Wineka column: On eve of his 105th birthday, Bruce Rogers Sr. shoots straight
SALISBURY — Come Monday, Bruce Rogers Sr. will be 105 years old, and he says it will be his last birthday.
I know how harsh that sounds, but I’ve come to know Rogers — a true Southern gentleman — as a straight-shooter. I blame all the newspaper ink in his blood.
While he has lost some of his normal pep, Rogers hasn’t given up his sense of humor, and he looks forward to all the birthday celebrations coming up.
Today, his Sunday School Class from First Baptist Church is bringing him ice cream.
Monday, the staff at the Carillon Assisted Living will throw him a party. On Saturday, June 8, he will join his family at granddaughter Julia’s home for the biggest of bashes, including daughter Betty’s rich coconut cake.
“If I get through next week, I’ll have it made,” Bruce laughed.
What does someone want or need for his 105th birthday? Rogers says “nothing at all, just recognition.”
I’ve written twice before about Bruce Rogers Sr. Most recently, last fall, I talked with him on the eve of his voting in the presidential election at age 104.
Before that, in August 2010, photographer Jon Lakey and I visited him simply out of amazement. He was still living on his own in a comfortable condominium then, with plenty of neighbors and son Bruce Jr. and his wife, Susan, regularly checking in with him.
Thanks to having his driver’s license renewed when he was 100, Bruce Sr. was driving his Chrysler to places such as the grocery store, doctor appointments and church; tending to his tomato plants; baking eclairs for his “girlfriends”; and keeping things neat in his home.
Over his entire life, Bruce never was involved in a car accident or had been issued a traffic citation.
He had only stopped golfing when he was 97. His hearing for a man his age was as good as mine, and he had great stories of his newspaper days, first as a paperboy in his native Columbia, S.C., then climbing up the ranks at the Charlotte Observer until he was circulation manager of both the Observer and the Charlotte News, the old afternoon newspaper.
Rogers had the responsibility — and it’s maybe the most important one at a newspaper — of making sure 240,000 newspapers were delivered daily. He was the Napolean-sized general for some 1,600 carriers.
“The paper is of no value to anyone if you can’t get that paper delivered,” Rogers told me in 2010. “Making up a newspaper, printing it and leaving it in the plant is no good for anyone.”
His is the true American story. He went from selling newspapers barracks to barracks at Fort Jackson when he was 9, to heading distribution for the largest circulated daily newspaper in North Carolina.
Rogers knew when he was 12 and hawking papers at a Columbia ballpark he wanted to be a newspaper’s circulation manager.
He started to work for the Observer when he was 15 and would serve as its circulation manager/director from 1959 until his retirement in 1971.
Those days meant a lot to Rogers. The one thing hanging front and center over the headboard to his bed at Carillon is the caricature Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Gene Payne drew of him to mark his retirement. Scores of Charlotte Observer employees from all departments signed it.
Rogers has made Salisbury his home for about 23 years now. He moved from Charlotte not long after he placed his ailing wife, Mary, in the Autumn Care nursing home here. She had Alzheimer’s disease and died after six years at Autumn Care.
Rogers handed over his driver’s license to son Bruce last year, and he has been at Carillon for about eight months. He’ll tell you, he doesn’t like the routines.
He has to wake up and go to bed way too early. He’s still an Atlanta Braves fan, but it’s difficult to see their night games on television when he’s going to sleep at 8 p.m.
“I always see the afternoon games, which isn’t too often,” he said.
Rogers confided Wednesday he’s seeing a difference in his physical health on a daily basis. When he first arrived, he exercised by walking a long hall from one end to the other. Now it’s not as easy.
“My legs aren’t as strong as they were,” he said.
He also reported an unusual overnight development for him. He normally wakes up two or three times a night and makes it a point to exercise his limbs.
But Tuesday night, he remembered only getting in bed and waking up the next morning, with no turning over or exercise in between.
“I was stiff as a stick,” he said, and it made for a difficult time dressing.
As a retired Charlotte Observer employee, Rogers qualified to receive a newspaper subscription at half price. He has been taking advantage of that discount since 1971, and receives his newspaper every day at Carillon.
He reads with a magnifying glass fashioned like a floor lamp. But he said his eyes aren’t great.
“So I don’t read the paper as thoroughly as I used to,” he said. He concentrates on headlines and the first couple paragraphs of stories he’s interested in.
He shakes his head at how narrow in width newspapers have become and how the pages feel like tissue paper.
Rogers’ hearing has declined a bit since I visited with him in 2010, and his taste buds also have disappointed him lately.
“I don’t even have a taste for hot dogs and barbecue,” he said, “and that used to be my favorites.”
There are reasons for all this. Age, of course, and Rogers also has been coping with prostate cancer — its treatments and progression.
I don’t know whether this will be Bruce Rogers’ last birthday. The ink in my blood isn’t as seasoned as his.
All I know is that this one — the 105th — will have ice cream, coconut cake and recognition for an amazing paperboy.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.