Written by Pam Ashby | Edited by Michael Krapovicky
Most of us meet someone in our lives that radiates an energy we desire to be around. For the many of us privileged to know Steve Roop, he was one of those people, and we were always left feeling lighter than before.
I attended St. Dominic Regional High School, and some of my favorite memories of that time were on the basketball court. I still hear the sounds of sneakers squeaking across the floor, a swish of the net as a three-pointer was drained, whistles of the referees, and of course, cheers from the crowd. One particular chant, ‘Roop, Roop, Roop, Roop’… always lit something up in me when I heard it. It didn’t matter that the cheer was for my teammate, Stephanie Roop.
For many years, every time I saw Stephanie (now St. Laurent), the chant echoed; it was started by none other than Steve Roop. Now, louder than ever, when I pass a Roopers Beverage, I hear that chant ‘Roop, Roop, Roop, Roop!’ He was an exemplary leader for his employees, but he was also a cheerleader for all he came across.
What you might not know
As many of you know, Steve unexpectedly passed away on Tuesday, September 21st, 2022. LA Metro Magazine wanted to spotlight who Steve was to those who knew him. As I interviewed each person, I wondered if words could ever encapsulate this one man’s effect not only on the lives of so many individuals, but also entire communities.
The passion and love Roop radiated to everyone was deeply appreciated by those closest to him. Roop grew up in Lisbon Falls with his parents, Marty and Mary Jane, and his three siblings: Kathy, Marty, and Larry.
“As a little fella, he was just lovable,” Roop’s father, Marty, attests. “He liked to get close to you at night watching T.V.”
Mary Jane, Roop’s mom, agreed and added how she remembered how hungry he was growing up. Once Steve and his three siblings were in school, Mary Jane went to work. She spoke of how she would come home to Steve cooking in the kitchen, and recalled the time he whipped up an upside-down cake.
He was loud, rambunctious, fun, and energetic – but also soft, touching, and contemplative. “Everyone saw him as this big, gregarious person, big personality, but he was also somebody who would reflect and take the time to be quiet,” described his daughter, Stephanie.
“My most memorable times with Steve are when he would come over, and have the best conversations, just he and I,” Mary Jane recollects of the most recent years with her son.
His daughters Stephanie and Sherri were born in Panama where Steve was stationed, with his then-wife, while serving in the Army. Stephanie shares how they didn’t have much, lived in a minimalistic home with fabric laid on the uneven floors, pulled tight, held down with furniture, to cover holes.
I watched Stephanie and her son Eli reminisce, and although they reenacted the tale of the anaconda he came across in Panama – with bright eyes and smiles on their faces – it was evident they would have preferred hearing Pappi tell the story. It didn’t matter that they had heard it numerous times before.
“He was always telling stories about being in the jungle in Panama,” Stephanie smiled.
On the roster
There were many things those I interviewed agreed about regarding Roop, and one was how athletic he was. Growing up, he played sports, including basketball, baseball, and football.
“I remember Steve being a standout first baseman,” recounts a classmate of Roop, Norm Smith. “He was also a strong left-handed hitter.”
His athleticism continued after high school. He started up men’s two-hand touch football, and basketball leagues. He was also described as a phenomenal skier and entertaining golf partner. Good athletes are risk takers – but also great teammates – and Roop seemed to know the importance of those traits.
Roopers and love
In the early 90’s, Roop was thriving as a sales representative for Central Distributors when he erroneously met Elaine Bartholomew. Elaine was returning a phone call to Roop’s roommate at the time, and Roop answered the phone instead. After speaking on the phone a few times, Roop took a chance and asked Elaine out for a drink.
“Our story, by all that’s right and holy, should never have happened,” jokes Elaine. “I was thirteen years older than Steve… I am the original cougar and wasn’t looking for a puppy.”
Once she had spoken to Roop a few times over the phone, she agreed to meet him for a drink.
“From that moment on, we saw each other every day,” Elaine remembers fondly.
There’s no doubt people enjoyed Roop’s company. Everyone who knew him from ‘the business’ mentioned how he would come in and sit at the bar and chat with everyone around within minutes.
“Steve was one of the most popular guys, and everyone loved being around him,” remembers Smith as far back as high school.
Elaine went on sales calls with Roop during his time at Central Distributors and talks about how good he was with his customers and how receptive they were of him.
“I marveled at how people just loved him,” boasted Elaine. She saw him sell from the heart, knowing his efforts, ultimately, were going to help their business.
During Roop’s time at Central Distributors, he identified a need for a redemption center in the Lewiston Auburn area. After seeing him work with people first-hand, Elaine encouraged him to open his own store. At first, Roop was hesitant. At the time, he had two young daughters and wasn’t sure about the risk it took to start a business. Nevertheless, he kept an eye out for a property for his store – finally deciding on a run-down Sabattus Street building. In 1992 Roopers was born, and Roop’s hard work was about to begin.
All in the family
Roop saw the potential in what a Sabattus Street shack could be with a little bit (okay, maybe a lot) of hard work, a testament to his foresight.
“He saw good in everything,” states Bert Cote, owner of Thatcher’s, when asked how he thought he was affected by Roop.
Long-time friend Bill Welch tells of a time when he was a police officer, and Roop was early into being a business owner. The police department had put together a kids summer basketball program, and Roop went down one day to visit Welch and watch the kids play. Roop noticed that some of them were playing barefoot. Within a week, Roop had supplied them with new sneakers, at his own expense.
“That’s back when Steve didn’t own six stores, he only owned maybe one or two, but it didn’t matter to him,” Welch remarks.
In the opinion of Cat Tardie, Chief Financial Officer of Roopers, you couldn’t ask for a better boss.
“He was just so kind and generous,” Tardie reminisced. “He cost the company a little bit of money, but he enabled people to see a medical doctor without the fear that they would end up in debt.”
Some people have been successful because Roop believed in them whenno one else did. According to Tardie, current and past employees still talk about how much they appreciate what Roop has done for them. He believed in people, had a heart that you never saw jaded, and thought that everyone has something in them worth helping. Roop did things to help if he could, even if it wasn’t the best business decision, but because it helped his ‘family.’
Jesse St. Laurent, Stephanie’s husband and general manager of Roopers, knows first-hand the “builder” Roop was, for the business, but also for people.
“We were a great team and he never put himself first. One step at a time, we continually kept growing financially, but the best lesson was personal growth – which sometimes you don’t see until you really look,” affirms St. Laurent of his father-in-law, and boss. “That was Steve’s best quality – being a presence in your life for good and growth.”
Elaine and Tardie both agree that Roop sought to help those who maybe needed it more than others and that he always viewed people in a positive light. Both mentioned that he would give employees one, two, and even three chances to prove themselves.
Roop believed in hard work; at times he could be found tossing bottles when it was needed. He always had a soft spot for those who worked in the bottle redemption.
“That was the forgotten group,” Elaine speaks of the bottle redemption employees, “but they were never forgotten by Steve,” continuing on how Roop would buy them lunch, hand them a twenty-dollar bill, or even co-sign a loan if they needed it. Buying an employee dentures, paying to get their G.E.D., and treating his grandson Eli’s friend’s entire family to dinner at Pat’s Pizza were other generous acts that Stephanie attributed to her father. Everyone was family to Roop, and his philanthropy knew no bounds.
“He did more for this community than people even know,” Cote boasts of Roop. “And he did it quietly.”
The Roop effect
While standing in the multi-hour wait at Roop’s wake at the Franco Center, I was awestruck by the stories being told around me. People from all aspects of Roop’s life were chronicling their memories and experiences with him. None of us knew each other, but all had the same feelings from the positive energy he left behind. Those that spent any time with him know the Roop effect.
“My favorite memories of him are when he would come in here and sit right in that chair, and we would be just chilling, and this house would just go crazy when he left,” Roop’s grandson Eli reminisced. “It was awesome; even my friends loved him!”
The titles he held of husband, father, son, brother, Pappi, and boss, held such pride for him, yet he never boasted or bragged. Roop knew he was blessed, but remained humble, even after the growth of his business.
“He always asked me if he was a good dad; I always told him ‘of course!’” Stephanie maintained, her voice trailing off with emotion. “He was the best dad.”
Stephanie shared other memories as a child of her dad and how special their relationship was; how special he was.
“Dad used to take me hiking up Mt. Katahdin – we climbed it three times together,” Stephanie shares. “He wanted me to experience that feeling of accomplishment, to challenge myself physically and mentally and to overcome that.”
John Williams, Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, reminisces of his friendship with Roop.
“I was one of those lucky people, and when he would greet me with a hug and leave me with ‘Love you, Amigo,’ I never, ever doubted that sincerity.”
Bruce Marshall, Steve and Elaine’s neighbor at the camp they have in Embden, was
always impressed by the person who knocked on his door some 21 years ago.
“One thing that amazed me about Steve is he was always the same person,” Marshall says of Roop. “He could be with the governor – he could be with anybody… what you saw is what you got.”
“When you spoke to Steve, you thought you were his only friend – his listening skills were second to none,” agrees Welch. “I think Steve just had that knack; he could gravitate to anybody.”
Sherri, his youngest child, passed away in 2005. His love ran deep for his daughters, and losing one at such a young age would affect anyone. Both Roop’s parents, Marty and Mary Jane, spoke of how he had such fond memories of her.
“He never really got over losing Sherri, just like I’ll never get over losing him,” Mary Jane says gently.
“He reserved his most thoughtful moments talking about his daughter Sherri, whom he loved and lost,” shares Williams.
Love you for free
“Love you for free,” Roop was heard saying openly, and helping those who may need it – just a little more than most – is how he lived his life. When Roop gave, he gave his all. It didn’t matter if sometimes it was just a listening ear. He made sure each person he was around felt at ease and heard.
“That is something we have lost in society today that would do well to remember when Steve comes to mind,” observes Williams.
Those who knew him can agree that the least we can do is pass on his torch of kindness and candor. It may not bring the gregarious personality we knew and loved back, but it will certainly allow his legacy to live on.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A special thank you to Stephanie St. Laurent, Elaine Roop, and Jennifer Grace for submissions of photos of Steve Roop and his family.