Thursday, May 14, 2015

Al Rogers: Bows to a Boss

     Al Rogers died this past week. He was the owner of  Rogers Hardware, a Sparta, Michigan business begun back in 1928, and still going strong today.

Al was my boss.

He didn't talk much. A tall, gangly man with dark hair, kind eyes and a slight chuckle when he heard something funny, he wore his red HWI jacket as if it was a doctor's coat. I began working for him at 15, dusting the shelves and helping local farmers find the right parts. An amazing amount of tools, bugspray, screws, bolts and plumbing parts poured out of that store over the years.
     His dad, Mel, helped out now and then. So did Al's brother Roy.
     I grew to love that dusty, cluttered place. I spent four afternoons a week there. Charley Harnish and Doug King, who worked at the local grocery store, would walk downtown with me after school, cracking jokes and laughing all the way. On summers and Saturdays I generally worked all day, washing flies off the windows, and arranging displays of wooden spoons, mixing bowls and pickling crocks.
     When the blizzards came, we stayed open, so people could buy kerosene lamps and snow shovels. (Working in the dark, adding things up on paper or an old manual machine was no joke, either.) When harvest was on, farmers would send their hired men in for parts on account. (The guys couldn't quiiiite meet my eyes as they asked for fittings with male or female ends.) We scooped up pounds of bean seed and corn kernels for rosy-faced farmers' wives, while their kids eyed the gumball machine up front. At Christmastime, we wrapped up mixers, blenders and other equipment for 'romantic' last-minute presents. (Nothing says love like a nice humidifier.)
     The work wasn't hard -- and many times, it was interesting. What it did, though, was day after day, week after week, was to fund the college training I so desperately wanted.

     And that education gave me opportunities I still use today.

I will forever be grateful to Al and his job offer to that snot-nosed 15-year-old. He didn't know it at the time, but his kindness and generosity -- repeated throughout the years, and even during college breaks -- changed my life.

Thank you, Al. Thank you so much.

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