A gleam in his eye: Rexroth still laughing after mishap

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

There are certain tasks Dave Rexroth is still not up to, like slapping Coneys together during the lunch rush.

All in all, though, he's both doing well and doing good, already helping other people in his situation.

And while he lost an eye, he did not lose his sense of humor.

For proof of that, look no further than the office Halloween party at WXYZ-TV (Channel 7), where he's been a weather forecaster since 2000 and the chief meteorologist since 2010.

Not quite four months after a fireworks accident during a family vacation in Iowa, his three sons gave him a remarkably unattractive and appropriate mask — an enormous bloodshot eyeball.

He wore it with a witch hat, a scruffy wig, a black-and-red cape and a torn-up T-shirted marked "Phantom of Eye-owa." Because there's no sense being only partially tacky, he handed out chocolates in eyeball wrappers.

He won first prize — and in yet another competition he didn't even know he had entered, he took an impressive third.

The continuing story of the July 4 accident, two surgeries, his prosthetic left eye and his September return to work was the third most popular for 2014 on the station's website, behind a mother who shot home invaders and the recall of defective airbags.

"I'm absolutely stunned by the number of people who reached out," says Rexroth, 49 — and he has already started reaching back, even if his sketchy depth perception sometimes has him grasping in the wrong place.

Last week, he lent a hand with a fundraiser for The Heat and Warmth Fund, aka THAW, at American Coney Island downtown.

"I wasn't fast enough on the dogs," he reports, "so they made me the fry guy. 'You want cheese on that?' "

All kidding aside, or at least some kidding, "I do find it tough in close quarters," he says. He tends to bump into objects and people on his left, "because I don't see much past my big nose that way."

But he knows things could be far worse.

Rexroth broke the eggshells

Rexroth was seriously injured in a fireworks accident in Iowa over the Fourth of July weekend last year.

The fireworks were set up on a dike on the far side of a pond at his sister's house in Iowa City. Rexroth was the designated lighter. A skyrocket went off when it wasn't supposed to.

"My first thought was that I had ruined my boys' lives," he says. He knew he was hurt, badly; what if he was disfigured and he couldn't work in TV anymore?

Instead, he was back on the air nine weeks later, joking his way through the newsroom.

"We didn't have to walk on eggshells," says WXYZ anchor Stephen Clark. "Dave broke all the eggshells for us."

Rexroth says he was staggered to learn that out of 95 or 100 employees at the station, three have single vision. Viewers called or emailed to tell him they'd been a dentist for 25 years or a nurse for 15, all after losing an eye.

They passed along tips he has incorporated into the new version of his same old life.

Behind the wheel, for instance, he aims his nose toward the left-hand A-pillar so his remaining 65 percent field of vision covers the entire windshield. He sits at the left corner of the dinner table.

"Now," he says, "I'm finding I can turn around and help people."

Awkwardness is gone

A social worker called him about a client whose boyfriend beat her so severely she lost an eye. Not yet fitted for a prosthetic, the woman hadn't left her apartment for five months.

Rexroth called her and told her he understood. With the social worker, he's trying to accelerate the process that will get her a new eye.

He traded emails with a man whose eye was to be removed later in the week. When a story broke about a young boy who'd been shot in the eye, he called the family.

Around the office, Clark says, any initial awkwardness has disappeared. People don't find themselves wondering where to look when they talk to him: the good eye? The bridge of his nose?

On the air a few weeks ago, Clark says, "a big storm was coming in, and I said, 'Dave is keeping an eye on that for us.' Then I thought, 'Was that inappropriate?' "

Rexroth didn't even notice — and if he had, he would have laughed.