Paving the way to Statehood
"They said, 'George you're going to Alaska to roll back the price of raw fish.'"
George Rogers had dreams of becoming an architect while growing up in San Francisco. He had no idea that one day he would be helping construct the Constitution of the State of Alaska instead of designing buildings.

Rogers, 91, arrived in Juneau during World War II on assignment from the Department of the Army Office of Price Administration after studying economics at the University of California, Berkeley. The fisheries prices were relatively high during the war and the Army wanted to provide fish on Fridays, he said.

"They said, 'George you're going to Alaska to roll back the price of raw fish,'" Rogers said.

"I was assigned to come to Alaska; it was not by choice," he added.

Rogers said he still remembers arriving in Juneau for the first time in January 1945. The roads were not yet paved, the sidewalks were made of wood and "mom and pop" stores lined the streets.

"I felt like I was stepping back a whole century," he said.

After several months it became apparent that the war was nearing an end. Rogers and his wife, Jean, were considering a move back to California at the conclusion of the war to further his studies; however, a unique opportunity presented itself that would allow him to put his economic background to work in Juneau. Territorial Gov. Ernest Gruening asked him about his future plans and Rogers said he wanted to move back to Berkeley to pursue a Ph.D.

"He said, 'Well, give me two years of your time and I'll see to it that you get into Harvard,'" Rogers recalls of his conversation with Gruening. "I couldn't resist that. I stayed on."

Rogers' first assignment was to devise a revenue system for the territory. Prior to the war, there was a handful of random taxes and fees that did not generate nearly enough money to run the territorial government, he said. Rogers was asked by Gruening to help establish an income tax, a sales tax and a business license tax.

After receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1950, Rogers returned to Juneau and continued working for the government in various positions. The fight for Alaska statehood was waging and the constitutional convention was scheduled to take place in Fairbanks in 1955 when Rogers was working as a consultant for territorial Gov. B. Frank Heintzleman.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Alaska pioneer: George Rodgers, 91, has lived in Alaska long enough to see it become a state nearly 50 years ago.