Gift of recognition puts brick buyers in good company

Consider Recognition Plaza tribute for holiday giving 

by BETH ALTENA

Historians, RACE board members, friends and family joined in recognition of the area’s historically important people in spring of 2011. This year’s inductees were the late Paul Robe and Homer Burch.

Indisputably, the shops and service providers in downtown Rockford are among the best local sources when shopping for the perfect holiday gift. Shoppers can arrange that family photo that really needs to be taken while the kids are still young, pick out new carpeting before the family flies in for the holidays, and certainly find the perfect unique present for loved ones.

There is another option in shopping available downtown that is sure to impress and also leaves a legacy for the future. Recognition Plaza, west of the Rogue River, is paved with bricks engraved with names—family names, business names, the names of individuals. Each brick represents an investment in the Rockford area.

The Rockford Area Community Endowment (RACE) provides financial support for worthy projects in the City of Rockford and the townships of Algoma, Cannon, Courtland and Plainfield and for Rockford Public Schools. One of the organization’s first undertakings was the beautiful Recognition Plaza at the dam, a popular spot for wedding photos and enjoying the beauty of the Rogue River.

The public can become part of Rockford’s history with the purchase of a brick for $100 and have a name engraved as a permanent tribute to a person, company or organization. The bricks are installed throughout recognition plaza and the purchase price goes to RACE’s fund for community projects.

Those with names on the bricks are in good company. Part of the Recognition Plaza is an annual celebration adding names to the pillars in the park of people who have been nominated and chosen for having a significant positive impact on the member communities. Past inductees include the late WWII hero and philanthropist Clarence Blakeslee as well as Edna Haner, daughter of a civil war veteran and the towns first librarian, and Wendell and Donna Briggs.

This year’s ceremony took place in April and included historian Homer Burch and community leader Paul Robe. And as you look toward celebrating the holiday season, consider helping RACE provide grants and gifts for charitable programs and organizations to encourage scientific, literary, recreational, educational and safety projects that add to the positive experience of living in the communities that RACE serves.

Lifetime membership in RACE is also available for just $25.

Brick forms are available at Rockford City Hall as well as the township offices of Algoma, Cannon, Courtland and Plainfield. For more information, call the townships or Rockford City Hall at (616) 866-1537.

Rockford inductee Paul Robe

He shaped the town

by ROGER ALLEN

Published in The Rockford Squire in 1999

Paul Robe made his mark on this town. His unlimited energy helped make Rockford what it is today—a community widely regarded as “a nice place to live.” Life-long resident Clarence Blakeslee says, “I first remember him when I was on the City Council. He was always on every committee we had… always ready with information. He always knew what was going on.” Paul’s death last month leaves a huge gap.

Paul graduated from high school in Bridgeman, Mich., and from MSU in 1935 with a degree in landscape architecture. The limited job market in the ‘30s led to his going to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps in several Michigan camps. He ended up at Camp Wellston as Commander. When WWII came along, Paul served much of his time in Greenland and achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel.

After the war, he went to work with the Veterans Administration. According to his family, he helped veterans find jobs.

He remained a member of the Army Reserves until 1971. Each Wednesday evening, when he put on his uniform, he was teased by his daughters about “going soldiering.”

In 1946 Paul brought his family to Rockford and took a job with the Rockford State Bank (on Main Street) as a teller. Working his way up in the banking business, he joined Union Bank when it bought State Bank. He became branch manager and held that position until he retired in 1974.

Paul’s family had more than 100 acres east of town. They kept dairy cattle, so the work included plenty of milking and shoveling. It also meant fresh whole milk and lots of cream for the family. They churned their own butter. Summers the family never traveled because that was haying season and everybody, including the three girls, Sue, Sally and Jean, helped get the hay in. The girls were active in 4-H as members of the Courtland Cannonballs, and the family camped out in tents at the fairgrounds in Lowell during fair time. Paul came over every evening to be with them.

Paul made every attempt, and almost succeeded, to get Grand Valley State College located east of Rockford. While he missed out with Grand Valley, he did help the City annex the Rockford Plaza area, then the Rum Creek addition, then the area west of the river, then the area east of the river on the north side of town, and finally the Wolverine headquarters property on Courtland Drive.

Paul joined Rockford Rotary in 1952 and was club president in 1968-69. He went on to become District Governor in 1975-76, the Rockford club’s only governor so far. A hardworking member, he always was among the top sellers for the annual fruit sale. He was known to be a reliable taxi service for the exchange students hosted by Rotary. The Robe family themselves hosted a German exchange student, who kept in touch through the years and finally came back last summer to visit.

The Little Red Schoolhouse is in its present location on Division Avenue in large part due to Paul’s interest and work. His daughters remember helping paint it. It wasn’t just the antique schoolhouse he was interested in; he also served on the Rockford School Board the year the Division Avenue high school was built. And when Victor Krause wanted to make a contribution to the new swimming pool at the building, it was Paul and the Rockford Community Foundation that smoothed the way.

Those who knew him say he gave his all to everything he became involved in. And, as Clarence Blakeslee says, Paul was the “…kind of guy you can look in the eye and [know] you’re going to get the truth out of him.” After retirement he spent part of each winter in Texas but returned to Rockford for most of the year. He died in Rockford on January 25, 1999 at the age of 87.

Plainfield Township Inductee Homer Ludwig Burch  

by JOAN BUNN and JACK BOLT

Homer Ludwig Burch was born on December 13, 1899 in Courtland Township in what later became a chicken coop. He graduated from Rockford Union School before going to fight in World War I. In 1929 Homer became Rockford’s village manager and contributed in the effort to organize Rockford into a city in 1935. By 1944 his interest in history resulted in writing about the Grand River and for the next 40-plus years he kept detailed records of the Grand River. After retiring from Haven-Bush Company in 1965, Homer turned his energy toward Rockford’s history.

He gathered a group representing Rockford and the four surrounding townships that became the founders of the Rockford Area Historical Society. In 1968 he published his book “From Sawmill to City” that for many years was used as a textbook in Rockford schools. That same year he led Rockford’s Quasquicentennial Celebration that included a play, parade, restoration of the Pioneer Cemetery, with an Indian ceremony, and the sale of commemorative plates.

In the 1970s, Homer was the driving force behind the establishment of Rockford’s Power House Museum in a building by the dam that once generated electricity for the City of Rockford until 1935.

In December 1984, the Michigan State Senate passed a resolution acknowledging Homer’s many contributions. The Michigan State House followed with a resolution awarded posthumously in December 1985. Homer died at Kent Community Hospital on June 16, 1985.

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