By Fred Stabbert III
CALLICOON Family man, friend, business partner and community leader, Maurice “Rease” Roche led a life encompassed by his faith in God, his belief in helping others and his strong work ethic. On Saturday, October 15, Rease Roche died surrounded by his loving family following a courageous battle with cancer. He was 71.
“It would be hard to find a better husband, father, boss, friend or confidant,” Ed Sykes, a close friend of Rease for 40 years, said. “He was my best friend.”
Rease and his brother, Mickey, owned Roche’s Garage in Callicoon for the past 50 years, working to make it one of the best dealerships in the area. Started by their father Jim in 1928, Rease and Mickey took over in 1960.
“We worked night and day, and paid it off in five years,” Mickey said. “Rease was some guy.”
Together, the Roches built a loyal customer following and were renowned as excellent mechanics who offered award-winning service.
The two brothers not only worked together at the garage for the last five decades, but shared a love for sports that made the Roche name synonomous with great teams. From sponsoring championship softball squads to playing basketball themselves, the Roches were always in the mix.
Allen O’Keefe of Livingston Manor remembered playing on the Roche’s Garage basketball team from the late 1950s until the early ’70s. The Roches, O’Keefe, along with Bob Diehl, Jerry Davitt, Paul Zintel and, in later years, Ken and Walt Bjorn, comprised the team.
“We played a lot of games,” O’Keefe said. “One year we played 40-50 games. We would play four or five on a weekend.
“It was good basketball. St. Joseph’s Seminary in Callicoon was in operation then and we had some great games against them,” O’Keefe said. “It was great times in those years… sometimes the nights were a little long.
“Rease and Mick were great supporters of whatever took place. If they thought it was a good cause, they pitched in for it,” O’Keefe said. “Callicoon is certainly going to miss him.”
Jerry Davitt of Youngsville concurred. “I knew Rease for quite a few years. What a wonderful person,” said the longtime coach, sports official and athlete.
Jeffersonville attorney Ken Klein knew Rease since both men served together on the Sullivan County Community College Board of Trustees. Rease served for two decades at the college, and was instrumental in leading a campaign to build on-campus dormitories.
“He was well respected by everyone who knew him,” Klein said. “If you were his friend… you were his friend.”
Years following their service to the college, Klein said he, Rease, Harold Diamond and Bruce Grund would get together almost monthly for dinner.
“We really enjoyed hanging out and being with each other,” Klein said.
And Klein said it was rare that you didn’t go somewhere with Rease Roche that he didn’t bump into someone he knew.
“The guy knew everybody,” he laughed. “It was unbelievable. We would walk into some place and someone would come up, ‘You’re Rease Roche, aren’t you?’
“I lost a very good friend,” Klein said. “It’s just devastating.”
“Rease was the best man I ever knew,” he said. “When he did something, he stood up for what he believed in.”
The 40-year friendship spanned business, public service and most importantly, sharing time with each other in the woods.
“Rease was a charter member of our hunting club, Acidalia Sportsmen,” Sykes said. “He always made sure everything was taken care of for his fellow hunters.”
Rease and Sykes, along with several other members of the club, also befriended a giant of a man, 6-10 New York Knicks center Willis Reed. The friendship was born in the late 1960s, when Willis was just helping the Knicks win the NBA Championship.
“I think he liked us because because we gave him no mercy,” Sykes said. “We rode him just as hard as our local buddies.”
Sykes remembered one hunting trip that he, Willis, Rease and Ed Lohr took to Arizona. Rease and Willis ended up being traveling partners and, on the way home, got slightly lost in downtown Phoenix. As the two got out of the car and asked for directions, a man said to Reed, “I know you. You’re… you’re Nipsy Russell.”
When the two friends got back in the car, Reed turned to Rease and said, “Don’t say a word, to anyone.”
Well, it wasn’t too long before Reed’s hunting partners back in Callicoon started asking, “How are you doing, Nipsy?”
Rease’s sense of humor could not let an occasion like that pass unnoticed.
In addition to his family and friends, Rease also had a love for the friars of St. Bonaventure University, where he graduated in 1961.
A staunch supporter of the Bonnies, Rease would regularly organize trips to Binghamton, Fordham, Olean and UConn to watch St. Bonaventure play basketball or attend an alumni event.
He and his wife Marion, also devoted themselves to many local charities, in addition to raising their four children, Tom, Joe, Karen and Tricia.
Please see complete obituary, page 2B of the printed edition, and under the obituary link at the top of this page.