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Remembering Jean Rogers

Posted: February 28, 2013 - 1:01am  |  Updated: February 28, 2013 - 8:48am
Jean Rogers reads to a room full of children at Harborview Elementary School in February 2009.  Courtesy of Linda Torgerson
Courtesy of Linda Torgerson
Jean Rogers reads to a room full of children at Harborview Elementary School in February 2009.

Locals and former locals share their thoughts and memories of Jean Roger in their own words.

“The beautiful Jean Rogers probably didn’t even realize how important she was to the Arts in Juneau. Unassuming and humble, Jean was a model citizen and a champion of the community. She radiated warmth, kindness and class in every way, from her writing, to her art, to her famously elegant attire.

We gratefully remember that, through her writing, she was surely one of the first artists that generations of Juneau children were exposed to. It was a pleasure and an honor to have known her.” -- Linda Rosenthal, Artistic and Executive Director of Juneau Jazz & Classics


“Jean Rogers was such an inspiration, such an amazing person. Generous, creative, wise, and such a sense of style! I am grateful to have known her, and thankful for her many contributions to the life of our town. Her collaborative work with Rie Muñoz on ‘King Island Christmas’ is probably what we most remember her for, but she was a wonderful artist herself, and she and her husband George were pillars of strength in the arts community.” -- Nancy DeCherney, Executive Director of the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council


“I met Jean Rogers in 1979 when I was billeted with her and George on my first trip to Alaska teaching theater in the artists in schools program. What was supposed to be a two-week connection turned into a deep and personal relationship over the ensuing 30+ years. Jean was an arts enthusiast as well as an artist. She was a regular supporter of public radio, public television, the symphony, the opera, and the theater; she also was an active participant in organizations that contributed to the public good, from the March of Dimes to volunteering in the schools to serving on a variety of committees. Jean was a wonderful children’s book writer and of course fairly recently started in visual arts in her collage work. However Jean’s home was also a work of art — filled with paintings, fabric art, pottery and unique objects. The smallest details of daily life — the way towels were stacked, a container for matches, the pillows on a couch, the cutting of a pie crust -- all expressed Jean’s playful, innovative and distinctive aesthetic.

Jean shared what she loved with others, and could be depended upon to recommend a good book or a great recipe. She was unsentimental but had an incredibly generous heart, extremely pragmatic and down-to-earth but with an absolutely inspired creativity. Whenever I faced a difficult decision or situation I asked myself, “What would Jean do?” and knew the answer would be the right choice. She was at the hospital when my first son was born, she was at both my weddings, helped me through the death of my first husband, flew on the medevac jet to Seattle with me before my daughter was born — she was part of every major event of my adult life, and my children called her Grandma. And in minor ways, too, Jean will continue to be present in our family: in her holiday cookie recipes that are part of our traditions, in the unmatched set of unique pottery plates that are on our dinner table, in the books we read, and in the way we look at the smallest details in our lives as opportunities to make an artistic choice.” -- Anita Maynard-Losh, Director of Community Engagement, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater


“What a gift Jean was to all of us in Juneau—but especially to our children who grew up with her sensitive, beautiful books. We were so fortunate to first get to know her through the book events we held at Hearthside Books over the years. It makes me smile to remember her talking to children who came to have their books signed. She often had a witty comment that sometimes went over their heads but they laughed anyway. We miss her.” -- Susan Hickey, co-owner, Hearthside Books


“Jean got Jim into the book business. Her ‘Secret Moose’ was the first book he illustrated. She’d asked him to do a drawing to accompany the manuscript, which the publisher Greenwillow had earlier turned down. She’d made minor manuscript changes and had a feeling that if they saw how she imagined the book, they’d be interested. Jim had no expectation that they would want him to illustrate the book even if they accepted the story, but Jean had asked him to do it, and that was good enough for him. Amazingly, Jean was right and Greenwillow offered both of them a contract. He subsequently illustrated nine more books for them and five for other publishers, but it all started with Jean’s vision.

I remember Jean and George coming down to see the original drawings before Jim sent them out — how nervous he was. But she was thrilled, and in her trademark Jean form, she was generous and genuine in her enthusiasm. She said it couldn’t have been more what she wanted if she’d been able to stand behind him and tell him what to do. After that, he showed Jean the original art for every book he illustrated before sending it out to the publisher. I treasure a photograph Linda Torgerson took of us with George and Jean looking over the illustrations for ‘Patsy Ann’ before they went out.

Jean rejoiced in her friends’ successes and was indignant over any disappointments or slights. A true friend, generous mentor, beloved of countless preschool and school children and their teachers for all the ways she shared herself and her wonderful stories with them. What I keep coming back to is her unabashed enthusiasm, the way she expressed her utter glee over things, clasping her hands and saying, “Oh my, yes!” And that was with her to the last, that sense of delight.” -- Susi Gregg Fowler, local author, and Jim Fowler, local artist and illustrator


“Jean Rogers was a colorful fixture at the public libraries when I arrived in 1995. I met her through the Saturday morning book review group, in which a varying number of volunteers who are crazy about children’s books get together once a month to discuss the books we’ve read off our Preview Book shelf (sent by the publishers in the hopes that we’ll buy more copies, recommend them to others, and maybe even write reviews). Jean was larger-than-life to me at first – always so beautifully dressed, wearing a beautiful crazy-quilt coat (made for her by a daughter-in-law) and oversized, dark-rimmed glasses – she was the first writer I’d spent any time around. And she knew her books! Jean read widely, corresponded with many, many authors, and was never hesitant to critique a text or its format. I learned a lot about how to articulate what makes a book worthy of a child’s hands from her (another writer who always attended the group was Nancy Ferrell, from whom I learned that a map in a book is never wasted space, and indeed, is often essential!). Thanks to Jean’s friendships with other authors, the library was able to bring Jane Langton and Robin McKinley to visit Juneau for book talks, both at the library and at local schools. She was a frequent guest reader when we had Reading with the Stars programs, often reading her own books to thrilled young listeners. Years ago, she was awarded the honorary title of The Lady Who Pushes Books, and even today, browsers at the library come across bookplates to that effect in books she thought were especially wonderful.” -- Kathy Ward, Juneau Public Libraries


“I have so many memories of Jean, but perhaps I can share a few that others may not have mentioned. Jean’s devotion to her community has been well documented. She was a very social person and belonged to many groups, some formal, some informal. I had the good fortune to be in two groups with her: a Writers’ Group, and Libra Ladies.

Our Writers’ Group was a working group of writers launched more than 25 years ago and it included Jean Rogers, Dale Burlison DeArmond, Nancy Warren Ferrell, Susi Gregg Fowler, and myself. We met regularly and shared our work and our knowledge, but more importantly our enthusiasm for every project that each of us undertook. Jean always chose to inspire and encourage as well as offer sage advice. Her support meant a great deal, not only because Jean knew so much about literature and the publishing industry, but also because she was so wholehearted in her desire to see others succeed.

Libra Ladies, a group of Juneau women, started more than 30 years ago and it is a group that shares a love for the arts as well as birthdays during the astrological sign of Libra. We have met sometimes monthly, always yearly, and Jean had always been at the center of it. Since we are all active in the arts, our get-togethers are always lively.” -- Bridget Smith, Community Engagement Educator, Association of Alaska School Boards


• If you’d like to contribute your thoughts on Jean Rogers, send an email to amy.fletcher@juneauempire.com.

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