Life Story / Obituary
June 11, 1938 -November 27, 2021
John Franklin Rogers, a longtime teacher with the Racine Unified School District who in retirement forged a second career as a photographer, died suddenly at his Caledonia home on Saturday, Nov. 27. He was 83.
John was born on June 11, 1938, in Washington, D.C., but grew up in Charleston, West Virginia. His childhood was plagued by grinding poverty, but as a young man he found a path out of his hardscrabble life by joining the U.S. military, where he served as a linguist in the Air Force. After undergoing Russian language training at Syracuse University, he served in Samsun, Turkey, and Hof, Germany, during the early 1960s, a period marked by the Cuban missile crisis and knife’s-edge tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. In his later years he would often reminisce about his military life and the drama of those days.
During this time John was stationed at one point in Washington, D.C., where he met Rosanne Ruble in a crowded Greek restaurant. Ruble was a graduate student at George Washington University and a staffer in the office of Senator Frank Carlson.
“The waitress asked if we would mind sitting together, and that’s how we met,” Rosanne recalled. “He was cute, but shy. His aunt kept pushing him to get my phone number.”
John took his aunt’s advice. He and Rosanne were married on July 10, 1962, in Samsun.
After completing his military service, John moved with Rosanne to Lawrence, Kansas, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in German studies and education at the University of Kansas.
From there the young family, now with a toddler son in tow, moved to Racine, where John began his career as a German teacher and audiovisual specialist at the junior high school level.
Cory Jacobson, president of the Phoenix Theatres chain in Michigan, was a student of John’s at Gilmore Junior High School in the late 70s. He recalls how John patiently showed him how to use the video equipment of the time - reel to reel videotape decks and bulky black and white cameras - to record school events.
“He taught me how to run the cameras and to pan and frame a concert,” Jacobson says. “Once he told me, ‘that concert you taped was the most professionally done I’ve seen anyone do. You really got that right.’”
“That,” Jacobson adds, “influenced my life. It was one of those mentoring things that helped define what I ended up doing with myself.”
John eventually retired from teaching but quickly discovered that retirement didn’t suit him. He earned a master’s degree in educational psychology at Marquette University but was still restless, so he started a business shooting pictures of homes for local real estate agencies.
Mike Rudan, a realtor with RE/MAX Newport Elite in Racine, said John always insisted on utilizing the latest technology.
“Whether it was the Manaport (3D camera) system or using drones, he was always striving to be current,” Rudan recalled. “He was an absolute perfectionist. He probably delivered beyond what anyone ever compensated him for.”
Beyond his work, John had a multitude of interests. He was a dedicated runner who served for a time as Gilmore’s track coach. He had a lifelong love of jazz – Miles Davis and Chet Baker were favorites - that he conveyed to his three sons and one of his granddaughters. He had a sarcastic and sometimes salty sense of humor. As former colleague Glen Copper put it, “he taught me how to curse in Russian like a Soviet tank commander, something they didn't teach in school.”
And John had an abiding fondness for small animals. Every day he would lay out a rich spread of nuts, seed and other treats for assorted squirrels, birds, ducks and any other creatures that came within a stone’s throw of his backyard. Over the years his quarter acre lot became a veritable menagerie of small creatures who were clearly spreading the word about the feast to be had at one particular house in Caledonia.
Last summer, on a trip to Safari Lake Geneva, John, on a trip with his extended family, got to feed larger beasts, everything from emus and llamas to zebra and bison. The idea is simple: drivers equipped with buckets of feed navigate their vehicles through a throng of the creatures, who proceed to stick their often gigantic snouts into car windows, spraying feed and spit everywhere as they munch. There is a picture of John and his granddaughter Emma enduring just such an assault of animal slobber. Their smiles are miles wide.
John is survived by his wife, Rosanne; his sons Tony (Minhhuyen Nguyen) Rogers, Kevin (Kari Moyle) Rogers and Brian (Catherine Yang) Rogers; and grandchildren Sean, Emma, Lily and Liam.
A memorial service will be held at Maresh-Meredith Acklam Funeral Home, 803 Main St., Racine, on Saturday, Dec. 4, with visitation beginning at 3 p.m. followed by the service at 3:30. Due to Covid-19, the family asks that anyone attending wear a mask.