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Harold Roederer, 95, a guiding hand to children in need, dies

Harold Roederer counsels a child last year during a visit to the Juvenile Detention Center.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2010)

Harold Roederer counsels a child last year during a visit to the Juvenile Detention Center.

LARGO — Harold Roederer did not take well to retirement.

After 27 years of volunteer work at the Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Center, even ill health couldn't dissuade the 95-year-old from coming in late last year to lend a listening ear and a guiding hand to the boys and girls who found themselves in trouble.

At one point, he decided it was time to slow down. That was two years ago.

"He was so stubborn," said Monica Gray, JDC superintendent. "He was still coming in two to three times a week."

He worked until his body tired too much to let him continue. His tireless service left an impression on his peers as well as the youths he counseled.

"He's definitely made an impact on a lot of these young people's lives," Gray said.

Mr. Roederer died Feb. 25, 2011, of natural causes, leaving behind a legacy that lies not only in his family, but also in the thousands of young people he and his wife touched through their work.

He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Helen, 88; his daughter, Jean Hall, 68; and his two granddaughters, Jeanna Newsham, 33, and Katie Hall, 31.

Mr. Roederer also had an extended family that included many of the youths he had helped over the years.

"They never met an enemy," Jean Hall said of her parents. "Everybody became their friend."

A retired aircraft maintenance manager and ordained minister, Mr. Roederer began volunteering at JDC in 1983. He and his wife started out as assistants. They went on to lead all the center's faith-based activities, including meeting with children in one-on-one sessions where, through discussion and prayer, he encouraged the children to rise above whatever troubled them.

And they were always children — not kids.

"Kids are goats," he would say. "These are children."

The center's volunteer chaplain from 1996 to June 2009, Mr. Roederer did not even care to know what children had done to wind up at JDC. It didn't matter to him.

"He didn't judge them," Gray said. "He came in and treated them all the same."

They were always on his mind, even when he was too sick to get out of bed. When Gray and other JDC administrators visited Mr. Roederer in the hospital in the days before his death, Mr. Roederer was concerned about the children.

"How special I feel to have all of these important people here to see me," he said then. "But if you are here, then who's watching the children?"

Hall remembers a saying in her house as she was growing up that sums up the spirit of Mr. Roederer's dedication to those children he cared for: Never steal from Harold and Helen because they will give you whatever you need.

Though he remained a dependable JDC volunteer, Mr. Roederer gave up the title of chaplain in 2009 after suffering a heart attack. His successor, John Duebel of Tarpon Springs, spoke admiringly of the Roederers' work for a St. Petersburg Times article last fall.

"During the years most people pick up a golf club or fishing pole, they were busy loving children that most of our society rejects," he said.

Harold Roederer, 95, a guiding hand to children in need, dies 03/01/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2011 5:20pm]

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