Published: August 9, 2014
The Keeper of the Keys. It sounds like a character's title in the TV fantasy "Game of Thrones."
Ray Rozak and his wife, Lin, could star in the epic tale. But their life's saga is story enough.
The Keepers title will be bestowed on them Sunday at the Black Forest Community Hall. The award is given by the Black Forest Club to those who have lived in the area at least 10 years, exemplify the spirit of the community and who have made it a better place to live through good works.
The Rozaks' only official appearance as Keepers will be at the Black Forest Festival parade Aug. 16. But they will hold the title for a year. The storied set of seven carved wooden keys, coated with copper, have been passed among Keepers for 54 years.
Each key signifies an attribute of the Black Forest, including the "spirit of neighborliness." Another key has traditionally represented the "changing beauties of trees. That one has taken on a special meaning since the Black Forest fire devoured thousands of trees and 488 homes in 2013.
The Rozaks' home burned in the flames. They hope to rebuild, but for now are living in a 30-foot trailer on their property with their Labrador retriever Kelly - a volunteer therapy dog who visits hospitals with her owners.
The Rozaks were surprised and thrilled to be named Keepers of the Keys.
"It makes us feel even closer to the community," Ray said.
They purchased the land in 1978 during a vacation trip from their home in Ohio. Ray retired from a phone company and Lin retired from an air conditioning and heating company. They built the barn first, and finished the home in 2007. It had cement siding covered with stucco, a composite deck, heat-proof windows and an approved fire roof. Gravel, not mulch, surrounded the home.
But it was no match for the 200-foot flames that engulfed the house and the family heirlooms inside.
Lives of service
Despite such a calamitous setback, they have spent the past year helping others. It is in their nature. Ray spent 38 years as a scout leader and served in the Army and Ohio National Guard. Lin was an active school volunteer. They received a National AARP certificate for their work with Black Forest AARP projects, including food drives, senior driver safety and paper shredding.
After the Waldo Canyon fire two years ago, Ray helped mitigate the Flying W Ranch area. Lin has volunteered with St. Francis Nursing Home, visiting residents and helping decorate rooms, and at Goodwill she has helped special needs workers with their duties.
They volunteer long hours at Crosses for Losses, a nonprofit organization in Black Forest that has shouldered a lot of the work of helping fire victims.
Lin coordinates the main cabin which provides appliances, furniture and clothing for those in need. Ray runs the food pantry, which has given out 55,250 pounds of food since Jan. 16.
Mary Turner, whose house burned down, is among the many who applaud the Rozaks for their volunteer work.
In fact, there were no other nominees this year, which is highly unusual.
"Lin is a hugger. She doesn't want people to feel alone or forgotten," Turner said.
Ray said he and his wife have been helped as much as they have helped.
"It takes my mind off our problems," he said. "We are lucky we have a roof, even if it has wheels, and insurance. Some don't have anything,"
The Keeper of the Keys award was created by the Black Forest Club in 1960. It was first presented during a summer festival, said Barbara Hosmer, who is overseeing Sunday's awards dinner at the Black Forest Community Hall at Shoup and Black Forest roads.
Both club and hall and the Keeper of the Keys have helped hold the community together through bad times and good.
There were few families living in the area when residents donated logs and labor to build it. The women stripped bark off the logs, and the men erected the building, Hosmer said. It was completed in 1929 after two years of work.
"Homes were far apart, so this was where they gathered for dances, game nights, church services, to get important information," said Terry Stokka, chairman of the Black Forest Club's history committee.
About nine historic buildings were lost in the fire, but the Black Forest Club survived, along with the photos on the walls. Some of those photos feature past Keepers of the Keys.
It was in the hall that ideas for the area's fire district, rural electric program and telephone service were born. Other activities still abound, even with so many still displaced by the fire - Boy Scouts, Arts and Crafts Guild meetings, yoga and karate classes, weddings and concerts.
And at 6 p.m. Sunday there will be the annual presentation of the Keepers of the Keys award. It will be one of those old-fashioned affairs where neighbors bring potluck dishes to share.
Lin Rozak said it was an unexpected surprise to be chosen for the award by she and Ray's neighbors.
"To think people feel we deserve it, it touches my heart."
And, she said, the fire has not destroyed that pioneering sense of community.
"It's much more than it was. Everyone is so much closer. It's a big family now."
Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371