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4201 West Michigan
Kalamazoo, MI 49006
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Life Story / Obituary
All who knew Sandra “Sandy” Roellchen would agree that she was one of the most vibrant and fun-loving people around. She was vivacious with an adventurous side that brought her some of the most amazing life experiences. Sandy’s greatest gift was her family, and through her resilience, strength, and unwavering courage her loved ones received a steadfast example of what one can accomplish if they put their mind to it. She treasured her role as a mother, but she just might have argued that nothing was better than being a grandmother to her five grandchildren, Eli, Elzey, Roe, Teague, Tatem. Life will never be the same without Sandy here, but her family and friends will be forever changed because of her love.
Life during the 1930s was anything but easy as the entire decade was cloaked in the hardship of the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce and the unemployment rate soared, which left cities, communities, and families doing whatever they could to weather the storm. Despite the trials around them, Abner and Anne Elzey were able to shift their focus to an exciting time in their lives as they celebrated the birth of the daughter they named Sandra Lou on March 27, 1935, in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Sandy was the oldest of three children as she was raised in the small town of Ossian just outside of Ft. Wayne alongside her siblings, Dalene and Dean. Both her parents and grandparents were morticians, and her family lived in the funeral home. This upbringing gave Sandy her fun-loving sense of humor, and she had fun bringing friends over to the funeral home and then scaring them. She played both the piano and organ at funerals for her father. As a young girl there was an old guy in town who used to say, “Sandra Lou from Kalamazoo.” Although she had no idea where Kalamazoo was at the time, Sandy was always so amazed at how prophetic his statement proved to be later in life.
Even while growing up Sandy was a bustle of activity. Their family had a cottage on Lake James in Angola, Indiana, where they spent much of the summer. Sandy developed a love for the water, and she learned to water ski. She went on to become Indiana state champion in water skiing, which led to a scholarship at Florida Southern University. While at college in Florida Sandy had a job at Cypress Gardens as a profession water skier and model and also had the opportunity to appear in an Esther Williams movie.
New and exciting changes were in store for Sandy when she met Thomas Allyn Roellchen while in college. They eventually married, and together they were blessed with the births of four children, TJ, Lisa, Julia, Todd “Toad.” It was just after Lisa was born that the family came to Kalamazoo, which is the place Sandy called home for the rest of her life. Although her marriage later ended in divorce, she was always so grateful for the children they shared. Sandy was a very active part of her children’s lives including through her work with the PTA at their school. Later in life she was thrilled to become a grandmother to her grandchildren, Eli, Elzey, Roe, Teague, and Tatem. Sandy loved spoiling them, especially with candy. Interestingly, she never really let her own kids have candy! Sandy was also filled with unspeakable joy when her son, Todd, graduated from medical school. Sadly, her joy was short-lived since he was killed in a car accident in 1997. This was so very hard on her, and Sandy missed him terribly for the rest of her life.
As a single mom, Sandy went back to Western Michigan to become an occupational therapist. It was tough being a single mother, going to school, and working as a waitress, but she was determined to get her education and make a better life. With her education behind her, Sandy spent a number of years working as an occupational therapist at Croyden Avenue Schools. She was also a part time instructor in the OT department at WMU. Sandy loved working with all the kids and continually went the extra mile for them. Frustrated that medical equipment was standard while the students were not, Sandy saw a need and an opportunity to make life better for the kids she was so passionate about. She then started her own company, ROCO, making adaptive equipment for handicapped children. Sandy’s mission was to make the medical equipment tailor made to each individual child and their needs. Her skills as a seamstress and her creativity flair made her business and mission a success as the lives of several kids were greatly improved because of her work.
Throughout her life Sandy was always on the go. She was a lifelong learner who was still taking classes into her seventies. Sandy’s skills as a seamstress kept her busy and also came in handy when money was tight during the early years as a single mom as she made wedding and bridesmaid dresses. Of course she also made sure that her kids were properly dressed. Because of Sandy’s love for the water, she bought a cottage overlooking Lake Michigan, which became the backdrop for so many amazing family memories. With her creative side, she liked going junk hunting so she could reuse stuff in a new way. Sandy loved animals, and when it came to music she enjoyed Barbara Streisand, jazz, and anything with a little beat. Christmas was a sacred family time, and even though she sometimes came late or slipped away from the festivities, these family times were truly priceless. Sandy didn’t like to cook and said her dream home would be one without a kitchen, but she did cook when necessary.
With unending devotion to her family, Sandra Roellchen was a driven, determined, and passionate woman who was an inspiration to those around her. She loved dancing, flowers, and bringing new life to things, but her greatest joy was found in the moments she shared with her family. Sandy taught her loved ones to believe in their capabilities, set grander aspirations with action and achievement expected. Most importantly she taught her children what it means to love others and to honor forgiveness. She will be deeply missed by all who were blessed to know and love her.
Sandra Lou Roellchen (Elzey), of Kalamazoo, died on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. Members of Sandy’s family include her children: Thomas “TJ” (fiancé Kris Stirn) Roellchen, Lisa Roellchen and Julia Koestner-Warner; her 5 grandchildren: brother, Dr. Dean (Sheila) Elzey; and brother–in-law, Ron Lerch. Other members of her family include: Kristen, Griffin, Kreigh and Callahan Elzey, Chris (Shelly) Lerch and their children Cody and Courtney, Tracey (Judy) Lerch and their children Lexi and Tristan, Kim’s children: Lindsey “Cricket” , Shane and Logan Arujo and Katherine Rutledge. Sandy was preceded in death by her son, Dr. Todd “ Toad” Roellchen, her sister Dalene Lerch and a niece Kim Lerch. Sandy has been cremated and a service will be held at 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 6 at the Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive; Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900. A reception will follow after the service in the Life Story Center. Please visit Sandy’s personal web page at www.BetzlerFuneralHome.com, where you can archive a favorite memory or photo and sign her online guestbook before coming to the funeral home. Memorial Contributions may be made to Planned Parenthood.