ST. ALBANS — Long before Roger Boucher had a bicycle, he had a Corvette, gold ’71 Corvette.
In St. Albans, Roger was known for his bicycle, which he rode throughout the community as he made his daily rounds, getting a cup of coffee at the Jolley quick stop on Main Street, grabbing lunch at Martha’s Kitchen, bringing the bottles he’d gathered to Hannaford, and, of course, stopping in at the St. Albans Free Library.
Born on July 26, 1956 in Levittown, N.Y, Roger was the second of five children born to Marilyn and Roger and the only boy.
His sisters describe a quiet child, with a small number of close friends and a love for his family. They spoke of the Roger they knew long before the voices only he heard had entered his head.
At 14, he began delivering Newsday on his bicycle, says sister Deborah Haas. He used his earnings to buy her a bike. “He was always very generous,” she said. “He was a very good brother.”
Around 15 or so, Roger began fixing up old cars and trucks. He had a fondness for muscle cars and large trucks. His sister Denise Marrone, an art student who shared Roger’s love of working with one’s hands, toiled with him.
Together they fixed up a 1963 GMC pick-up, painting it candy-apple red and souping up the engine. When Denise moved to California, Roger sold the truck without telling her. If she’d known, she’d have bought it, she says.
Yvonne Ramondi recalls him working in a pizzeria after classes while in high school and another job waxing and buffing floors. One of his early employers thought so highly of Roger’s work that every Christmas he would offer Roger a $500 bonus, and every Christmas Roger would refuse it.
“Roger never took anything he didn’t earn,” said his brother-in-law, Jim Ramondi. “You couldn’t do anything for him.”
Deborah said Roger did well in school, earning straight A’s, but dropping out in his late teens when mental illness began to take hold.
Despite the illness, he co-owned a construction business with Jim. “He was known for his excellent craftsmanship,” said Deborah. “He did very well.”
Roger’s father passed while the youngest girls were still in school. Roger lived at home, helping their mother and looking out for his sisters.
“Roger worked a lot. He had his own business. He had a lot of money,” recalled his youngest sister Michelle Aiello. He spent that money on his family.
“He was very, very good to us,” said Michelle. “Boyfriends had to pass the test.”
He bought Yvonne Ramondi, five years his junior, her first car – a Mustang—and walked her down he aisle.
According to the others, Yvonne was Roger’s favorite. How did they know? She got to drive the ‘vette.
“He had a gorgeous Corvette and only she was allowed to drive it,” said Michelle. “I was the little one so I was the pain in the ass.”
“I was his mechanic partner,” said Denise. “I never drove the Corvette.”
Roger gave a different explanation, at least to Michelle. One day she was out driving boyfriend’s sports car. She gleefully described shifting the gears to build up speed. When Roger spotted her, he made her pull over and ordered her to go home, telling her, “This is why I don’t let you drive the ‘vette.”
Because of the age difference between them and the death of their father, “My relationship with my brother was more like my father,” says Michelle. And she was a little too wild for her brother’s comfort, earning her stern lectures.
As Roger’s mental illness worsened, the family hospitalized him a few times. “He heard voices,” says Deborah.
He disliked the medication, and would stop taking it.
After he was no longer able to work, Yvonne would pick him up in the morning and bring him to her house to stay with her and her young children while her husband – Roger’s business partner – was at work.
“He was very bothered by being closed in,” said Yvonne. “Even when he was home, he was always running outside because of the voices.”
“His Mom loved him to death,” said Michelle. “When he got sick it almost killed her.”
At 6’1″ with muscles that came from doing physical work, green eyes and curly hair, Roger was a good-looking man, according to his sisters. “He was adorable,” says Deborah.
But there was only one mention of a girlfriend. According to Michelle, he met a “beautiful girl” in the hospital and they lived together for a time after being released. When the girl disappeared, Michelle remembers helping Roger to look for her. After losing her he “really fell apart,” Michelle said.
Police on Long Island weren’t as patient with Roger’s illness as those here and he would get into trouble, his sisters say.
His need to be outside drove him to disappear for long periods of time, and one day he set out for Drummondsville, Quebec, where his father was born.
Stopped from crossing the border, he ended up in St. Albans.
Their mother sent $1,000 a month to a family here as rent for Roger. His family sent clothes and other items.
When their mother developed a brain tumor, Yvonne and Jim came to bring Roger home.
They found Roger living in the family’s backyard. The two oldest sons would hit him. “He was skin and bones,” says Yvonne. He was wearing tattered clothing and his pants were held up with a length of rope. There were signs of the physical abuse.
“It was the saddest thing,” she says. “I couldn’t believe that humans could treat someone like that. He was a mess.”
She wanted to press charges against the family for the abuse, especially the beatings, but Roger refused.
Back on Long Island, he visited his mother just once before returning to St. Albans.
“He had to come back. I cried,” says Yvonne. He promised her he’d avoid the family he’d been living with. “I always worried about those people looking for him,” she adds.
Since Roger’s death, the people of St. Albans have been sharing stories of Roger, of wallets returned, cars repaired, driveways shoveled and sandwiches shared.
They’ve spoken of his concern for others, his insistence on helping while refusing to take anything in return, and the often-unusual conversations they had with him. The voices and delusions remained.
Roger, however, seems to have enriched the community simply by living in it.
Given her earlier experience with St. Albans, Yvonne didn’t quite know what to think. “I had to come and see for myself,” she says during the day of her brother’s funeral.
Roger had kept his promise. He avoided the family he’d lived with previously. Instead, he made a place for himself under an Interstate overpass. He also had a storage area in Sheldon, to which a local man would drive him when he needed access to it.
Rain, shine, snow or sleet, Roger could be seen riding his bicycle through the community – he kept a spare in the library basement — often with bags full of bottles and cans to be returned hanging from the handlebars.
So many people attended Roger’s memorial service Monday at the Heald Funeral Home that some had to stand in the back. At the service were people from every part of the St. Albans community, rich and poor, town and city.
The St. Albans Free Library, where Roger had been a daily visitor, closed that morning so the entire staff could attend, and it then was host for a gathering after the service, catered for free by Tatro’s Gourmet Soup and Sandwich Shop.
The library was such a crucial part of Roger’s life that whenever Deborah tried to convince him to come and live with her, he’d ask, “What’s the library like?”
Knowing the library in her community wouldn’t allow Roger to linger for more than an hour so, Deborah promised to get him his own computer in her home, to recreate the library with the added bonus of his own pet cat. She wasn’t able to convince him.
“It was a home. It was more than just a library,” says Deborah.
“He got it all from my mother,” Michelle says of her brother’s generosity. “My mother was the kindest person you ever want to meet.”
The politeness, too, was instilled by their mother. “My mother always said, ‘When you address a woman you use ma’am or miss,'” says Michelle.
Women who had known Roger for years wondered if he knew their names, because he always addressed them as “ma’am” or “miss.”
“I didn’t get to love him the way I wanted to,” says Deborah, but knowing how many others loved him has been a comfort.
The family has been able to see the community’s response to Roger’s death through Heald’s Web site and hundreds of comments made on social media. Deborah was a daily reader in the days following her brother’s death on Nov. 30. “I couldn’t even wait to get on the computer to see that they had to say,” she says.
“You should be proud to live in this community,” says Denise.
But is St. Albans special, or was Roger? His sisters believe it was both.
“He did not get this kind of reaction at home,” says Denise. “He was shunned.”
Michelle observes, “On Long Island no one would be comforting to him.”
“A lot of people wouldn’t see Roger the way you do,” says Deborah, suggesting that in other places people would not have taken the time to get to know the kind and generous man that remained despite the illness.
While knowing he was cared for has been a comfort, for Michelle the greatest comfort comes from her belief that mother and son have been reunited.
“He’s sitting up there with my mother, and she’s saying, ‘See, kid, you did good.'”
At Roger’s memorial service, local resident Dave McWilliams, one of 10 to speak, urged those in attendance to honor Roger’s memory by following his example and performing an act of kindness.
Speaking on behalf of the library staff, Sarah Allerton, described a conversation with Roger just days before his death. She expressed concern for his health. He assured he’d be fine, adding his customary, “Thank you, ma’am.”
At his service, Allerton answered, “No, sir. Thank you.”