Neighbor of the Month
Gilbert LeRoque

Darlene Good nominated Gilbert and Vicki LeRoque for Neighbors of the Month. Betty Lawrence, also their neighbor, wholeheartedly agrees with the nomination. Following the photo, Lawrence said, “And Gib, while you’re here ...” and LeRoque jumped to assist her.

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Story and photo by Rosalie Currier

Darlene Good of Farwell Avenue in Sturgis says her neighbors, Gilbert and Vicki LeRoque, are the best. Good first met "Mr. LeRoque" in the late 1970s at Colon High School, where he was Good’s biology teacher.

"He was so fair," Good said. "He always listened to us kids and supported us and gave us advice. We had so much respect for him, it took me years to call him by his first name."

In 1991, when Good and her late husband, Larry Good, moved to Farwell Avenue, they became neighbors. When the Goods decided to plant a garden, LeRoque showed them the ropes.

"He is a huge gardener," Good said. "He grows two big gardens and gives away the produce." One garden is in Sturgis and the other at their cabin on Palmer Lake in Colon, where locals harvest freely from the plot.

"The fun of gardening is sharing with people," LeRoque said. "It's what my grandfather did. It’s what my family did." LeRoque’s ancestors were some of the first German settlers in the Sturgis area, he said. His grandfather ran the ice business and among LeRoque' treasures are artifacts from Sturgis Ice Company. LeRoque has lived in Sturgis his entire life, graduating from Sturgis High School in 1962. His career was spent at Colon Public Schools, where he taught for 33 years — Vicki's home town.

In those 33 years, LeRoque doesn’t remember having a down day. "Some were better than others, but I never had a bad day," he said.

Vicki's roots go as deeply into Colon soil as her husband's are in Sturgis. Her generosity is equally as deeply rooted, LeRoque said. Vicki's mother, Iona Robins, 92, of Colon, is an inspiration. Of his mother-in-law, LeRoque says, "I don't know anyone in my life who has been so helpful to so many without anyone knowing it."

"It's what you think everyone should do," Vicki said.

Vicki worked at Kirsch Company for 28 years before the company closed, then was a bookkeeper at Eye Care West. The couple has one daughter, Susan, who is an associate professor of pharmacy at Wayne State University. Her husband, Jim Davis, is a chemistry teacher.

LeRoque's liberality extends to Betty Lawrence, who is in her 90s and lives across the street. They keep tabs on her too, Good said. "Oh my goodness," Lawrence said, "they do anything I ask. They bring in my mail. If I have trouble with the TV they help me. If I have trouble with my computer Vicki helps me. And Gib always makes it sound like I'm doing him a favor."

They also share food back and forth — baked goods, new recipes and old favorites. "Betty’s split-pea soup is to die for," LeRoque said.

Lawrence has a strong network of family and friends, but for immediate needs, it's often LeRoque she calls. "I love her like my own mom,” LeRoque said. “He has a soft spot for elderly women," Vicki said.

LeRoque is also an avid supporter and promoter of nature projects in the county. Years ago, he was highly involved with Camp Fort Hill, Good said. "I grew up working for Orley Kribs and I grew to love the place. Later, I worked with Jack Grant as his assistant and eventually became the camp director," LeRoque said.

"I don't have much contact with Camp Fort Hill now, but it’s reassuring to me that Dave Ludders, Mike Reid and the trustees have done a marvelous job in recent years of keeping that camp going and promoting it. If anyone deserves recognition, it's those guys," he said.

Another of his passions was a past walleye project. In cooperation with the DNR, a group of about 40 raised nearly 1 million walleye in the Colon area, stocking local lakes and the St. Joseph River, he said.

And there was LeRoque's involvement with Ducks Unlimited. Members would tag ducks for DNR to help monitor the population.

"If you have a passion for something, the best thing in life you can do is share it with other people," LeRoque said.

For all those community contributions, LeRoque credits to following in the footsteps of his ancestors and growing up in the post-World War II era. "Everyone just helped each other. We had to take care of one another," LeRoque said.

His father, a World War II veteran, came home from the Pacific Theatre disabled, but he made sure LeRoque learned to love the outdoors and hunting and fishing with help from friends and family members. LeRoque said his Uncle Max, a mentor and role model, would kiss him upon parting and say, "Love one another."

"I've always had the motto: If people know about it, it doesn't count," LeRoque said.

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