Bob Rotanz Serving Others

Rotanz '78 gives back to the Salem community

by Mike Stevens | reprinted with permission from Salem Magazine

The NCAA folks have been setting up shop in Salem once again for basketball, softball and lacrosse championships, and as always that means one thing - a trip to Mac and Bob's.

"Having a place like ours that's received and recognized by sports fans is very flattering," says Bob Rotanz, Mac and Bob's President. "I have one gentleman from Ohio who calls me every year to buy his tickets, and it's really kind of cool when they make us part of their weekend both before and after the games."

"When we see fans at these schools out in Wisconsin or Ohio who have been to Salem before, the first thing that comes out of their mouths is ‘I can't wait to get back, so I can go down to Mac and Bob's,'" says John Shaner, Salem's Parks and Rec. Director.

The landmark Salem restaurant has been serving up those gargantuan calzones, ice cold beverages and good times since 1980, and during that span of nearly three decades the one constant has been the establishment's mustachioed Rotanz.

"We're so lucky that he came to this community and decided to stay here," says Jay Taliaferro, Salem's Assistant City Manager. "He gives of his time and gives of himself, and does so many things to help others."

The Roanoke College graduate is not only the proprietor of the most popular restaurant in Salem and a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, but he also possesses one of the biggest hearts in the Roanoke Valley.

Rotanz's work with the Down Syndrome Association of Roanoke is just one example of his selfless giving. Almost two decades ago, two female restaurant patrons, who also were moms, were talking with Bob about doing a charity golf event. Not surprisingly, they eventually did more than just talk about it.

This year marked the 17th annual Mac and Bob's Charity Golf Tournament at Hanging Rock Golf Club. The events have generated more than $200,000 to help families with Down syndrome children throughout Southwest Virginia.

"There's no way we would be able to do a fraction of the things we do without his support," says Susan Cloeter, one of the women who first approached Rotanz about the tournament. "I have never seen anyone with a commitment to kids quite like him."

Cloeter and her husband John have been vital parts of the tournament since its inception. One of their sons, Chase, has Down syndrome and will turn 20 years-old this July.

"I think the guy has to have the biggest heart of anyone we've ever known," says Cloeter.

While the golf tournament is his most visible form of outreach, what he does behind the scenes is just as impressive and important when it comes to Salem attracting and maintaining so many high caliber events.

"With all of the national championships we bring into Salem, we've always come to Bob and asked if he could get us a special room for our umpires or find a place for the U.S. Olympic team to eat, and the only thing that has ever come out of his mouth is ‘we'll take care of it,'" says Shaner.

Rotanz did just that last summer when the Olympic Softball team was scheduled to eat dinner at the restaurant the night before it played a sold-out exhibition at Kiwanis Field. The team's flight into Roanoke was delayed, and the reservation had to be cancelled at the last minute. Rotanz calmly adjusted his staff and made sure the Olympians got the same first class treatment the next day at lunch.

"He shares many of the same values Salem does when it comes to putting kids first," say Taliaferro. "He doesn't have to do all of the things he does in the community, but he's just that kind of a person."

With lacrosse season in full swing for high schools and colleges around the area, and two of his daughters now playing for Virginia Tech and another for Salem High, no one could blame Rotanz if he left his generous nature on the sidelines for a few spring months, but that would require some selfishness, something that's just not part of his fabric.

"It's just the right thing to do, and it makes me feel good than I'm fortunate enough to be able to help people," says Rotanz. "And I'm proud that my daughters are already starting to do some of the same things."

Bob acquired the family trait of taking care of one's fellow man honestly from his Mom and his Dad, a former New York City detective, who was killed in the line of duty when Bob was in the 6th grade.

"My mother and my father were great examples growing up, and even years after my dad passed away, I heard stories about all the things he did for other people," says Rotanz. "So, I do often wonder if there is some kind of special connection there."

It's the kind of connection you get when you spend your life serving others more than just food and drink.