By Maureen Chodaba
How do you say goodbye to someone who has been an inspiration to so many? How do you let go of a couple who were the faces of Marco Island’s social scene for many years? You don’t. You embrace the memories and thank God for the opportunity to have known them.
Pat and Roy Birkeland are moving to Rockford, Michigan this month, but their hearts will always live on Marco Island and the spirit of Marco Island will always live in them.
Their story is one of true love. Roy worked in the field of classified advertising for the New York Times for 45 years. Pat also worked for the New York Times as an ad taker in a call center on Long Island. Roy was widowed before he began his retirement living alone in the Poconos. Pat also lost her first spouse. The two former New York Times employees were reunited and married in 1992. The following year, the couple moved to Marco Island where Pat had already owned a condo for many years.
Roy’s daughter Teresa fondly recalled the couple’s move to Marco, saying “Pat opened my Dad up to the social world of Marco Island after a time when he had been living by himself in the Pocono Mountains. Dad had always been a very outgoing friendly person. I can remember in the days of my childhood when Dad would do something as simple as take out the garbage and he would be out for hours, talking to the neighbors. He loved the opportunity to become involved in the Marco Island community.”
Teresa recalled many of her Dad’s close friendships on Marco Island. “My Dad converted to Catholicism after his move to Marco Island.” His close friend, Dick Shanahan served as his spiritual mentor.
Teresa, who lives in the Boston area, went on to speak of Roy’s close friend, Dianna Dohm. She said “Living so far away, we have been so grateful for Dianna’s friendship with Dad. Dianna has been the eyes and ears for my brothers, Paul of Seattle, Peter of Michigan, and me.”
Dianna Dohm recalled the many wonderful things that Roy has done for Marco Island, saying “Roy has been a key volunteer for over 24 years. When Roy retired to Marco, he threw himself into the Sunrise Rotary. There was not a fundraiser or event that he didn’t participate in. He was an organizer for the Rotary’s annual Race Track Trip, where he was known for his famous Bloody Marys! Then he was asked to join the Fire Rescue Foundation. Again, he threw himself into the organization. He volunteered for every fundraiser and eventually became vice president. He also developed and managed the Fire Foundation Merchandise Store.”
I recall my own encounter with Roy, just a few months ago. He was a volunteer with the annual Knights of Columbus tootsie roll drive. He wasn’t just a volunteer, asking for a donation and handing out some candy. He was a warm jovial delightful soul whose smile will live in my memory forever. I am especially touched by that friendly charm when I think of what Roy was actually experiencing at the time. Sadly, his beloved Pat has been residing in a memory care facility in Naples for the past two years.
When the Birkelands make their move to Michigan, Roy, who now has macular degeneration, will reside with his son Peter, and Pat will live in another memory care facility. We can rest assured that they will be loved and safe.
Teresa Birkeland said, “Marco Island is really Dad’s home. He will always have a vested and concerned interest for Marco, always wanting the best for the island.” When asked what she thinks her Dad would say about his life on Marco Island, Teresa said “I think Dad would say that Marco Island gave to him as much as he gave to Marco Island.”
Those who knew him best might have a slight disagreement with that humble statement. Roy’s generous spirit was and always will be an integral part of this island, inspiring others to follow in his footsteps. In the words of Dianna Dohm, “No matter what, Roy has a smile on his face and volunteering in his heart. He has many friends on Marco. Our island will be a bit emptier with his departure.”