Many knew Kent native W. Roak Zeller for his involvement in the political realm as a Republican candidate for state and local offices.
His mother, however, will always remember him for his loving heart.
"The first thing that comes to mind is how much he loved animals," said Mary Zeller from her Pennsylvania home. "Whenever I went over to his house, there was a new pet there he'd rescued."
The pets were typically cats and dogs. She recalled how her son took in a cat once for a friend, a war veteran, who had passed away. Another cat he cared for was blind. Many of the creatures were animals "nobody else would ever even think about," Mary said.
"As his mom, that's how I know him," she said.
Roak Zeller, who was active in Republican Party politics and a two-time nominee for state representative, died in a traffic accident Friday morning on Interstate 76 near the border of Portage and Summit counties. He was 42.
The accident happened slightly before 8 a.m. near the Southeast Avenue overpass in Tallmadge, said Lt. Ron Williams, Tallmadge Police public information officer.
Williams said Zeller was traveling west when he approached congested traffic caused by a separate accident in Akron. He was slowing down when he was struck from behind by a semi-truck. He said traffic was moving between 5 to 10 mph at the time.
Williams said the crash caused Zeller's car to strike another vehicle, but that driver was not injured. Zeller was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene.
Williams said the truck driver suffered minor injuries and was taken to a local hospital.
No other injuries were reported. No charges have been filed yet against the truck driver.
The crash closed traffic on the highway for more than three hours.
A Republican, Zeller made unsuccessful bids for Portage County commissioner in 2012 and state representative in 2010 and 2008. He was employed at Newell Rubbermaid Co. in Mogadore.
By Friday afternoon, scores of mourners had already written goodbye messages on Zeller's Facebook wall.
"The Portage County Republican Party is saddened by the unexpected death of Roak Zeller," said Portage County Republican Party chair Janet Esposito. "Roak was a Central Committeeman, former Republican candidate, and worked passionately to promote the principles of the Republican Party. He was dedicated to the Portage County Republican Party, and over the years, worked hard on many campaigns for our candidates. With deep regret, we express our condolences to his many friends and family."
Zeller grew up in Kent, where he graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School in 1990 and played tuba in the band. He graduated from Kent State University in 1995 with a bachelor's degree in political science.
Active in Ohio Young Republicans, he had a reputation as a dedicated and passionate man wholly invested in everything he did, his mother said, even if a lot of his work was "behind the scenes."
"It didn't matter how late he'd stay up. He never got tired and just kept doing what he needed to do," Mary Zeller said. "Whatever he did, he did it all the way."
Esposito said she knew Zeller through political endeavors for about 20 years.
"He did believe strongly in the Constitution," she said. "He had determination and sincerity. A lot of people don't have that anymore."
Esposito recalled how he would often leave work functions and take the leftover food to the Center of Hope.
"He was a good guy," she said. "We'll miss him."
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