Stafford: Remembering an inspiring pair most in Springfield would recognize

Roger Frost and his dog Jake in the backseat of a car.
Caption
Roger Frost and his dog Jake in the backseat of a car.

My best guess is that Roger Frost wouldn’t want this story to be published.

But his friends would.

And it might please him to know how many of those have been wondering about him and his partner, a black Lab named Jake, since Frost died from liver cancer May 12 at 73.

Most Springfield area folks won’t know him by his name.

More will recognize him as the older man who stood on the northbound offramp of U.S. 68 on to State Route 41 near the Ohio Masonic Community.

He often was there with Jake and a cardboard sign asking for money to feed the two of them.

The inseparable two paired up four or so years ago when Casey Tingley got to feeling bad about a dog so big and young being shut up in a small house all day.

“Like a lot of people, you get a pet and life is busy,” Tingley said. Even after getting Jake fixed, “he was hyper.”

At the time, Frost was living with a handful of others down Beverly Avenue “in what I would call a shack,” Tingley said. “It was an abandoned house, and they ran an extension cord over there and had a propane heater.”

“Roger started helping us with the dog” by taking him on walks. One walk led to another and finally to the day that Frost asked if he might have the dog.

Tingley called saying yes “the best thing I ever did.” The same dog that bolted as soon as Tingley opened the door “would walk right beside (Frost) without a leash, he said. “That dog turned out to be his best friend in the long run.”

And it was apparent that Frost needed one.

“You never know (about) somebody’s past,” Tingley said. “Sometimes you got to look past it. How they ended up where they got, you never know. I was thinking about what kind of spot you have be in (Frost’s circumstances). You just don’t know.”

That same thought eventually brought David Snyder into Frost’s life.

An IT manager at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, “I’d give (him) a couple of dollars” now and then on the off-ramp.

But mostly Snyder was “thinking the guy should find something to do. He’s there all the time.”

Then came the day Snyder pulled over to find out more.

“I asked him if he wanted a ride.” That led to a stop at the nearby Meijer store, where Snyder bought Frost soap, coffee “and maybe some Advil.”

A deacon at Living Water Orthodox Presbyterian on St. Paris Pike, “I’m used to dealing with people in difficult circumstances,” Snyder said. And to his surprise he found Frost “very forthcoming.

“He didn’t purposely try to manipulate a relationship. He came across to me as genuine, in that he had some needs.”

By then, Frost was living in another shack on Tibbetts Avenue. And on their regular rides there, “I would drive slow enough or parked to talk. It was genuinely interesting to me to understand what his life was. I was happy to help every time I could.”

Nor was he alone.

Alerted by friend Nikki McKeever, who was then working at an Applebee’s at the same exit, Joyce Carver lent a hand.

“I didn’t give him money -- I didn’t have a lot of money,” Carver said. “But I gave him rides” -- to the doctor and the bank and to another shack that had, she said, “no lights, no water, no nothing.”

In the process, “I really warmed up to Jake,” she said . And the Labrador’s devotion to him “told me something about the character of the man … and I just finally started taking him at his word.”

Snyder and Carver pieced together bits of Frost’s biography and personality.

She gleaned that Frost’s birth family may have done migrant labor in Florida.

Snyder discovered Frost’s talent for expression.

“A lot of times, while we were driving, I would think he was talking to me about something, but he was telling me a poem he had written.” Frost also mentioned a book full of such writings Snyder never saw.

“I feel I have a sense for who he is. There’s way more holes than I have filled in spots for his life.”

A hole he did fill in was Frost’s sense of alienation from others.

“He told me ‘I don’t want any help from anyone in my family.’”

Frost did get occasional rides from a brother in town and had a relationship of sorts with a daughter in Florida, whom he visited and was the subject of one of his poems.

“My Darling Amie” – which addresses her directly, opens with these lines:

“I’ve been to a shame (sic) to write to you for all the wrongs I’ve done.”

Referring to himself a “your drifting father,” the poem’s central message involves his belief that, despite his troubles, he had been forgiven by God “who heard me crying last night … and came into my heart.” Whatever his felt identity, Snyder said Frost “had no ID, no birth certificate, no driver’s license.”

Snyder obtained Frost’s birth certificate and helped him to get a stimulus check and tried to get him better housing, but the housing did not allow dogs. For Frost, who scoured dumpsters for discarded dog food, that was a non-starter.

As for work, Frost feared doing it in fear of losing a small disability income and medical benefits that paid for several prescriptions.

“His last six months, he was feeling rough,” Snyder said. “At one point, I had our doctor make a house call.”

The house “was like something in a movie,” Snyder said. “I’d never seen anything like it.”

Strung with electric cords everywhere, it had “a bunch of rooms” – including a shared bathroom -- and “smelled terrible.”

As Frost went in and out of hospitals, Carver and Snyder lost track of him.

“I had to call the family,” Carver said, “and one of his nieces called me back” with the news of Frost’s death.

“I didn’t know he’d passed either,” Snyder said

“I was worried about him for weeks” and after several checks at his residence saw someone going in the house, knocked on the door and was told the news.

When Snyder wrote a brief post about Frost’s death on Facebook, nearly 900 people shared it.

Some had wondered what had become of him and were glad, at least, to know.

One asked whether Frost “knew the Lord” and another answered affirmatively: “He was a humble, kind, beautiful man.”

Another said it was “refreshing to know that this man had a legitimate reason for collection” and grateful that people had been “in tune to helping him.” A few mothers posted notes similar to this one: “My girls learned compassion, empathy and love for our community” by helping Frost and Jake. “They are heartbroken to learn of Roger’s passing.”

“I gave that guy my last $20 one day,” one wrote. “I was having one of the worst of my life and thought maybe he was, too. I knew my day wasn’t going to get better but I hope his did.”

Others wrote that they kept cash or care packages in their cars for Frost and Jake.

Wrote one: “Mr. Frost, your $ will remain in my visor clip.”

Frost’s politeness also scored a comment: “He always walked right up to the car and said “Thank you, ma’am, thank you sir. And, Lordy, how he loved his dog.

“What I found touching” Snyder said, is that “all the people mentioned how they valued Roger as a person. How many people that he touched.”

Snyder found it “interesting how someone could touch other peoples’ lives -- and not even intentionally.”

One post offered an anecdote and comment on that very point.

“I remember a gentleman pulled over to the side in a bad storm, and getting out of his trunk a raincoat and handing it to (Roger). This guy was in a suit but had no qualms about helping this man.”

Then came this about the need in others that Frost and Jake filled: “We need these stories to remind us to be human.”

Well, Roger that.

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