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Life Story / Obituary
Robert Lay passed away on August 27 2020 at Bickford of Portage at the age of 99 from natural causes.
Robert was born September 27, 1920 in West Bloomfield, New York. He was the only child of Jane M. De Martinis and Harry Lay. Robert spent most of his childhood with his grandparents Anna and Loreto De Martinis on their farm in West Bloomfield but as a child made many solo night train trips to visit his mother in the New York City area where she owned restaurants, thus his lifelong love of trains and train whistle patterns. Robert graduated from Parks College of St. Louis University in December 1941 with a degree in aeronautic engineering (just after the Pearl Harbor attack) and immediately stepped into more training with Wright Aeronautical to support the U.S. Army B17 bomber engines as a civilian in Europe during WWII. He was eventually drafted into the Army and was discharged in 1948 from his post at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton. Robert began his automotive career when he returned to Rochester, NY to work as an engineer for Rochester Products division of General Motors. On October 8, 1951, he fell in love and married Maxine Rowlinson just after Maxine graduated from high school in their home town of West Bloomfield, New York. They were married 67 years and built a family of four children, Bill (Joyce), Jim (Harriet) and Tom Lay and Diane Lay Cleary (David), eleven grandchildren and fifteen great grandchildren. Robert and Maxine moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and then to Flint, Michigan in 1958 when Robert’s job moved to the AC Spark Plug division of General Motors. He and his family were very active in First Presbyterian Church for their 22 years in Flint and he took a keen interest in the purchase and installation of the Schantz pipe organ in that church. Robert retired in 1980 when he and Maxine and son Tom returned to the New York farm where Robert was raised and enjoyed thirty years of farm fun, great gardens, endless projects and being closer to their roots. In 2008, Robert and Maxine moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan to be near their daughter and son in law for care and support. In 2014, they moved to Bickford of Portage and stayed there together until Maxine’s passing in 2018. Robert chose to stay at Bickford after Maxine passed as he surely called Bickford his home and his extended family.
Robert had a remarkable interest in all moving things, including clocks, clouds, wind, organs, cars, trains, planes, birds, tractors, hay balers and everything mechanical. In ‘retirement’ he systematically filled five barns with collectibles (repairable and nonrepairable), tools, gadgets, relics and recyclables. Robert and Maxine created a wonderful family gathering place at their farm that sparked experiences and created memories the whole family holds dear. Robert loved music, was a fine tenor in many choruses and choirs and enjoyed reading and writing poetry (especially limericks) for various friends and events. He always had a keen interest in people, new ideas and continuous learning. He could fix just about anything that needed fixing and loved repairing clocks.
Robert’s family wishes to thank all of those who cared for him in his final days, including Hospice of Southwest Michigan. Very special love and thanks go to his wonderful Bickford family and the amazing and loving caregivers there. He was ‘Dad’ to so many and always offered humor and commentary to his daily tasks.
Robert requested a simple intimate burial at Fort Custer National Cemetery in Battle Creek Michigan where Maxine’s remains currently reside. His family, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will come together at a later date to celebrate his exceptional life, his remarkable devotion to Maxine, the love of his life, and to share memories of their beloved Dad, Grandpa and Great Grandpa’s long and well-lived life. Memorial donations can be made in tribute to Robert to: Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan 222 N. Kalamazoo Mall, Ste. 100 Kalamazoo, MI 49007. Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Dr., Kalamazoo, 269-375-2900