LACOOCHEE — When leaders snipped the ribbon on a 16,000-square-foot community center in January, Roger Kaminski said the prayer.
To those attending, it seemed only natural that Mr. Kaminski, who had lived in the area for years with his wife and Lacoochee native, Marion, would be the one to do that.
"They had a passion for the community," said Mark Springer, a close friend. "With it being so impoverished they were always trying to improve it."
On Thursday, Mr. Kaminski, who had operated a Christian coffeehouse in the area for nearly 10 years, organized countless cleanups and rallied residents to the cause of bettering their community, died at Florida Hospital Zephyrhills. He was 61.
Friends said he had begun to feel ill about a month earlier.
"We expected him to pull out of this," Springer said.
News of his death sent shock waves through the tiny community.
"He touched so many lives as a teacher, volunteer, mentor and friend," Michelle Miller, who works for Pasco County government, posted on Mr. Kaminski's Facebook page. "Multiple generations of people have been impacted by his commitment to his community."
Miller had worked closely with Mr. Kaminiski and the community to secure a $300,000 federal grant to build the community center and revitalize the area.
Mr. Kaminski was delighted with the progress, friends said. But he was also making his own positive difference years before, when Lacoochee was "the forgotten part of the county," Springer said.
Shortly after a local teen fatally shot Pasco Sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison outside a nightclub in 2003, Mr. Kaminski and his wife, along with two other couples, opened the Christian Edge, a coffeehouse near the nightclub. Most Saturday nights it was packed as bands banged out Christian rock, gospel and rap. Many times, Mr. Kaminski, who sang and played guitar, accordion, harmonica, harp and cello, was on the stage.
"The main thing we want to do is bring people together," Mr. Kaminski told the then-St. Petersburg Times in 2004. "People who have lived here all their lives could come in, start up a conversation with someone they don't know, and all of a sudden, they find out all these things they have in common."
Mr. Kaminski came to the area in 1973 from Lemont, Ill. He worked about 35 years for the Pasco County School District as a media supervisor. In 1997, he married the former Marion Durden, a Lacoochee Elementary School teacher. He even changed his middle name to Durden in the interest of unity.
Richard Riley, a friend and fellow member of the revitalization group, said the coffeehouse "was always inclusive and welcoming to people of all faiths and ethnic origins."
During a 2012 bus tour of the area, when others gawked at "the worst house in Lacoochee," Mr. Kaminski did more than just look out the window. He organized a group to refurbish it.
Friends say that was typical.
"I never thought of it before, but I realize that he was my best friend," Riley said. "I wish I had told him that."