Bittersweet honor

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Orville Roth steers his custom golf cart during the 2012 Keizer Iris Festival Parade, with son Michael riding shotgun. The Roth family is serving as grand marshals during Saturday's Festival of Lights Parade in honor of Orville, who passed away in October. (File)

Orville Roth steers his custom golf cart during the 2012 Keizer Iris Festival Parade, with son Michael riding shotgun. The Roth family is serving as grand marshals during Saturday’s Festival of Lights Parade in honor of Orville, who passed away in October. (File)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

Michael Roth and his family won’t be riding in just any ordinary 1956 Chevy on Saturday.

The Roth family members are serving as grand marshals of the 23rd annual Festival of Lights Holiday Parade that makes its way down River Road in Keizer starting at 7 p.m. that evening.

The honor is a tribute to family patriarch Orville Roth, who passed away in October. Orville started the Roth’s Fresh Markets chain in 1962, using $500 and the title of his 1956 Chevy – yes, the same one Michael will be in – to open his first store.

Michael, wife Leslie, son Alex and daughter Alyssa will be in the Chevy, while Michael’s sister Melinda will be with her son Aidan and friend Adam Baker in Orville’s famed custom golf cart.

Though the Roth’s store in Keizer closed last year, there was a strong outpouring of support to the family from the Keizer community – and surrounding areas as well – after Orville’s passing.

“We’re probably at about 1,600 cards from employees, customers, friends of Orville and vendors,” Michael said. “We’re so proud to read those, to see the impact Orville had on their lives. For some people, he gave them their first job and taught them work skills.”

Michael noted his family is touched to see their dad honored in such a way.

“It’s wonderful Orville is being recognized for being such a big part of the community these last 50 years,” Michael said. “We’re honored the people in charge of the parade feel the same way about Orville.”

The first holiday season for the Roth family without Orville has been difficult, but the honor helps ease the pain somewhat.

“Obviously, any event, whether it be Thanksgiving or our annual meeting, it’s not the same without Orville here,” Michael said. “It’s sad, but it’s also heartwarming the committee wants to recognize what he did for the mid-Willamette Valley community. It is bittersweet. In the big picture, it’s nice that he passed away and yet he’s not forgotten. It’s nice to recognize someone who started a business on his own and gave a lot to the community.”

The Roth family has long had a presence at the Keizer Iris Festival, with Orville often driving his custom golf part in the parade.

“Orville was always a huge part of the Iris Festival Parade,” Michael said. “This year, even though we don’t have the store in Keizer anymore, Tom Dieker had asked us to do the Iris Festival luncheon and we did.”

Michael told the history of his dad’s golf cart, which hasn’t been used for its original purpose over the years.

“He golfed two times. He said it was so frustrating he didn’t want to golf,” Michael said with a laugh. “But he used it in hundreds of parades.”

Despite the involvement with that festival, this weekend marks a somewhat surprising first for the company.

“The Festival of Lights Parade always fell on the same night of our company Christmas party,” Michael said of the event, taking place in Keizer for a third time. “It was always the same night. The parade went right past us when it was in Salem. Now, we may start participating in the future.”

Michael is looking forward to his first time in the parade.

“We are so thankful to the Keizer community and the parade committee for this invitation,” he said.

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