McCrabb: 85-year-old retired pastor goes from sewing sermons to stitching quilts

Much like his award-winning quilts, Orville Roach’s life is a complex patchwork.

Now 85 and living in Seven Mile, Roach dropped out of New Miami School in the ninth grade, then returned to New Miami Elementary School as a teacher and principal.

He went from walking out of the building to having his own office.

“I was a bad kid,” he said of his teen years, “but I turned it around.”

He was raised in a two-bedroom house in New Miami. He lived there with his parents, his six siblings, his grandmother and uncle. You counted right. That’s 11 people.

As a 10-year-old Roach said his parents went their separate ways in the late 1940s and he stayed with his mother. He dropped out of school in September of his freshman year.

“Things weren’t good,” he said.

He worked for a while for Heyman-Fisher men’s store as a stock boy until he was 17. Then he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force where he spent four years, earned his GED, met his future wife, Jean, and accepted Christ into his life.

Then he enrolled in the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bible College where he earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. There were no jobs in his field so he worked for the city of Fairfield street department.

His teaching certificate was earned at Miami University.

That’s when he returned to his New Miami roots and met with the school superintendent, the same gentleman who reluctantly allowed him to drop out 10 years earlier. He asked him for a teaching job. He was hired and taught sixth grade for 10 years and served as principal for 20 years.

Roach, a member of First Baptist Church in Hamilton, also served as pastor at St. Clair Baptist Church from 1991-2001.

After retiring in 2001, he transitioned from delivering sermons to making quilts the same year he was diagnosed with cancer. The cancer was removed and while rehabilitating at home, Roach took up quilting, a hobby he mastered.

Roach bought his wife of 66 years a quilting frame and suggested making a quilt as a couple. Twenty-one years later, he’s still quilting and winning awards. He estimates he had made 150 quilts and many of them hang in his home.

One of his quilts that features a sawtooth star design was named “Best of Show” at his year’s Butler County Fair.

“It keeps me busy and gives me an outlet,” he said when asked why he enjoys quilting.

In 2004, the first year he entered a quilt in the fair, he received a red ribbon. He didn’t know what that represented until the ladies in the quilt booth told him he placed second.

He also joined a quilting circle at Immanuel Baptist Church on Eaton Avenue when he served as an interim pastor. The club, comprised of almost all women, took fabric and “finished off” quilts for people, he said. The money they earned was donated to various church missions.

After helping the group complete quilts Roach became “one of the ladies,” he said with a laugh.

The Roachs have two children, Becky, a retired English teacher, and Steve, a retired lieutenant with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office; three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Looking back at his life, Roach can’t help but think how that cancer diagnosis — devastating at the time — led him to his love of quilting.

“I consider it a gift from my retirement when I had physical limitations,” he said. “It has taught me patience for one thing.”

And another thing: “I like the fellowship with the ladies.”

About the Author