George Rogers, Architect of Alaska's statehood, dies at 93

Posted: Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Juneau has lost one if its most influential residents, a man who helped craft Alaska's very statehood.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File

George William Rogers died Sunday at the age of 93. His name came with many titles: economist, author, professor and consultant. The importance of his work is evident, as it's made a permanent impact for the state.

Rogers was born April 15, 1917, in San Francisco. He came to Alaska in January of 1945, charged by the Office of Price Administration to roll back the price of fish.

His daughter, Sidney Fadaoff, said he knew this wasn't possible but "it still got him where he wanted to be and he stayed."

Rogers said, in previous interviews with the Empire, what started as a temporary stop in Juneau was extended when was assigned to devise a revenue system for the territory by territorial Gov. Ernest Gruening. After helping establish an income tax, sales tax and business license tax, he went on to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1950.

His work upon returning to Juneau after this helped cement his role in Alaska's history. Rogers worked as a consultant for the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 1955, an event crucial to Alaska's becoming the 49th state.

Two of those constitutional convention delegates recalled his contributions to statehood. Victor Fischer, who served in the territorial House of Representatives and the Alaska State Senate, said he was not only the one Alaskan consultant, with the others being from Outside, but was exceptionally qualified with an expert's knowledge on economics, local government, natural resources and Alaska subsidiaries.

"George was a brilliant analyst. He was knowledgeable. He gave excellent advise," he said. "Most of us knew him very well and respected him greatly."

Fischer also spoke of Rogers' humility, a trait his family also cherished. "It was not about George. It was about the knowledge he could give to those who were actually writing the Constitution," Fischer said.

Another delegate is former Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill, who also served as mayor of Nenana. He described Rogers as a great promoter of Alaska, both before and after statehood. He described Rogers as the backbone of the convention, as he was the main advisor to the statehood commission.

"He was one that put together all the documents to create the foundation for what was necessary," said Coghill, adding, "He worked hand-in-glove with Bill Egan and several of the other folks that were instrumental in making sure everything came together."

Fadaoff described her father's extensive work beyond Alaska's statehood. His mastery of economics led to teaching engagements at different universities, including the University of Alaska and Cambridge University in England.

"He was proud of receiving his Life Membership of Clare Hall, Cambridge University, England in 1984," she said.

University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh said he remembered when Rogers was UAS Juneau campus advisory council while Pugh was the dean of arts and sciences. He said the whole Rogers family were wonderful assets to academia.

Rogers received an honorary doctorate of economics from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 1986. His wife, Jean Clark Rogers, got an honorary doctorate of humane letters at UAS in 2002 as a result of her numerous children's books.

Rogers published seven books based on a variety of Alaska developments. Some were used as textbooks.

Pugh said his book, "The Future of Alaska: The Economic Consequences of Statehood," was the result of his work on the constitutional convention and the first study on what statehood could mean for the economy.

He also wrote and contributed to more than 90 published articles on a variety of Alaskan issues.

Rogers' other contributions include his services on the council and charter commission for the City of Juneau from 1956-1959. He went on to serve on the City Assembly from 1969-1973.

Fadaoff described other contributions like his consulting for the U.S. Department of the Interior, his work in putting together the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, and work with the Alaska Mental Health Board.

"A lot of my friends have been calling and saying they wish they could be half the man my grandfather was," said Fadaoff's daughter, Anisia Sisikin. "The world lost a legacy."

Fadaoff said as Rogers had early aspirations in architecture, he even designed the Zach Gordon Youth Center and the family home, then a second home following a fire of the first.

She noted that he "loved the stage" and was exceptionally pleased to work in music and drama. She said he even landed a supporting role in the film "White Fang," improvising his lines on the spot and redubbing his own lines at KTOO. This brush with Hollywood landed him a spot in the Screen Actors Guild.

"While looking at all his accomplishments, I don't want to lose touch with the family man because for he and Mom, family was everything," Fadaoff said.

Rogers married Jean in 1942 in Berkley, Calif., and the two were inseparable, Fadahoff said.

Fadaoff recalled an interview on KTOO where he said, "I really wish Jean was here with me because without her I'm only half a person."

They adopted six children: Fadaoff, Shelley Thissen, Geoffrey Rogers, Gavin Rogers, Sabrina Rogers and Garth Rogers.

Fadaoff described him as a loving father and gentle soul, which is more important to her than state legacy.

"I just want to say that my father was a man of extreme kindness and dignity, and humble even on his deathbed. When I was feeding him applesauce and I would ask him if wanted another bite he would say, 'Yes, please.' And in his final days when people would visit, he would smile and greet them and ask how they were. I hope I die with such dignity," she said.

There will be a family service today, and a public Celebration of Life will be in mid-April.

• Contact Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.



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