We have the honor and privilege of speaking to GSFA members about their lives, family stories and, sometimes, their experiences as immigrants coming to the United States. With their permission, we would like to share some of them with you. Some written, some oral and transcribed. We hope to build a series of such stories in the future.
MARGARET ROETS | ETIENNE ELKSENS
MARGARET PATTYN ROETS 1921-2022
To those who are not yet aware, Margaret Roets passed away on May 20, 2022 at the age of 101 years. To say we will miss her is an understatement and I am sure in time we will realize just how many ways we miss her. She was our cheerleader, friend and walking encyclopedia (or Wikepedia). She had all the ideas and knew all the people and places. Everybody came to the library to see Margaret, even the staff. I know she was confident that we would be able to carry on without her some day and although we can, we have already had situations where we have said “I wish we could ask Margaret”. Our director, Fran Timmerman, has even admitted to putting Margaret's favorite cookies in her cart at the grocery store. Margaret was a joy to work with and a constant source of encouragement for all of us.
In closing, thanks to all the people who took such good care of Margaret through the years. The many people who picked her up for meetings or brought her to the library and took her home. The friends who took her out for her birthday o r stopped by just to talk. The neighbors who watched out for her and the people who kept in touch by letter or email. She never forgot your kindness and would often say that she wouldn't have such a rich life without the help of so many friends.
Tot Ziens, Linda Shovein and the GSFA Staff
How lucky we are to know someone who makes saying goodbye so hard.
Margaret Roets was born in Detroit in 1921 to Belgian parents who emigrated to the US after World War I. Her whole life, she played an important role in the Belgian community in the Detroit area. For 40 years she volunteered at the Gazette van Detroit, the last Flemish immigrant newspaper in the US, printed in Dutch and English, which was first published in August 1914 and ceased publication in 2018. Its archives are currently in the process of being digitized.
In addition, Margaret was a founding member of the Genealogical Society of Flemish Americans and had been active there until the end. She also was a proud member of the BAA Retirees, BAA Auxiliary, The St. Clair Shores Historical Society, Friends of the St Clair Shores Library, and the Roseville Historical Society. Margaret was the President of the Historical Society of St. Clair Shores for 10 years and was also the recipient of the 2010 Alexander Macomb Historical Award. (obit by Delegation of Flanders to the USA)
This passage, from a book called, The Library Book, seems to have been written with Margaret in mind.
“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned. When I first heard the phrase, I didn't understand it, but over time I came to realize it was perfect. Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individiuals consciousness is a collection of memories we've catalogued and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share, one that burns down and disappears when we die. But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it with one person, or with the larger world, on the page or in a story recited, it takes on a life of its own.” (Passage used with permission from the author, Susan Orlean).