JOHNSBURG – With unseasonably warm weather on Sunday, Patrick "Rocky" Rorig told his 14-year-old son that it was probably the last time they would be able to hit the ice on the pond behind their Johnsburg home.
"He said, 'Why don't we throw on our skates for a few laps,' " said close friend Thomas Popovich.
Rorig went first and crashed through the ice. He didn't come back up.
"It's incomprehensible to me that the puny little pond could defeat Rocco," Popovich said. "I would bet on Rocco."
After rescue workers searched for 32 minutes, Rorig was found about 10 feet away from where he fell in the water. He was airlifted to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, where he was pronounced dead at 8:57 p.m.
Although Rorig died from an apparent drowning, an autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday morning, Lake County Coroner Artis Yancey said.
Popovich said Rorig, 47, moved to small-town Johnsburg in the seventh grade when the "Rocky" movies were coming out. Rorig would wear T-shirts with a scene from the movie on them.
"We would just call him Rocky because that's what he had on his T-shirt, but it turned out to be an apt nickname for his life because he was a rock for all," said Popovich, who called Rorig his best friend. "He was dependable, faithful, strong, and all the attributes that one would ascribe to a rock."
Friend John Gallagher, who owns J2 Concrete and lives in the same neighborhood, said that he knew Rorig from growing up in Johnsburg. There were a bunch of different variations on why Rorig got the nickname "Rocky," Gallagher said.
"He's just a nice, loving, hard-working guy," Gallagher said. "It's just a tragedy ."
For years, Rorig worked for George Hiller & Sons as a carpenter. He would put in a 10-hour workday before coming home to study the blueprints in order to learn design.
He eventually went out on his own and started Rorig Homes, a custom home building company. He built many of the houses, including his own, in Dutch Creek Estates where he lived.
Popovich said Rorig would groom the pond behind the house and put out hockey nets.
"Everybody would strap on their skates, fathers and sons would go over to Rocco's house and engage in these prolonged hockey games all afternoon," he said. "Rocco would be out there every weekend."
Tennis was also a regular affair for Rorig, despite the weather.
"About four years ago, he got it in his head he wanted to start playing tennis," Popovich said. "All the guys in the neighborhood started playing and he was always bugging me."
Rorig bought him a fancy new racket and in July, Popovich took him up on the offer. They had been playing on a tennis court in the neighborhood at least twice a week.
"We'd be out there in 20-degree weather and he'd be out there hollering about what a great day for tennis it was," Popovich said.
When he heard about the accident, Popovich rushed to the hospital, where "half the community" was there in support.
"He probably had the distinction of being the best friend to more people than anyone else in the whole world because that's the way he made you feel," Popovich said. "He would do anything for you."
Rorig is the second person this month to die after falling through the ice in McHenry County. Justin Ribar of Wonder Lake died after falling through ice while ice fishing on Pistakee Bay on Feb. 3. Both deaths come during an unseasonably warm winter.