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7249 South 25th Street
Kalamazoo, MI 49048
AACORN Farm strives to provide a dynamic experience for adults with autism or related disabilities in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
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Life Story / Obituary
Although his life ended much too soon, Roark (Roary) Sanford made such an impact in the hearts and lives of his loved ones. He was the sort of person who was so caring, generous, and forever looking for ways to bring joy to his loved ones. Life was not without its hurtles for Roark. He was born with Asperger’s Syndrome and legally blind in one eye. Later in life he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and a cognitive learning disability. Despite these obstacles, there were several avenues through which Roark found joy.
Roark found peace in the special love and tender touch he had toward animals. One of his dreams was to touch every kind of macaw. His mother planned to take him to San Diego to touch the whales as his graduation present. She remembers how disappointed he was when they visited the Toledo Zoo and he couldn’t touch the giraffes. When Roark wanted a pet snake in 2006, his mother compromised with a legless lizard who Roark named Snaky. Snaky and Roary would do everything together. He was Roark’s pride and joy.
Nothing was better in Roark’s book than spending time with his parents, Angela and Jim, and his three older brothers, Jon, Mitchell, and Drew. Roark loved fishing in Sturgis with his father, Jim, and riding Jim’s motorcycle together. Roark also did many things with his mother including horseback riding, riding on zip-lines, and of course plenty of visits to the zoo. Angela loved the look on Roark’s face when they zip-lined, especially his joy when he flipped upside-down.
On one occasion, he even swam with the dolphins in Florida. Anything to keep Roark active was always a good thing. He was a great storyteller who had a running story going with his mom, and he had a totally different one going with his dad. Roark remembered absolutely everything and loved to tease his family by bringing up details of events that they had long forgotten. Life will never be the same without Roark here, but he leaves behind a priceless collection of memories that his loved ones will forever hold near and dear to their hearts.
There was a 17-year difference between Roark and his oldest brother, Jon. When Roark was a baby, Jon would often take him to play at McDonald’s and strangers would mistake them for father and son. Jon remembers having once taken Roark to the farmer’s market in Kalamazoo. Roark was so amicable with the people at the market, even though they were all perfect strangers to him. Jon remembers one particular woman who Roark connected with and how wonderful it was to see Roark comfortably out of his shell. When Jon learned that he had end stage kidney failure, Roark was determined to learn how to help Jon with his dialysis. It was new and difficult but he persisted and never gave up.
Mitchell recalls Roark’s freshman year in high school, when Snaky went missing for several days. The family searched and searched for Snaky, and Roark was distraught. After about three days had gone by, Angela found Snaky hiding in the closet. Roark was so happy to have his companion found and the family laughed at the fact that Snaky had been in the closet the whole time.
Drew remembers when he was seven years old. Roark was only a baby and had just received his first haircut. Drew and his older brother Mitch walked upstairs into the baby’s room and found Roark cruising in his crib, groggy and happy. When the two brothers saw him with his new haircut, they could not contain their laughter. It was something new and strange to the boys that made them bubble up inside uncontrollably.
Roark could be such a practical joker. His father fondly remembers how Roark would hide his Beanie Baby lizard in creative places around the house to surprise the family. He loved to hide his rubber snake in places to startle whoever would find it. He particularly loved hiding that snake under pillows and bedcovers.
Spring was beginning to emerge in Three Rivers, Michigan, in 1998 when James and Angela (Springer) Sanford were eagerly awaiting the birth of their new baby. Like all of his other brothers, he came early in the morning. When she woke Jim, Angela’s contractions were already five minutes apart. Angela remembers feeling every bump on the way to the hospital in Kalamazoo all the way from Three Rivers, with Drew and Mitchell sitting in the back seat of the car. Frustrations ran high when they found themselves stuck waiting for a train to pass. Roark arrived just an hour and a half after they had finally arrived at Borgess Medical Center.
The big day finally arrived on April 1st when the baby boy they named Roark took his first breath. He was the youngest of four boys in the Sanford family, raised alongside his older brothers, Jonathan, Mitchell, and Drew, he grew up on the West Side in Texas Township.
If there was one thing Roark enjoyed, it was being active. He was a senior at Mattawan High School. Asperger’s made it more difficult for him to make and keep friends, but he certainly had a way with animals that seemed to speak to the soul. Roary loved the time he spent volunteering at the Kalamazoo SPCA. He excelled in reading, but had a hard time retaining what he read. He was doing his best to learn Portuguese, and his dream was go to Rio de Janeiro and practice as a veterinarian. There were always pets in the house, this is perhaps why Roark had such a heart for animals. Roark was just starting to get into music more and wanted to deepen his faith in God.
As a young boy, Roark was fascinated with trains, dinosaurs, and double decker buses. Young Roark loved to watch Thomas the Tank Engine and SpongeBob. As a teenager, Roary collected all sorts of things like double decker buses, Nerf guns, bouncy balls, and coins. He loved watching America’s Funniest Home Videos and World’s Dumbest on YouTube, and continued watching SpongeBob through the course of his life. He watched every episode COPS and Malcolm in the Middle more than once. When it came to his favorite foods Roark loved stuffed crust pepperoni pizza, Gatorade, and Sunny Delight. Roark loved to play with his brothers on their Xbox 360 and their Wii.
Described as a storyteller whose imagination was unmatched, Roark Sanford had a special place in the hearts of his loved ones. His writings flowed in a stream of consciousness that placed him, and sometimes his family, on fantastical adventures in all his imagined universes. Roary told the most amazing stories, and even in his death he leaves behind a message that is so needed in today’s world. He loved exploring, playing video games, and learning everything he could about animals, and his creativity was easy to see. Roark will be forever missed.
Roark (Roary) Sanford, of Kalamazoo, was taken from us on October 22, 2016. Roark’s family includes his parents, James of Sturgis; Angela (Springer) of Kalamazoo; brothers, Jonathan (Kalamazoo), Mitchell (El Segundo, CA), Drew (Kalamazoo); grandparents Sue (Dan) Langdon of Three Rivers, Joy Sanford of Sidnaw; uncles and aunts Larry (Linda) Springer of White Pigeon, Tony (Marsha) Springer, Steve (Danielle) Springer of Martin’s Ferry, OH, Rich Sanford of Sidnaw, Karen (Glen) Schultz of White Pigeon; and several cousins. Roark was preceded in death by his beloved Aunt Valerie Springer, Grandpa Richard Sanford, and cousin, Calista Springer. Friends may spend time with family on Wednesday from 5-8 p.m. at the Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes, 6080 Stadium Drive; Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900, where services will be held on Thursday at 11 a.m. If you wish to send a memorial, please donate to AACORN (autism program) or animal welfare center. Please visit Roark’s personal web page at www.BetzlerFuneralHome.com, where you can archive a favorite memory or photo of him and sign his online guestbook before coming to the funeral home.