ELKTON — Motorists still beep their horns when driving by the home on Appleton Road near Elkton - where Rodney "Roscoe" Haley had happily waved at passersby at certain times each day while seated in a patio chair in the driveway for approximately the past 17 years.
That chair stood empty on a Saturday afternoon in late January, about two months after Roscoe, 85, died after battling cancer.
"I hear people beeping all the time - even now. Everyone misses him, and it's their way of remembering him," said his 84-year-old widow, Dean Haley, who had been married to Roscoe for 63 years. "He loved people and he spent his whole life making them happy."
Roscoe's nephew, Todd Meekins, 54, of Elkton, is also warmed by those continuing honks.
"I'll be out there for a little while visiting Dean, doing chores around the house, and five or 10 people will beep. They did it so much for so long that beeping is a habit. It reminds us of how much Uncle Rodney (Roscoe) meant to so many people," Meekins said.
The Haleys moved into their rancher-style home on Appleton Road in 1964, but Roscoe didn't start his daily waving sessions until some four decades later, when he retired after working 42 years for the City of Newark (Del.), ending his career as an electrical line supervisor.
Roscoe and Dean had one child, a daughter, Cathy, who had spina bifida. Cathy was also well-known in the community because she typically was the first person visitors and employees would see when they walked into the Cecil County Government Building, where, seated behind the lobby check-in desk, Cathy worked as a receptionist for 36 years. Cathy died in June 2021 at age 58.
ACTIVE AND AFFABLE
A Cecil County native who graduated in 1955 from Elkton High School, where he played several sports, Roscoe remained athletic after entering the workforce and marrying. He played catcher in some fast-pitch softball leagues for more than 30 years. He finally hung up his spikes when he was in his early 50s.
"He played five nights a week. Every game, it was like they were playing for blood or a millions dollars," Dean recalled with a chuckle.
Roscoe developed scores of friendships while playing softball and, according to Dean, he seemed to cherish the camaraderie with his teammates and opponents alike - almost as much as he did the sport itself.
It's quite possible that hundreds of other people felt like they knew Roscoe in some small way simply from seeing him jogging throughout the Elkton area - something he did almost daily for about 50 years - and exchanging greetings that he gregariously initiated.
"He ran eight miles a day. He didn't stop jogging until a couple of years ago. He would leave our house, go up Appleton Road to Fletchwood Road to Route 279 to Walnut Lane to Ricketts Mill Road and then back onto Appleton Road," Dean outlined, before emphasizing, "He smiled and waved at every single person who drove by him while he was jogging. A lot of people just knew him as 'The Jogging Guy.'"
Roscoe started jogging routinely in the early 1970s, back when it wasn't nearly as common an exercise as it is today, according to Meekins. He still marvels over the dedication and stamina that Roscoe possessed when it came to jogging.
Meekins said there are many reasons for his deep admiration for his uncle, including his sage and sometimes funny homespun advice, his can-do attitude and his fair treat of every single person in his life - friend, family or stranger.
"He was my hero my whole life. He just made people feel happy. He never saw the bad side of a person," Meekins said.
EAGER TO HELP
Jacquelyn (Stocktill) Williams, 54, grew up next to the Haleys' rancher and she recalled fond childhood memories of Roscoe playing with her and her brothers, no matter how tired he might have been from his busy day.
"We waited for him to get home from work every day and we'd meet him. He taught my brothers and me how to throw a ball and how to catch a ball. When it snowed, he hooked up our sled to his VW bug and gave us rides (in a nearby field), which thrilled us to no end," Williams said.
A pile of homemade greeting cards that Williams had given to Roscoe during her childhood for holidays and other occasions now sits in the living room inside the home that Dean had shared with her husband for nearly 60 years. Williams affectionally referred to Roscoe as "my pal" in those cards, complete with her childlike drawings.
But she has more than childhood memories of Roscoe and of Dean.
"We kept in touch my whole life," Williams emphasized. "They babysat my kids because they were like parents to me and like grandparents to my kids. They came to my kids' birthday parties and athletic games. We exchanged Christmas and birthday gifts. Roscoe taught me how to run and that's why I run today. I teach at Tome (School) and he would come to our annual Race for Education every year and run with my kids (students). He gave my oldest son, Jake, all of his catching gear. He also helped me coach an All-Star team in Little League girls softball."
Based on the things Williams and her children had learned from him during their lives, Roscoe had a knack for teaching, according to Williams who, along those lines, opined that it was sometimes mystifying how Roscoe related to people.
Williams recalled, for example, how Roscoe overcame a language barrier about 10 years ago after he had made arrangements for Williams to hire a man who spoke only Spanish to do tree work in her yard. (Williams noted that she always turned to Roscoe when planning and undertaking projects because, in addition to offering great guidance, he often cheerfully would lead those projects.)
"I wanted the guy to cut up some trees that had fallen and stack it for firewood. But I couldn't communicate that to him because I don't know Spanish," Williams said. "Even though Roscoe couldn't speak Spanish, either, he somehow communicated everything I wanted to say to this guy and also found out from him how much he wanted to be paid for the work. The tree guy did a great job."
Williams added, "I still don't know how he did it. He just had a special way with people. He was a real good listener, so people always felt comfortable. He had his own language with people. People always understand kindness."
WAVES OF KINDNESS
After he retired in 2005, Roscoe started waving from the driveway to passing motorists on Appleton Road.
He'd start at about 6:30 a.m., when folks were heading to work, including many W. L. Gore employees assigned to the plant a few miles north on Appleton Road. Roscoe would be back out there again at about 3:00 p.m., around afternoon dismissal for schools.
Many of those passersby felt like they knew Roscoe, Dean surmised, even though most of them never even met the man. Over the years, several of them went out of their way to express their gratitude for Roscoe's small but powerful daily gesture of kindness.
"People started sending cards to him and dropping them off at the house, just thanking him for waving and smiling at them. The cards would say stuff like, 'I'm the woman in the red Honda' or 'I'm the guy in the blue pickup truck.'," Dean said.
Meekins recalled, "People would stop to thank him in person. They'd give him candy, cards, fresh vegetables and little gifts, nothing major, just little trinkets. One lady made him cupcakes. None of them knew him, except for waving back at him and beeping."
Those keepsake cards sit in a neat pile in Dean's living room today, too. The handwritten message in one those cards reads, "Thank you for always putting a smile on my face. A simple wave always brightens my day!"
Students at Tri-State Christian Academy, which stands diagonally across Appleton Road from the Haley home, also felt a special connection to Roscoe from exchanging waves with him almost daily at arrival and dismissal times.
"Some of the students probably waved to Uncle Rodney for 12 years, the entire time they went to that school," Meekins surmised.
One girl even invited him to her graduation, according to Dean, prompting Meekins to further explain, "Uncle Rodney wasn't going to go at first. He didn't think it would be appropriate because she was young and he didn't know her. But then her parents invited him, too, so he went to her graduation."
Making his smiling face even more familiar to students, faculty and coaches there, Roscoe attended most of the sporting events at that school and, in particular, he was a fixture in the gymnasium when the boys basketball team and the girls basketball team played their home games.
RALLYING AROUND ROSCOE AND FAMILY
Roscoe stopped waving for about two weeks in June 2021, marking the first of his three lengthy hospital stays as his health declined.
It didn't take long for passersby to notice his absence, prompting someone to ask on social media, "Does anybody know what happened to that nice man who waves to people on Appleton Road? I hope he is OK."
The family responded to such inquiries. During and directly after his next two long hospitalizations, people who had waved to him along Appleton Road flooded the Haley home with get-well cards and handmade posters. Deeply moved by the show of support, Dean kept all of them.
One created by a Tri-State Christian Academy student reads, "Thank you for being kind to all of us . . . We love you." Also contained in that poster-like card, which includes two hand-drawn and hand-colored U.S. flags, is this reference to Roscoe's military service: "Thank you for helping our country."
Replacing his patio chair, Roscoe eventually relied on an electric wheelchair to reach the spot in the driveway where he waved to passing people. Too sick and too weak because of his cancer, however, Roscoe waved at passersby for the last time sometime in October, Meekins approximated.
Even so, passing motorists continued to beep.
"He was nowhere in sight, but I guess they figured he might be inside the house, close enough to hear. I think it was their way of showing support for him, to encourage him to get well," Meekins speculated.
Sadly, Roscoe lost his battle with cancer on Nov. 18.
Some 11 days later, Roscoe's funeral procession took him to his final resting place, Gilpin Manor Memorial Park, where he received a graveside service with full military honors.
That cemetery is across the road from where Roscoe had lived with Dean for nearly 60 years, and it is adjacent to Tri-State Christian Academy.
So his procession went by that school. It was greeted by students who were standing in a long line that stretched along Appleton Road in front of the school. With many holding up U.S. flags and handmade posters, which were later given to Dean, students and faculty waved as Roscoe's funeral procession drove by them.
"I've never seen anything like it before. It was so moving," said The Rev. Karen Bunnell, who served 35 years in the ministry, the last 20 of which as senior pastor at Elkton United Methodist Church, before retiring in July 2020.
Bunnell, who officiated Roscoe's funeral, continued, "I was in the car behind the lead car, in front of the hearse, so I was one of the first people to see it. The kids were holding signs saying, 'We love you,' and, 'We will miss you,' and I immediately knew what it was, the connection they had to him. I started crying because it was so beautiful, so powerful. I cried so much that I really had to get myself together to do the service."
Dean still savors that outpouring of love for her husband.
"I had no clue the school was going to do that. I was so touched when I saw all of them out there. It was beautiful," Dean gushed. "Roscoe would have been overwhelmed by it. He did stuff for people all the time, but he never looked for anyone to do anything for him."
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