A community remembers its own heart

By Mike Weland

I was blessed when I moved to Bonners Ferry in early 1991 to meet many wonderful people, but none so wonderful as Rockey Burkholder, who brought out the very best in all whose lives he touched in his 72 years as the heart of Bonners Ferry. His irrepressible smile and kind if not on occasion bawdy proclamations left you no choice but to smile, to be lifted in spirit.

It’s hard to believe he has been spirited from us, victim of a pandemic too many think is a hoax.

In over 40 years in journalism, I recall maybe three stories I’ve written that reduced me to tears. The third came Sunday, when I learned Rockey was fading. Now it’s four.

If you’re squeamish, please refrain from scrolling to the very bottom. The final picture of the beautiful man who never outgrew the magic of innocence is not pleasant.

But his family asked that it be published as graphic proof that COVID-19 is real and needs to be taken seriously. Politicizing the virus in the name of liberty and rights loses its luster in the ashen death mask of one who brought such joy. Perhaps, they hope, some will see that it’s not about ceding your rights, but rather about doing what’s right for others.

The world isn’t the same as it was yesterday, our community is forever changed for the loss of the man who personified the very best of Bonners Ferry, who was the spirit, the soul of this place, reminding each of us by his example time and again to give wing to our better and happier angels. Words fail, but there are others more eloquent than I.

I will let them speak while I tend to whatever this is blurring my vision. I’m sorry.

Claudia Coble Yeoumans
Painful to think of Bonner’s without Rockey. You’re all in our prayers.

Bill Clatworthy
I can feel my heart breaking. When we moved in around the corner from Rockey and Valdie he was the first person we met. He told my wife she looked like Carol Burnett and he thought I bore a slight resemblance to James Garner. (She did. I didn’t.) He made our neighborhood a better, brighter place. He made our town a better, brighter place. He made the world a better, brighter place. I’m glad to have known you.

Skye Dimmitt
A shining light and joy has gone out. Our hearts grieve with yours. Forever in our hearts. See you on the other side.

Darrell Yount
Such a beautiful, gentle, caring and sensitive soul. Who can say they didn’t know him? We were all the better because we did. RIP Rockey!

Sue Stolley
Rockey your spirit lifted us all over the years. I am so blessed to have met you. You are loved.

Lisa Medeiros
Heaven is so lucky to have such a wonderful guy! He sparks so much joy, he will be well missed!!!! Everyone knows Rockey, loves Rockey. I am so sad to see him go, however I am glad he is out of pain. He can breathe free now. I have so many memories of Rockey, he lived down the st. From my parents and walk by with a cheer. He always makes you smile. He would make me laugh at church and ask when we were going to get married, lol, as ask other woman too. He always told me I was beautiful, as he did other women. I told him his mama raised him well. Bonners ferry will miss him. Rip. Prayers for Valdie and his family, friends, community. Bless his heart.

Darrell Kerby
God made Rockey special so he could make us feel special … and he did.

Robin Merrifield
Heaven just got a whole lot brighter. I wonder if his wings will be fluorescent yellow.

Michael S. Boatman
Just to be clear, I’m a big tough guy. Having said that, your posts over the last several days has brought out a stupid number of tears.

I can’t even count my Rockey memories. Rockey used to run into me downtown and say, “you’re so handsome and captain of the football team. You’re what they write books about. It’s up to you to make sure they write nice things.” It’s a silly Rockeyism and high school is a long time ago but I’ve never forgotten it.

Now to the important part…..you and your family. I’m with Mike Weland. This story has had me leaking bad. Rockey was a Bonner’s Ferry icon so many people have many memories and are sadly revisiting them tonight.

But he was your family, your blood. As sad as I feel, I have to remember your sadness is greater.

If there is any blue sky to this news it is that Rockey had an amazing way of breaking barriers that made us all feel the same. I will never forget Rockey. I am saddened by the loss but lifted by having had the connection.

Blanca Eliza Nava-Gonzales
I only knew Rockey from the bridge. Walking with his bright neon colored jacket and a huge smile, always with eyes watching to see who to wave at. I began to toot my horn when I’d see him. Without knowing me he’d wave at me and smile. It always made my day.

Once I was lucky enough to catch him in the sweetest gesture. He had brought flowers in to Dr. Geyman’s office for the girls. I was there that one day to see him, smiling, happy and content with his gesture. I cried this morning. My heart felt his departure. Bless his heart and God give his mother and loved ones peace and strength. Good bye Rockey.

Len Pine
When I think of Rockey, I think of irrepressible joy. He has left that task for us now.

Sandra Wright
He was one of those delightful individuals that I am very grateful to have met. Personally I will continue to wear a mask in honor of his suffering.

Abby Dinning
Rockey was such a wonderful soul. I’m so happy you all got to be there with him and he wasn’t alone. Rockey needed people as much as people needed him. Throughout all of his suffering, he was still bringing so many people together in happy memories and well wishing. All of his loving came back to him fully in the end.

Jennie Huddleston
I’m so sorry for your loss. I grew up in Bonners Ferry and in all my life and travels I’ve never met anyone who compares to Rockey. He always had such a kind word and the most blessed heart. He will be greatly missed and his memory will keep in our hearts forever.

Bob Becker
What a tragedy Rockey had to leave this earth a victim of this devastating pandemic that many people still don’t take seriously. It must be especially hard on you and the rest of his family for this to happen to such a kind soul.

Marsha Greenslitt
Our tremendous loss, heaven’s gain. Rockey received the ultimate healing and is running with the angels. No more pain and the wonderful hope we have is that we will see him again. Reading these comments about Rockey are like none other. His always smiling face and outgoing nature , acts of kindness, touched this little community in so many ways for the better. Hopefully we all will learn the lessons by what Rockey showed in his life. To take the time to care about each other . We love you Burkholder and Becker family. There will never be another Rockey.

Armen Chinchinian
Crushing post. So hard to see a good man leave his family Reading the timeline on Facebook has brought the pandemic and it’s victims to life. Heartrending. So very sorry for the whole family. My thoughts are with you as he rises on angels wings into the arms of God who cherishes him.

David Keyes
Always a giver. Heart as big as the Kootenai Valley. Town sentinel and efficient news source. The right man in the right town at the right time. Heaven just received a one-of-a-kind model. Prayers to the many of you who all have numerous Rockey stories and to his family.

Laura Douglas Payne
Thank you all you did for him. Covid is real & because of your efforts people are so much more aware now. Rockey will have them laughing in heaven. I hope the angels like big screen TVs and westerns.

Arlington Albertson
My heart breaks at his loss. He truly was an angel on earth. My thoughts and love are with you all. May he rest in peace, and may his life be a lesson to all.

Annette Stuurmans
When I first met Rockey I was behind him in line in the grocery store. His first words to me were “you are so beautiful!” No matter how I looked or how older I got, he always would make me feel like I was the only person in the room. He was such a gentle soul with a heart that included every person he came in contact with. A very sad time for Bonners & all those who ever met him. Rest In Peace my dear friend. I wish comfort & peace to all of his beautiful family. He will always have a special place in my heart.

Mark McMurray
I’m speechless it was 25 years ago I was Rockey’s pastor and I still have so many memories of his kindness and humor and the affect he had on so many. Lord grant him safe lodging, holy rest and peace at last.

Shane Florea
What an amazing gift it was to know Rockey. From his beautiful childlike attitude to his off the cuff statements, that were sometimes outright shocking. Bonners Ferry will never be the same. But heaven will now and forever be enjoying our beloved Rockey. My heart and prayers go out to his family and to this community. We will all miss you, Rockey.

Roberta Zimmerman
Prayers answered that his family was able to be with him. An amazing man born into an equally amazing family. Our whole community has been blessed by his dynamic presence. Thank you for sharing his final journey. We will miss him.

Gary Aitken Jr.
I can still remember him carrying big trays of food at North Side School at lunch when I was young. Always such a kind heart and always had a smile and a wave. He will be missed. Our condolences to your family. Hugs to Valdie. Rest in paradise Rockey.

Dustin Solt
So sorry for your loss. He was a treasure to be around. I will never forget the times at Chic n’ Chop when Rockey would play matchmaker for me and the rest of the staff who were single. Prayers for comfort and healing!

Genny Hoyle
Bonners Ferry has lost one of the kindest icons you could ever hope to meet. He always told all the ladies how beautiful and skinny they were, and recently told me I needed to marry a cowboy. He always made people smile. Condolences to his family and friends.

Debbie Foster
Now who will tell me how pretty and skinny I was?

Claudia Thrift Erickson
The best of the best. Rockey, you are just that and now that light will not only shine down on earth but now up among the stars.

Janice L McUne
Oh Rockey, the world was such a better place with you in it. May you watch over us all and be at peace. Thank you for all the smiles, sweet angel.

Stacy Van Alstyne
God received a beautiful angel with your passing. My heart goes out to your family. We will all miss your wonderful character. Praying for all.

Rich Flinn
Sad news for Bonners Ferry, May Rockey R. I. P. He truly made BF a happy place. “now give me a dollar.”

Wendy Hoffman
Rockey, YOU were an Inspiration! YOU looked pretty and Very Skinny Every Day! Bonners will NEVER be the Same. Rest in Peace My Friend!

Bridget Zills
Rest in peace sweet Rockey. So many memories for so many people who will miss you. Thinking of all the family and friends who will miss you.

Lila Robinson
Rockey will be greatly missed by all that knew him. He was our sunshine – always had a kind word for everyone. Prayers to Valdie and the rest of the family.

Wendy Anderson
The battle is over for Rockey. Prayers for the family. He will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace and joke with the angels.

Lillian Clements
He will be missed. He would walk by my place and tell me my garden belonged in a magazine. Always a kind word.

Tom Reaper Chaney
Prayers and glad people like this can touch people’s lives while they can with the time they are given on earth … I hope his spirit keeps going on in kindness God knows we need now more than ever, So please do 1 extra kind deed, give a warm smile, laugh a little more, love a little more if you knew Rockey.

Shirley E Brush
Idk if it’s possible but heaven just got happier. Hugs for his mom and family.

Nancy Taft Eliassen
Rest In Peace Rockey. You was always the happiest man in town, always smiling and the only person to call me beautiful. Will miss seeing your face around.

Carla Rose Clark
The world lost a shining light today. For years you were the joy that spread so much kindness and happiness in our small town. I cannot fathom what this place will be like without you. I met you for the first time as a small child where I grew up not far from you. I would see you out walking as I too liked to take walks. You always had a smile on your face and a compliment to share. I got to know you and your family a little better when I became part of SCAA.

You and your family have such compassion and love for all animals that it made me strive to love them even more.

My utmost deepest condolences to the Becker & Burkholder family, I can not start to understand the pain and heartbreak you must all be feeling. I have been so amazed at all the lives Rockey has touched in his 72 years of life. May he find everlasting peace in the after life.

Ginny Mccormick
I don’t think he is resting in peace, I think he is seeing friends, doing things, seeing God and Jesus, his creator , the ones that love him the most, he is in his perfect body. What wonders he is seeing, he is at peace.

Lisa Thornton Gunderson
It seems that every day I would see him walking across the bridge to town…even when he walked alone, he had his smile on. Love, light and God speed Rockey.

Alison Ashworth-Henslee
Oh my … my daughter Sarah White and I are soooo sorry for your family’s loss, our community’s loss. There are no words say how much that darling man will be missed. Rest In Peace, Rockey.

One last time, Rockey’s hand is embraced in his mother Valdie Burkholder’s.

Adam Fleck
I am beyond grateful for all the time I spent with with Rockey. Because of him I will always feel like a movie star. Love you Rockey!

Mary Guthrie Dinning
He enriched our lives with his cheeky humor and his compliments and his joy for life. The love you all have for each other is an inspiration. The devotion amazing…we send our condolences to you all. We know he was such an important part of your lives. May God bless you with peace as He welcomes his newest superstar.

Edith Frans Erickson
Rockey will never be forgotten….someone who touched the lives of so many will live on in fond memories shared….our thoughts and prayers of comfort are with all of you.

Chelsie Mae Cahoon
My heart is with you all SO MUCH. Tears run down my face for y’all. He will be missed by all but cherished so highly in the heavens above.

Laurie Doering
He’s got a slew of folks greeting him, what a celebration that must be. Love and hugs to all of you.

Becky Sebree
Dear sweet Rockey. I was blessed to have known you. You always made me laugh, made me feel beautiful and sexy. lol I remember our times sitting in the booth at the Panhandle Cafe and laughing at the funny things you always said. God has a special angel in his kingdom tonight. There will never be another Rockey! Sending love and prayers for your family. See you in heaven my friend!