Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Kent Rogers
by Steve Sparks, November 17, 2010
I met with Kent at his home high above the Valley, approximately six miles up Peachland Road. After meeting his dog, Amy, a six-year old Labrador mix who Kent originally took in as a foster ‘parent’ from Cheryl Schrader’s Animal Rescue here in the Valley, and who is now his permanent companion, we sat down with a cup of coffee each and began our chat.
Kent was born in Sidney, Nebraska in November 1929 to parents Raymond Rogers and Elsa Marie Johnson. Kent was their middle child, born two years after brother Richard and two years before sister Eleanor. On his father’s side the family was originally English but for some generations they had settled in Tennessee before his grandparents moved to Missouri and then on to Denver where his father initially worked at a Ford Agency. He moved to manage a Ford dealership in Sidney where he went on to become the accountant for Western Ice and Storage, working as a mechanic for the company too. Kent’s mother’s side were of Swedish descent and had settled in Boulder, Colorado and the surrounding gold mining country. His mother had graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder and found a teaching job in Sidney where she met Raymond Rogers and they were married in 1924.
“I grew up in Sidney and went to kindergarten and a couple of years of grade school there. Then in 1937 my father was tragically killed when he was crushed to death while working on a truck and so with my mother now left alone with three young kids we moved to live with her mother in Boulder. I went through all my schooling there and then attended the University of Colorado, as did both of my siblings. We lived on two acres in the country outside Boulder and it was a great place to grow up. It was a farming area and we had a cow, a couple of pigs, some chickens and were quite self-sufficient. My brother and I had farm chores like milking the cow, and we had a wood stove and coal furnace. We remained in touch with my father’s family quite regularly in those early years and I was close to my cousins, and my grandparents were also around at that time. Meanwhile, my uncle had bought us a car and an aunt in California had paid off our house... I did lots of fishing and during my high school years I worked at my uncle’s Rainbow trout farm that supplied restaurants and lakes, including a stream that ran through president Eisenhower’s hideaway property — you had to keep him happy!”
Kent played lots of sports during his junior high and high school years including basketball, football — in which he was an all-conference end, and track, where he competed in the half-mile, the high jump, and the shot-putt. “I maintained a B-average during my time at Boulder High where my mother taught Latin and would drive us kids to school. I had jobs such as lawn mowing, window cleaning, gardening, and in construction and as a result always had my own spending money. We still had the farm chores to do and we had the cow until I was in college — you know the Swedes, they start something and they keep it going. I was so happy when we finally sold the cow. We could buy milk by that time and it was a chore I didn’t need when I had college work to do.”
Kent graduated high school in 1948 and began his architectural engineering degree at university later that year. “The possibility of war in Korean was increasing and some buddies and I had joined the National Guard towards the end of high school, not really thinking we would ever see action. However, although we had lots of fun and were paid for it, I did feel that I could help defend the country in some way. We would get together one weekend a month and then have a three-week course in the summer. Then in my junior year at college my unit was activated as part of the Air Force’s central air defense and we were sent to San Antonio, Texas as a radar outfit. I became the squadron’s draftsman and moved up from corporal to sergeant. I actually had a great time there — it was very social, dancing and drinking beer at the weekends.”
Kent had signed up for four years and this ran out when he was still activated so he was able to get an honorable discharge on June 22nd, 1953. “That summer I sold Fuller paints and realized I definitely never wanted to be a salesman of any kind. Thanks to the $110 a month from the G.I. Bill, I attended summer school and then returned to college to finish my course which I did in the fall of 1953.”
There were few jobs available and those that were did not pay, expecting graduates to work without pay for two years and learn on the job. It was time for Kent to leave Boulder. In his freshman year at college he had traveled to Kodiac, Alaska, via Seattle, to work on a friend’s uncle’s dairy farm. He had liked Seattle and so he now signed up with a drive-away company to drive a car from Denver to Seattle. “It was time to be out on my own. I wanted to shoot pool whenever I felt like it without hearing about it from my Mom. I found a job as a draftsman in an architect’s office but as so often in that business things slowed down and I moved on to work for one of their consulting firms and began to do design work, basically learning on the job.”
Meanwhile, Kent had met Anne Streeter, a woman from Pittsburgh, on a blind date and they began to go out. In December of 1955 they were married and lived in Anne’s apartment. A year or so later, they both quit their jobs (Anne worked for the phone company) and headed out in a ’53 Chevy that has cost them $400, crossing the country and visiting relatives before putting the car on a ship and crossing the Atlantic to Europe. For six months in the summer of 1957, they drove all over — Italy, Spain, France, England, Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia, mostly camping and seeing the sights.
On their return, following a short period of time when they could not find work, they were both hired back by their previous employers. “I was to stay with that company for the next thirty years, becoming an Associate, then a Senior Associate, then a Senior Vice President, and finally a Partner. I had a good relationship with our clients and managed to get the firm lots of work as a result of this and that is why they eventually made me a Partner. The fact that I did many hours of overtime also helped!... By the early seventies the company, ‘Skilling, Ward, Rogers, Barkshire’, had offices in Seattle, Anchorage, Alaska, and New York City. In fact we did the structural design on the World Trade Center, based around Yamasaki’s design for the building — that was a huge job for us. I was a Senior Vice President at that point and as part of this project I went to Ft Collins to do studies in the wind tunnel there.”
During these years, Kent and Anne had two children — Stuart who was born in 1961, and Jenne born in 1963. When not working and raising the family, their social life was quite full with get-togethers with several other couples, bridge nights, traveling, and later with the kids’ school activities. Stuart played soccer and baseball and Kent coached both teams for a time as well as still playing basketball himself at the Y during his lunchtime. Jenne also played soccer and the family would often go camping, fishing, and hiking. Anne was a homemaker for several years and then became very involved with the P.T.A. The Episcopal Church played an important role in the family’s life for some years and the kids attended Sunday school every week. Kent was also on the church committee and headed up fundraisers for the church.
In the early 80s, the company had a huge project at Stanford University and Kent visited to see how the job was coming along. “In 1984, it was decided that we would open an office in San Francisco with the thought that the Stanford job would lead to other work. I was the one who took this on and I hired another engineer, Reinhardt Ludke from Berkeley, and began to pick up some other jobs. Our kids were at college or beyond and so Anne and I rented an apartment on Nob Hill, not far from the office in North Beach. We loved San Francisco and spent a wonderful six years there. We enjoyed the lifestyle and went out to many of the excellent restaurants. After a year or so we bought a condo in the Richmond district on 24th Avenue and Lake Street with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from our roof. Anne helped out at the office and found herself in various societies that sometimes led to more business contacts. However, we never really got any more big jobs — they would go to the more established SF firms, and so the company was not breaking even. The business partners wanted to close the office down and suggested I return to Seattle. I didn’t want to do that so I made an agreement to finish up the jobs we had going and then I would open up my own firm there — Rogers Ludke Structural and Civil Engineers.”
In his leisure time Kent was still into running and exercise and joined the Dolphin Swimming and Boat Club. “I did the Alcatraz swim, the Golden Gate swim — the water temperatures in the Bay could be 62 in the summer and 47 in the winter — and that whole scene was a big part of my life for several years but I no longer attended church — I wondered if there was a God at that point.”
Kent also competed in triathlons and one weekend, after completing such an event in Sonoma, he decided to bicycle up to Mendocino County and camp at Hendy Woods which he had previously heard about. “I had breakfast in Navarro with a bunch of locals and then grabbed some apple juice from Gowans’ Oak Tree. I looked around and thought ‘Wow, these hills and this countryside is really something.’ Anne and I had talked about getting an acre or two for a getaway place and so we then contacted Rex McClellan at T.J. Nelson Realty who over the next few months showed us a few parcels when we’d come up for the weekend. One day we were way up Peachland Road where there was a new property that had come on the market. It was behind a locked gate but Rex snipped the chain with some cutters and we checked it out. It was a stunning piece and Anne immediately asked if she could pay by credit card or check. We eventually negotiated back and forth for several months for this 100-acre parcel, camping on the property when we’d come up, and finally in the fall of 1988 the deal was done. In the next few months we’d visit a lot and on one such trip we ate at the Floodgate when Johnnie Schmitt was the owner/chef — I had a great hamburger. We chatted and he told us that he was taking over the Boonville Hotel and was making some changes to the building. Anne told him that if he needed a structural engineer I was the one! I ended up helping on that project and in the meantime got to know quite a few more Valley people who worked at the hotel at the time, including Lauren Keating (of Lauren’s), Gail Moyer, and Tom Cronquist.”
In 1990, Kent’s partner Reinhardt Ludke took over the company and Kent moved up o the Valley full-time, while Anne stayed on as a business manager for an architect firm, living in their condo. “I hired a couple of carpenters — Mark Triplett and Bill Raphael — and started to build a home. I did the roofing, the wiring, and the finishing, but they did the majority of the work and we hired a plumber. In 1991 it was finished and Anne moved up too.”
Over the next few years both Kent and Anne were involved in the community in various endeavors. Anne had her show featuring classical music on the local public radio, KZYX, and was on the Board of Directors, as well as being on the Land Trust Committee and playing a part in the organizing of the Mendocino Music Festival. “She did all of that until her dementia became too much. The disease progressed and by 2000/2001 it was advanced Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile I became the part-time bartender at the Hotel in Boonville, working Mondays and Tuesdays. It was lots of fun. We had Libby (of Libby’s) and Lydia in the kitchen, Tom as waiter, myself on the bar, and a dishwasher. Jeanne Eliades did the books and at that time her daughter Elena would be in her crib and sometimes her and Johnnie’s son, Willie, was a waiter — a good one too. I met lots of people in that job but eventually I tired of it and thought someone else can do this.”
Kent ‘retired’ to work in his large garden high in the hills, where his fruit trees and tomato plants provide him with a ‘full-time job.’ By 2004, Anne’s illness also took up much of his time. “She was this beautiful, intelligent woman, but acting like an eight-ear old child. It was very hard to see this happening. I had support from Taunia Green who would sit with her and allow me to get some things done around the property. Otherwise I was watching her the whole time apart from when she was napping or asleep at night. We went to the Ukiah Senior Center a couple of mornings a week but she could not really join in with anything. Her conversation was very limited at that point and we’d sit here every night playing Yahtzee but that also became hard for her. We got a dog at that time — Amy, and she was a good companion for both of us. Eventually we had to find a care home for her and that was the Winkle Care Home in Ukiah where she was to stay for one-and-a-half years. I visited often but she did not know me and I’d spend the time talking to other visitors and the staff. Her brain slowly closed down and her organs deteriorated and ceased to function. She had hospice care for the final week and passed in May 2009. I had grieved a lot by that time and realized that she was much better off.”
Neva Dyer and her husband Dennis had become friends with Kent and Anne after Kent had met them at the Pinot Festival in the Valley and then again in the fall of 1998 at the Hotel. Then ten years later in 2008, Jeanne Eliades invited them both to dinner and with Dennis now ill with Alzheimer’s too they had some common ground. Dennis passed two months after Anne and Kent and Neva met for dinner at Lauren’s Restaurant in Boonville, started dating, and continue to do so today. “We have so much in common — we both love nature, enjoy doing crosswords, hiking, cooking, and we even wear the same glasses! Neva has her own home in the hills above Yorkville, about six miles up the Yorkville Ranch Road and we split time between there and here. Both places have stunning views.”
Kent’s son Stuart is now 49 and works for NASA as an aerospace engineer while daughter Jenne is a psychologist in Oregon, south of Portland. Kent himself has developed his skills as a photographer from just a hobby to that of a professional portrait photographer. He also does weddings and has taken many snapshots of the Valley for which he has won various awards at the County Fair. “I used to do more in the community but these days I tend my garden, enjoy the local wines, take a few photographs — I recently had a show at Handley Cellars Winery, help out at the occasional fundraiser, sometimes do the Quiz at Lauren’s, and go to school sports events, particularly the soccer games... I was ready for that transition in my life from the City to here twenty years ago. It was the right place at the right time for me. It is a beautiful area that grows on you more each year. It’s a wonderful place to live where there are so many really nice people from all walks of life.”
I asked Kent for his brief thoughts on various Valley issues.
The wineries and their impact? “I enjoy wine. I am not a fan of the out-of-area owners operating here — Handley Cellars is what it should be all about, locally owned and operated. The wineries are certainly beautiful to look at although I do fear that the water problems will get worse but hopefully we can work it out.”
The AVA? — “I love it and get it most weeks. There is so much interesting stuff, particularly the local news and stories.”
KZYX local public radio? “I have always enjoyed it and listen a lot. I support them and KPFA in Berkeley too.”
The changes in the Valley over the last 20 years or so? “It’s inevitable, natural even. This is a very desirable place to live.”
After Kent had made a delicious lunch of buffalo burgers, we sat back down and to end the interview. I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions.
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Neva Dyer. But also the sunrises and sunsets I get to see up here — man, they turn me on. Unbelievable!”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “The hypocrisy of the people in power.”
Sound or noise you love? “A hummingbird ‘zooming’ two inches from my ear.”
Sound or noise you hate? “Loud noises; loud music in cars.”
Favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? “Fresh salmon.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “My grandfather Rogers — a wonderful man whom I wish I’d known after I became an adult myself.”
If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? “My ‘Office in a Box’; as many wine bottles as I could get out, and Amy.”
Favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? “I love the movie ‘Same Time Next Year’ with Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn; a book would be ‘Tale of Two Cities’ by Dickens and all of the works of James Michener; and as for a song how about ‘When it’s springtime in the Rockies’” — my mother used to sing that.”
A smell you really like? “A turkey cooking in the oven.”
Favorite curse word or phrase? “Anne’s was ‘baloneyshit’ and I kind of like that too, but I guess my favorite phrase would be ‘Love is a lesson in how to correct your mistakes’ — yes, I like that a lot.”
Favorite hobby? “Photography — I have been interested since I was a kid.”
Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? — “An actor or a geologist.”
Profession you’d not like to do? “A lawyer.”
What was the happiest day or event in your life? “I have had many happy days. My whole 53 years of marriage to Anne; watching my children grow from babies to adults and still enjoying each other’s company.”
What was the saddest day or period of your life? “Taking care of Anne. I still cry, particularly if watching a movie that triggers some memory.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself, physically, mentally, spiritually? “That at 81 years old, I’m still in pretty good shape and can go hiking. And my relationships with family and friends.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Come in and relax; enjoy yourself without stress or pain.” ¥¥
(To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee from the Valley will be Allan Green, founder and owner of Greenwood Ridge Winery.)