Dr. Joe Roehl had a deep love and respect for animals, especially horses, recalls Ken Langnesser, who was a neighbor, friend and client of the St. Clair County, Mich., veterinarian.
Roehl died in a farm accident Jan. 25, and he is fondly remembered by many in the community, state and throughout the country.
Known as a man who needed to be busy, Roehl was in his 20-acre woods when the accident occurred, says his brother, Chuck.
“He didn’t need the money, but he was cutting trees to sell for firewood,” Chuck says. “He had the tractor with a lift on it back there pushing against a tree that hadn’t been quite cut down, we think. It looks like it might have started to fall a different way than he thought, and he ran to the tractor to try to get the boom down. In that split second, the tractor tipped over and crushed him.”
After he didn’t come in for lunch, Joe’s wife, Dr. Kathryn Simons, went looking for him and found him dead at the scene.
“It’s a tragedy and a stark reminder of just how dangerous farming can be,” Langnesser says. “He was an all-around good guy, and everybody respected him.”
His funeral was attended by more than 400 people, Chuck says.
“Our father was a livestock dealer with horses and dairy cattle, and Joe took right after him,” Chuck says. “Our father, Harry, was also into pulling horses and a great horseman, and he had dealings with people from Maine to Seattle. Harry was known as a compassionate trainer, a trait carried on by Joe.”
Joe grew up as one of four brothers on the family farm in Marysville, Mich. “He was the one that got good at taking care of animals,” says Chuck, who went on to work for Detroit Edison.
When the family farm sold the dairy cows, they transitioned to a beef herd and a cow-calf operation. When Chuck retired from Detroit Edison in 2001, they grew the cattle operation and sold hay to a horse farm in Mount Clemens, Mich.
“When our mother died in 2007, Joe and I bought our brothers out, and we were farming around 300 acres in Kimball Township, which we are now leasing out,” Chuck says.
Langnesser says Joe had a way with animals not commonly found. “He loved animals, but he was also a no-nonsense-type vet — he had a practical sense,” he says.
Joe decided to make animals his lifelong profession and graduated from Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1973. He established Wadhams Road Animal Clinic in January 1974 and worked there with his wife, a small animals vet, until his retirement in 1996.
Chuck says, “While working for the Detroit Edison, I had three days on and three days off. Joe would schedule the dirty jobs, like castrating a bunch of bulls, when I was off so that I could help … I enjoyed it.”
His family says the highlight of Joe’s retirement was spending five summers as the veterinarian for Mackinac Island Carriage Tours on Mackinac Island.
“He was very concerned about treating horses humanely and was constantly working to improve their working conditions,” Chuck recounts. “He had just retired from there, as well, and was planning to work on a limited basis. He had lined up veterinarians to work the island.”
Family and religion also were important to Joe, Chuck says. Joe sang in the Christopher Catholic Church Choir and the prestigious Schubert Male Chorus. He was a council member of the Marysville Knights of Columbus and was instrumental in starting the Marysville Rotary Club. “He had great sensitivity to both animals and people,” Chuck says.
Joe was 68, “but he looked like and was in the shape of a 50-year-old,” Chuck adds. “As the oldest in the family, I didn’t think the youngest brother would go first. He had a wonderful life, but in an instant, it’s gone.”
In addition to his wife of 41 years, he leaves behind his son, Cameron, 29, who is a financial adviser, and his daughter-in-law, Kim DeLand, and brothers Chuck (Evelyn), Harry (Ann), and Tom (Sandra) Roehl.