- Associated Press - Friday, December 16, 2016

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - After the stroke Robert Calhoun thought his life was over.

A popular vocalist around Hutchinson over the years, Robert’s left side was paralyzed. Doctors didn’t believe he would walk, talk or ever sing again. But his determination to recover was so strong that five months later he was singing at Hutch Fest. Then eight months later he was singing the national anthem to kick off a Kansas City Royals game during “Strike-out Stroke Sunday.”

“Singing became my therapy,” Robert told The Hutchinson News (https://bit.ly/2gwfkWm ). “It was my ticket out and it continues to be.”

The stroke happened 22 years ago when Robert was 38. Thanks to his drive to continue to sing and remain open to love, he leads a very full life today.

Back in 1994, at the time of the stroke, he had been divorced for eight years. As he became more active he doubted a woman would ever want to have a relationship with him because of his disability.

“It’s one thing if you are married to someone who has a stroke,” Robert said, but he didn’t believe a woman would choose to start a relationship with a stroke victim.

He moved on with his life and joined the choir at Park Place Christian Church. Once again music became his saving grace.

Before long he was mesmerized by Rochelle Berkley, the church organist. Their paths had crossed over the years when they would sing together at weddings and funerals.

By the time he joined the choir, Rochelle’s husband Clay Berkley had died leaving her a widow for several years. She had dated. But, the Hutchinson Middle School music teacher was becoming content with her single life.

That was until Thanksgiving dinner at the church in 2007. Rochelle was looking for a place to sit and there was only one seat left next to Robert.

“I had been working up my nerve to ask her out,” he said. “She was very special.”

The moment arrived as she sat next to him. She said yes, after all they had the common interest of music. He invited her to a junior college game and other dates followed. They had lots of fun together. But she thought she wanted to remain single.

“I was persistent,” Robert said.

The Rev. Kim Biery, who was pastor at Park Place Christian Church at the time, could see what was happening.

“He had his eye on her. It was a match made in heaven,” Biery said. “Music is the expression of their souls and they are great performers. They share this love of music and the Lord, they really hit it off.”

Biery married the couple on Sept. 20, 2008. She admits as a pastor she doesn’t always see older couples so smitten with each other. More often she sees marriages of convenience. Two people find themselves single and decide they might as well get together. But, that’s not the case here.

“There’s a gleam in their eyes when they look at each other,” Biery said. She considered it an honor to be part of this special union.

They sang to each other on their wedding day and for the past eight years have been performing together. They consider “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place,” their special song.

Rochelle was content behind the piano, but Robert was persistent that he wanted her out front singing with him. She continues accompanying and coaching at Prairie Hills Middle School and remains the church organist.

Now on Sundays they go separate ways. She is at the organ at Park Place Christian Church and he is the music director at Countryside Baptist Church.

Robert is grateful she was open to loving him despite his disability. He believes God brought them together at the right time in their lives.

“The man is supposed to be the strength of the family,” Robert said. “I wake up and she has to tie my shoes. It’s humbling. But it’s life.”

Rochelle says she forgets her husband has a disability.

There was a time he would wear a stroke t-shirt. Rochelle tossed it out. She didn’t want him to feel like a victim. Because of her, he says, his days are better.

They blended their families and children and great grandchildren are learning that not everyone has two arms and legs that work, Rochelle said.

Their love continues to grow.

“Every time she plays the piano I fall in love all over again,” he said.

“He is such a romantic,” she said, adding he writes her poetry.

For the past four years Robert has once again become a familiar voice singing the National Anthem at Hutchinson Community College sporting events and Monarch games. Just recently he made a career change leaving Commercial Sound after 20 years and is now with Strategic Financial Concepts, Inc., helping others plan their futures.

Their singing together just gets better just like their life.

“She has a wonderful ability to blend,” Robert said. “I am amazed at how smooth the harmonies are, just like silk.”


Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, https://www.hutchnews.com

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