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1996 Port Hadlock Citizen of the Year
 
Henry Rogers:
A man for all seasons
  Henry and Marjorie Rogers

By Sandy Hershelman

 

Officially deemed the "Chaplain Emeritus" of the Rotary Club of East Jefferson County, Henry Rogers is known for his wisdom, sharp wit, and ease before a crowd.

While many of you may have had a glimpse into Henry's past, when he spoke last month on early radio and TV broadcasting, there is much more to Henry's story.

In 1919, Deerborn, Mich. was known as "Fordson". Henry Ford's motor company was born there; and so, too, was Henry C. Rogers, Jr.

"My father was killed when I was 5 years old," Henry said. Originally a structural steel foreman for Ford, Henry Sr. became a residential contractor. He died on the job.

In those days before welfare, Henry's mother, Laura, went to work cleaning houses. She was 25.

An only child, Henry was a typical kid. Misbehaviors ensured that the willow tree in the back yard stayed well-pruned. Halloween, he recalled, does tend to bring out the devil in a 13-year-old.

"They were mild pranks," insisted Henry, now 83. "Like tipping over the outhouses, which were prevalent in those days." The town's 10 p.m. curfew no doubt curtailed a lot of shenanigans.

By the time her son graduated from the Ford-built Fordson High School, in 1938, Henry's mother was the manager of the school's cafeteria. Young Henry couldn't get away with anything word always got back to Mom.

"She was a great gal. Loved to laugh, but she was a feisty one," Henry chuckled. "You couldn't get anything past her. She was 94 when she passed away."

Word of Henry's interest in pretty young Marjorie Last no doubt got back to Mom, too. "We became high school sweethearts," Henry smiled. But they parted ways. Henry began classes at the Henry Ford Community College (now Wayne State College).

"I was either going to be an actor or a musician. I was the front man and played the bass in a (12-to-18-piece) swing band Henry Rogers and his orchestra," Henry recalled. "Swing and sway the Rogers' way and to hell with Sammy Kaye" was their slogan a take off of Kaye's "Swing and sway with Sammy Kaye".

Dance halls flourished across the county, and the young musicians were paying their way through college. They were even featured on NBC radio's "Fitch Summer Band Wagon".

The year was 1940. The same year the draft was enacted. The start of World War II changed everything.

"Everyone in the band got their notices and were called up right after New Year's, except me," Henry recalled. He opted for the Merchant Marines.

Henry was home on leave and once again dated Marjorie. He could not forget her. They married on October 5, 1946.

The musician went to work on Wall Street, as an insurance adjuster calculating losses for the ships, private and otherwise, that sank during the war.

"You have to remember, going to war, your whole outlook changes, your dreams," Henry reflected.

Henry later did a three-year stint in New York City's Hell's Kitchen, as the personnel and labor relations director of the world's largest kosher meat packing company. And, no, he's not Jewish.

"My first love was being at sea," Henry admitted. He quickly agreed to take a job on the Great Lakes, with a company whose 5,000 passenger boats had cruised the lakes since the turn of the century.

"The job also brought me closer to home to my mother," Henry added.

Five children would bless the Rogers' home: Henry C. III ("Buck"), the twins Paul and Nancy, Catherine, and Eric. Grandbabies followed decades later.

What's television?
In 1949, television was in its infancy. Few homes had the tiny-screen TVs. All broadcasts were live. Video tape hadn't yet been invented. National broadcasting was years away. Into this picture enters Henry as a horse's rear end.

"I called home and said, 'Marge, I won't be home for supper, but go over to one of the neighbors who has a television. I'm making my television debut as the rear end of a horse'," Henry laughed.

When his friend — the head of production who had gotten him into this in the first place — told Henry the front end of the talking horse was sick, Henry was promoted to the, shall we say, head of the act. His lines were pasted to the inside of the horse's muzzle.

"I started the show leaning up against the fence with no rear end. During the show, I felt the rear end (of the costume) lift up and a guy got into it," Henry chuckled. "I ran all summer long as the talking horse."

During the next 20 years, Henry rose from those auspicious beginnings to business manager for the broadcast stations of the Detroit-based Evening News Association.

"Television was changing so rapidly. The changes in technology were coming every week. We didn't even have networks across the country back then. I can remember the celebration (in the mid-1950s) when they got the signal across the country. Then, in the '60s, came video," Henry recalled.

Henry was one of the founders and a president of the Institute of Broadcast Financial Management, which is still going strong.

"In 1970, I left the Evening News Association to go to Los Angeles, to Chris-Craft Television Broadcasting. Yes, the boat guys," Henry confirmed. "We got there just in time for the big earthquake."

Getting the company's house in order was the new financial officer's first duties. Buying more properties to expand the three-station (Los Angeles, Portland and Minneapolis) firm was next. Henry successfully negotiated the purchase of Puget Sound's KSTW Channel 11, but Chris-Craft's board of directors turned it down.

"Television was going through a tremendous change and there was no control of it because it was done manually. Keeping track of commercials was impossible," Henry recalled. He began work on a computer system to organize it all.

When Henry left the firm in 1974, he took his computer system with him. "Compunet" would end up in 114 stations across the country.

"In 1978, it was bought out by Control Data and I retired," Henry smiled. Retirement was short-lived. "People kept calling me for advice so, like everyone, I hung out my shingle."

In 1980, Henry retired again and went to the Solomon Islands, where Marjorie worked on her masters degree, producing educational materials for the soon-to-be independent islands. While Marjorie worked, her hubby played.

Lure of Hadlock
A peek at Marjorie's Solomon Islands' educational trunk of historical items was requested by the organizers of a United Nations seminar, held in the London Commonwealth Museum. It was the perfect excuse for the Rogers to spend six months touring the British Isles.

While on a ferry, they met Port Townsend's Kate Jenks and her daughter. Conversation turned to the Rogers' quest for a new home site. Kate suggested they visit Port Townsend. They did and they loved it.

"When we came across the bridge in Portland, I said to Marge, 'We have to remember this date, July 1, 1985. We're entering Washington and this is where we're hanging it up'," Henry recalled.

Day after day, the pair left their Port Hadlock rental to scour the peninsula looking for a home to buy.

"One day at breakfast, I said to Marjorie, 'We're nuts. We're looking for the grail everywhere and it's right here in Hadlock'," Henry said.

The duo bought a little cabin on the "Greenspot", just a stone's throw from the Portage Canal Bridge. Eighteen years and 1,200 additional square feet later, they have the home of their dreams, with a dynamite view.

"I always wanted to build and I think if I were to do my life over again, I'd be a good carpenter," Henry decided, having done his home's remodel himself. A regret? "Oh no, I don't have any regrets. I don't look back. I look to the future and see what's next."

Citizen of the Year
Henry was named the Port Hadlock Chamber of Commerce's 1996 Citizen of the Year. He was nominated as a "living monument to the meaning of active community service" and joined the ranks of earlier winners, including the 1994 Citizen of the Year, his very own Marjorie.

"Being named Citizen of the Year was a real surprise. It was a real humbling experience. If not THE greatest, it was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me," Henry admitted.

The year 1996 also marked the couple's 50th wedding anniversary.

Since moving to Port Hadlock, Henry's local activities have included the Rotary Club of East Jefferson County, of which he was president in 1990-91. He was a major organizer for many of the Rotary's "Puttin' on the Ritz" annual fund raiser galas. He is also, if you recall, the originator of our "Scam", that creative little game that adds a few extra bucks to the club's coffers each week.

Port Hadlock's Community United Methodist Church benefits from Henry's untiring service, as does Chimacum Schools. In 1994, Henry was the co-founder of the Friends of Chimacum Schools. FOCS is an education foundation organized exclusively for charitable and educational purposes; essentially founded to promote education and to provide scholarships. Through it, funds may be solicited and received; and gifts, endowments and bequests accepted for the benefit of Chimacum Schools.

"If we, as a nation, are going to survive, we really have to do something about our education system," Henry once declared. "That's one of the reasons I got this Friends of Chimacum Schools started."

Busier yet in 1994, Henry spearheaded the first-ever "Jefferson Days" the popular old fashioned July 4th family celebration, based on Indian Island.

In 1995-96 Henry was a director of the Jefferson County Historical Society's board and a member of the Jefferson County Law and Justice Advisory Council.

The rhody gardens at Fort Worden grew more beautiful over the years, thanks to Roger's efforts, as well as the efforts of the devoted members of the local chapter of the American Rhododendron Society.

"I love the Hadlock area. It's a great place," Henry said. "I realize I'm a Johnny-Come-Lately, but I feel like I was born here."


Henry's story first appeared in the Port Townsend Jefferson County Leader in January 1997.

A note: In the early 1990s, I came to a crossroads. My freelance writing career had just begun to take off, when I was offered a high-paying sales job. Passionate about my writing, yet knowing a divorce and single motherhood was soon to come, I was confused. Should I grab the gold ring of financial security, or follow my heart and pray I'd be able to feed my children?


For advice I went to a man I didn't really know too well, but one whom I admired and whose advice I respected, Henry Rogers.
Henry played the devil's advocate and we dissected all sides of the question. I came away clearheaded and positive about my decision: I would write. Of that decision, I have no regrets. And to Henry, I will always be grateful.

 

hershelman@olympus.net
Date Last Modified:2/15/11
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