Roberta F. King – Fearless Writer Running Toward Success
BY HEIDI STUKKIE
PHOTOGRAPHER TERRY JOHNSTON
When Roberta King makes up her mind to do something, she does it. She follows her dreams and, as a die-hard Parrothead, she follows Jimmy Buffett, too –– even all the way to Paris.
This feisty redhead often speaks her mind and doesn’t hold back on opinions. She advocates for women’s rights and equality for all.
By day, King works as the Vice President of PR and Marketing for the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and by night, she writes creative nonfiction.
She runs at least five days a week and bikes long distances. During the summer, she kayaks around her Muskegon home with her husband, Mike Miesch, and Weiner dog, Lucy, who always wears a life jacket.
In 1989, King was voted Mrs. Asparagus Runner Up at the National Asparagus Festival. Today, she professes to be a friend of asparagus, eats vegetarian meals and makes creative cocktails to complement.
King is a godmother to Charlie, a foster mother to Tasha and –– most important of all –– she’s the birth mother of Noah, a son who died from complications of pneumonia in 2006.
And ever since that tragic event, King is fearless.
The PR Maven
The license plate on King’s red Mini Cooper says “PR Maven” and unlike many vanity plates, this one reads true.
King failed the APR exam the first time she took it. She isn’t sure why, but it definitely surprised her.
She believes, “You can take defeat and let it destroy you, or you can do something about it.”
With that attitude, she studied harder the second time around and passed the exam.
For the last eight years, King has worked as the Vice President of PR & Marketing at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation where she writes about philanthropy. She’s also on the senior leadership team and helps determine the strategic direction for the organization. Plus, she handles media relations and social media, and mentors the organization’s college interns.
King truly enjoys her job and says, “It’s good to be involved with something so broadly a part of the community.”
King has been running seriously for almost 25 years –– five times a week or more, year round. She gets up on weekdays around 4 a.m. and is out the door an hour later, averaging 4-5 miles at approximately 11 minutes per mile. Weekend runs start a little later and go farther in distance.
Each year, King tries to run in five races and on October 21, she completed a 13-mile half marathon in two hours and 15 minutes.
She began running on the track team in high school because, according to her, the sport doesn’t require a lot of coordination and effort.
“I’m not very coordinated and I fear ball sports,” says King. “Running is easy –– you just propel forward.”
So far, she hasn’t had any injuries from running, but admits she’s not a fast runner either. King likes that running is mindless and a good form of meditation.
“I think of good ideas and problem solve when I run,” she says.
The day her son Noah died, she ran. And she ran again the day after. It was then that King learned how to cry and run at the same time.
King met her husband in an art class at Muskegon Community College.
“Mike signed up to learn art,” she says. “I signed up to meet men –– it worked.”
The couple dated for a year before getting engaged. Their December 28 wedding took place early in the day because they are both morning people.
Neither one of them can ever remember which year they got married, but they think it was in 1986. This would mean they’ve been married for 26 years this December.
“We missed (celebrating) our 25th anniversary because we thought it was our 24th,” says Miesch.
For however long they have been married, King says she never changed her last name to Miesch because “I have always gone down the path of least resistance and changing your name requires work.”
She also confesses she didn’t really think the name was “an upgrade” from her own.
“If he were a Kennedy or something like that, I might have switched,” King says.
Joking aside, anyone who spends any amount of time around Miesch and King can clearly see they are best friends who love each other deeply.
“I’ve never found anyone better I wanted to be married to and neither has he,” says King.
Miesch thinks his wife is smart, ambitious, direct and rock solid.
“She’s always been my rock,” he says, and then laughs and adds, “My rock and roll.”
King likes Miesch’s funny humor and he frequently makes her laugh.
“He’s also smart and can fix anything,” she says.
That’s probably helpful because Miesch says King, who is normally very pragmatic, sometimes “shoots from the hip” on maintenance issues and “physics is not her strong suit.”
“He’s willing to tell me when my ideas are screwy,” King says.
Miesch is also tidy and while King has become tidier since they married, he says she often leaves clothes on the floor. It’s the one thing she does that sometimes bugs him.
“She crawls out of her clothing like a snake shedding its skin,” he says. “She leaves clothes all over and bras hanging in weird places.”
But, like the good husband that he is, Miesch is quick to add, “Other than that, she’s perfect.”
Miesch currently works as a maintenance manager at Pioneer Resources in Muskegon where he and King live.
Their house is painted pink –– designed in the spirit of homes they’ve seen in the Caribbean and Key West –– and has a secluded backyard filled with nautical items such as fishing nets and water buoys. A fence along the back of the property is covered in flip-flop sandals King has found on her runs. Old-fashioned signs adorn the doghouse and shed. In the summer, they grow their own vegetables and often hang out on the deck, entertaining friends and grilling.
Inside the house, there are photos of family and travels everywhere and an abundance of books and artwork.
The couple travels a lot and they’re planning a bicycling trip through Europe next year. The plan is to bike from Berlin to Prague in 11 days.
“Traveling is where we get the most pleasure,” King says. “It’s an experience we can share, and experiences matter the most –– more than material things.”
One heartbreakingly sad experience the couple has had to share is the death of their 17-year-old son who died from complications of pneumonia.
Noah was born premature by five weeks and weighed 4.5 pounds at birth. Six months later, they discovered he had cerebral palsy.
Despite being wheelchair bound from around age five, he lived a mostly healthy life until his seventeenth year. When he was younger, the couple took him to neurologists and when the testing and monitoring didn’t lead to any big revelations, they grew tired of it. King says his condition was static and non-progressive and their thought was that since he wasn’t getting any worse and there was no cure, why bother continuing with it.
“We all grew up with this (disease),” says King. “Noah didn’t know any different and neither did we so we just rolled with it.”
They made sure to get him involved in as many things as possible. King says she took him to school every day and they traveled together as a family. Noah loved Jimmy Buffett, too, and went to concerts with the couple.
At 16, Noah developed severe respiratory issues and had to be put on a feeding tube. King says he became very thin and at 5’5”, weighed only 70 pounds. A bout with pneumonia turned into a chronic lung infection and he never recovered. Noah became really ill around Christmas time and died in February 2006.
Five years later, King wrote about the experience and how the tragedy made her feel fearless. She wrote that if she could survive the death of her son, there was nothing left to fear. Her short story, “Fearless,” was posted on The Rapidian last year.
Tasha and Charlie
Because Miesch and King were so busy with Noah, they never tried to have another child. After King read a book about a child in a bad foster care situation, the couple decided to foster a child 10 years ago. Tasha, who is now 18, came to live with them when she was eight years old and a year later, they adopted her.
King is also the godmother to two-year-old Charlie, the daughter of Ryan and Amanda St. Pierre. Amanda St. Pierre was King’s intern at Mercy General and later came on board at the Community Foundation. She told her she was pregnant by saying, “I have news for you – you’re going to be a godmother.”
King has spent much of her free time in the last few years writing articles and creative nonfiction stories.
She has written dozens of articles on running, the arts, musicians and more for The Rapidian, an online citizen journalism website. Solace Magazine, geared toward visitors to Grand Rapids, also features King’s writing. She started a blog as well.
Most recently, she’s been focusing on a series of short stories about Noah’s life for a book to be completed this spring. After getting such positive feedback on the “Fearless” story, several friends encouraged her to write more and that’s what got her started.
Last summer, she attended a creative nonfiction workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and received good feedback on a few of her short stories. Then she took an online writing course through UCLA’s extension program and was fortunate to have a great instructor. King says “one thing led to another” and now she has most of the book’s first draft done.
The roughly 200-page book will be a memoir, divided into three sections: before Noah was born and his life, about his illness and death, and what happened after his death.
The title is still to be determined, but “I Was a Mother” and “He Plays The Harp” are considerations.
Varying in length from around 400 words on up, there will be funny stories and sad ones –– “a mixture of all emotions.”
King has submitted a few of the stand-alone stories to online literary journals. So far, she’s had success with three stories getting published:
“He Plays the Harp,” published in Atticus Review.
“Dirty Clothes,” published in Hippocampus Magazine.
“Snapshot,” published in The Boiler.
Writing some of these stories about Noah has been painful for King, but she says it’s also been a good way to remember his life. She views the book as a “lasting memorial.”
“If it never goes anywhere, I wrote it and that’s what matters,” King says.
Noah would most certainly be proud.
To follow Roberta’s journey, check out her blog: http://robertafking.com