PORTLAND — Ernie DeRoche had the kind of personality that lit up any room he walked in to.

“He had the biggest, brightest smile,” his niece Judith Neal said. “He was simply an amazing man.”

Mr. DeRoche, a lifelong Yarmouth resident, died Tuesday at the age of 88.

Mr. DeRoche did not get his driver’s license until he was almost 50, Neal said. He cared for his mother and father as they got older, and would use public transportation to get around. It wasn’t until his mother’s health worsened that he decided it was time to learn to drive.

Since then, he has given Neal’s three children driving lessons.

“He took each one of them to get their license,” she said. “And they all passed.”

Recently, he bought a 2010 Toyota Corolla, asking Neal to join him in “making the deal.” During the sales transaction, he instructed the car dealer to put Neal’s name on the title. When the dealer said, “Well that will mean this car is half hers,” Neal said her uncle responded with, “No, it’s going to be all hers.”

“He was a man that was honest and caring,” she said.

Mr. DeRoche had many friends, and was well-known at the local Beano games and in the apartment building he lived in for 34 years.

After working for Cooper’s Co., Inc. delivering telephone poles around the state, he spent 16 years as a custodian for the Pineland Center. He became close friends with co-worker Margaret Searles, Neal said.

“They’d go out and meet daily. They’d go to lunch or yard sales and flea markets. He was always looking for neat little things,” she said.

Mr. DeRoche became a collector of items like jackknives, eyeglasses and fountain pens. He had cedar boxes and containers for each collection.

Of all the collections though, his niece said, the best was his pennies.

“He collected pennies, not rare ones, just pennies,” she said.

When the family carried all those pennies out of his apartment earlier this week, they took the collection to Hannaford to use the coin counter. Neal said the grand total was 39,000.

“It was so much fun,” she said. “We just laughed and had a ball.”

While Mr. DeRoche never married, he cherished his niece and nephews and all their children. Neal said he was a father figure to her and a grandfather figure to all her children. It wasn’t unusual that he would get down on the floor, even in his mid-80s to put together a puzzle with one of his grandnieces.

“Young people loved him, old people loved him, he was just wonderful with everybody,” Neal said.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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