Michael Val LaRoche, 69, departed this life for the next on Thursday, April 7, 2022, with his wife of almost 33 years, Kelley, by his side.
Mike, a band member and director since his high school days and currently director of the First Baptist Church of Fort Oglethorpe, orchestra and Chattanooga’s Big Band, “Sweet Georgia Sound”, plus the Oompah Oktoberfest band “The Wurstbrats” was known to many of his friends as “Mikestro”.
Mike is remembered with love by many friends and family members. He is especially remembered for his contributions to the music community of the Chattanooga and North Georgia area, often playing for or directing orchestras at various plays and other performances in addition to the two bands he directed. He continued to play with many friends from over the years and even as far back as the high school band at Lakeview High School. He was recently honored as a Marquis Who’s Who Top Artist. He also was inducted into the Chattanooga Music Hall of Fame in 2016.
Mike survived spinal meningitis and hepatitis as a child, a draft number of 73 out of 95 called in the last draft of the Vietnam War era and subsequent service in the US Air Force, where he attained the rank of Sergeant, throat cancer and radiation and chemotherapy in 2008, and the Ringgold Tornado in 2011. In the past few weeks, long term effects of the radiation finally proved too much to fight, but he expressed that he was thankful that it had given him thirteen more years to live.
Mike was known for his strong opinions, but even more he was known for his gift of encouraging others. Younger musicians and performers have told of him coming to their performances, giving them positive feedback, and offering to help them in many ways. Many of his older church members have expressed deep appreciation for the music he helped make. He would often give batons to the younger kids in the audience at the performances of Sweet Georgia Sound, letting them help direct. He also took an interest in many high school and college students who played in the orchestra with him at church or acted in local productions he was involved with.
Mike had many friends on social media from all over the world, and spent much time encouraging them and being a force for good rather than division. He even wished happy birthday the other day to all he had missed while in the hospital. He had kept up recently with former work friends from Ukraine as they escaped the terror there.
Mike grew up attending West Side Elementary and Lakeview High School (Class of 1971), where he was band captain his senior year and received the “Boy of the Year” award from the Kiwanis Clubs International. He attended First Baptist Church of Chattanooga, TN growing up. His three younger sisters, Lynn, Tina, and Lee Ann followed him in everything he did, including joining the band and working at Lake Winnepesaukah. He graduated from Dalton Junior College in June 1987 with a degree in Business Computer Programming and was very proud of the quality education he got from our local community college.
Mike was retired from Shaw Industries, where he worked as a systems analyst. Before that, he worked at Cigna, Olan Mills, Maytag, and Suntrust Bank. More than his day job, though, Mike took great pleasure in his side hustles playing in and directing bands. The words of the great philosopher Willie Nelson seem written especially for Mike: “The life I love is making music with my friends.”
Although Mike and Kelley never had children of their own, he enjoyed his niece and two nephews, Hannah, Noah, and Daniel. He was thrilled with his great-niece, Everly. He and Kelly enjoyed traveling together.
Mike is survived by his wife, Kelley DeBerry LaRoche, his mother, Mary Smith LaRoche, his three sisters, Lynn Whittenburg (Ed), Tina Narron (Dan), and Lee Ann LaRoche, sister-in-law Denise DeBerry Reedus (Paul) , niece Hannah Whittenburg Chastain (Colt), nephews Noah Whittenburg (Katie) and Daniel Whittenburg, great-niece Everly Rose Chastain, as well as his devoted cats Jesse and Dexter Morgan. He was preceded in death by his father, Benjamin Teed LaRoche.
Visitation will be from 5-8 pm on Wednesday, April 13, at Heritage Funeral Home on Battlefield Parkway, Fort Oglethorpe.
The funeral will be held on Thursday, April 14, at 11:30 am at First Baptist Church of Fort Oglethorpe with visitation for an hour before the ceremony.
Graveside service with military honors will be at Chattanooga National Cemetery at 1 pm
Memorial contributions may be made to the music ministry of First Baptist Church of Fort Oglethorpe or the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe band program.