Exactly who was this 18-year-old, handsome young man that died on June 1, 2016, from a single car automobile accident? Well as Zach’s dad, in the best way I know how, let me tell you who he was.
Zachary Roberts, born on September 3, 1997, was one of a kind from the very beginning. He was the child that never sat still and always had his thumb in his mouth. He was the little boy that everyone loved as he always shared his smile, his laughter and his hugs with anyone that was willing, yes even complete strangers at times. What many probably never knew was that Zach was diagnosed at an early age with developmental speech apraxia, or basically a learning disability that affected his speech and his reading comprehension. When he was around age 3-5 years there were times that only Jacob knew what Zachary was saying because brothers, well, you know, they just know. They both had this way of relating that even his mother, Karen, and I at times did not have with Zach. It was so sweet and special, yet broke our hearts at times when Zach wanted to say something but just couldn’t get it out. Zach started with speech therapy at the age of 2 and continued through his junior year at OHS. This disability did not hold Zach back as he continued to progress in so many other ways, like learning to mow our yard at the early age of 7. Then by age 8, he was mowing by himself, even picking up some neighbor’s yards. We knew he was one special boy, but little did we know how special he really was.
At 6, Zach got a baby sister named AnaKaye Molina from Guatemala and he was once again all smiles from ear to ear. It was so precious watching him interact with his new baby sister. As the family grew so did the responsibility as Karen homeschooled Zach until 6th grade when we enrolled him at OMS. Zach continued in speech as well as having an IEP to help him through his classes and give him some special attention. He would come home after school and talk about the great teachers and his awesome talks with them because Zach loved talking with adults. He related well to those older than him and he loved his teachers and of course his friends.
Zachary tried extra circular activities like baseball, basketball and even wrestling, but he wanted no part of it. One day he told me, Dad I just want to live in the country and fish and hunt and enjoy the outdoors. Well as most of you know, I am a city boy, born and raised 5 doors down from the YMCA and sports were all I knew. When the kids were young we took camping trips as much as possible and I would take Zach out to my parents in Philpot. He would have a great time with my Dad, as they would ride 4-wheelers, bail hay and feed the horses. There were many times we would go to pick Zach up and he wouldn’t want to come home. He was our country boy at heart and nothing ever changed that. Life was exciting and our family was busy with Jacob playing multiple sports and eventually going on to play college baseball at Lindsey Wilson. Zach was taking up guitar, buying all the camouflage stuff he could and hoping for a big red truck when he turned 16. AnaKaye was finding her way in dance and other activities. Zachary was loving life and loving people and never met a stranger.
But you see there was something different about Zach that most people did not know and I am not referring to the speech issue or reading comprehension issue, it is much deeper than that. We realized that Zach saw people not for what they had or didn’t have, but he saw them for who they were on the inside. The best way I can explain it to you is that he saw right through the person straight to their heart. I have many stories that I could fill this magazine with, but here are just a couple. Once he went to school having just bought a nice Nike watch from our spring break trip to Destin and I noticed days later that he did not have the watch anymore. I asked, “Zach where did your Nike watch go?” and without hesitation and with a smile he said, “I gave it away to a friend that needed it more than I did.” What is a Dad to say to that except, “Well, Zach, that was very nice, but now you won’t have one,” and he said, “Well, he needed it more than I did.” Other times, Zach would mow yards for weeks before ever going to collect or even ask for any money, because money was not his motivator. He just loved helping people and he loved making others happy, because remember he saw straight to their heart. I could give Zach $5 or $20 and most of that money he would spend on others and not himself. It was a selfless love that I have never seen from a young boy that age before.
Zachary started to work at Kroger about a year and half ago and really enjoyed his time there. Of course like any teenager, he would complain from time to time but who doesn’t. He worked as a front end employee, bagging groceries and working the parking lot. Zach would come home and we would ask: who did you see today? He would say like most boys would, “Oh, no one.” But you see, we knew better because countless people would tell us that Zach waited on them the other night and he was all smiles. Remember, when you came through the line at Kroger, Zach did not see you, he saw your heart and when he smiled at you he was smiling because he loved you for who you were. His smile was contagious and his laughter and jokes would make your stomach hurt. Our lives have forever been changed through this horrific event of losing our son and we miss him terribly, but also know that his smile will live on forever in the lives of thousands. We know that because of his relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord that he is forever in paradise with many including Granddaddy Joe. I wish there was a way I could bring him back, but there isn’t a way. So we chose to tell his story of how he treated others just as he wanted to be treated in hopes that others will read and hear his story and do the same.
We are convinced that if we all would treat others as we would like to be treated and love others just for who they are, this world would be so much better. So yes, Zachary David Roberts was “the smile at the end of the line,” but you know, you can be that too.
This article was originally published in the September/October issue of Owensboro Parent magazine.