. 17, from 3 to 5 p.m., the community is invited to participate in a Christmas sing-along, during which friends of the family will lead in the caroling. Donations of cash and gift cards to benefit the family will be accepted. The location of the church is 120 North Main St., just north of Manahawkin Lake Park. Anybody who can’t make the event and wants to help out with a donation may call Angela Randall at 609-713-2818.

— David Biggy

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