'Make every day count': Wahpeton shows its love for longtime firefighter, broadcaster Gary Rogers
WAHPETON, N.D.—Gary Rogers loves Wahpeton. And Wahpeton loves the man people call G.R.
Rogers, a longtime Red River Valley radio broadcaster and Wahpeton volunteer firefighter, was the center of attention Monday, Aug. 7, as hundreds of people lined Main Avenue at 2 p.m. to watch a parade in his honor.
Rogers, 72, sat in the front seat of a bright yellow, modern pumper truck as a precession of fire trucks from Wahpeton, Breckenridge, Minn., and other area towns tooled down Main.
A swift-moving, terminal brain cancer has robbed Rogers of his ability to walk and it's difficult for him to speak.
But on Monday he smiled and basked in the affection of this community, waving and pointing to friends along the parade route, and even shaking a few hands when his truck stopped for lights or turns.
"Overwhelming," Rogers said. "A good day. Unbelievable."
Along the route, there were smiles and tears.
"They don't make 'em better than Gary," said Bill Mayo, a Wahpeton doctor. "I moved here in 1987 and he was on the radio constantly."
"I've known Gary and his children since his children were little," said Kim Mann. "He knows everybody. He was everybody's friend."
Rogers had been a volunteer firefighter for 38 years, only giving up his post when he hit the mandatory retirement age of 60, friends and colleagues said.
He also ruled the radio airwaves when it came to local sports, broadcasting more than 5,000 games from around the region in 53 years, including 40 years with KBMW-AM. In addition, he was a correspondent for Fargo-based KFGO radio.
"Gary? A wonderful person," said KFGO News Director Paul Jurgens. "Just a gem. We're going to miss him."
Jurgens said Rogers would even call into the newsroom from a scene of a fire that he had just finished fighting, sliding from his role as rescuer to newsman to do live reports.
"You never had to question where his heart was," said Wahpeton Assistant Fire Chief Dale Rubich. "I learned a lot from him."
On his travels, Rogers would stop at fire halls throughout the region to talk shop with fellow firefighters, Rubich said.
Two weeks ago, Rogers was at the fire hall and he "seemed perfectly fine," Rubich said. But the cancer has progressed swiftly
Rogers' longtime companion, Jane Erickson, said "he's just overwhelmed with all the support he's had."
Erickson, trying to hold back tears as Rogers was lifted into the fire truck, said she is also overwhelmed.
"It's just gone so fast," Erickson said. "I appreciate everything."
The parade started on the west end of town, rolled east down Main into Breckenridge, Minn., then made it's way back to the west side of Wahpeton, ending with a turn towards the southside fire station.
Joining the Wahpeton and Breckenridge fire trucks were fire trucks from Abercrombie, Dwight, Campbell, Lidgerwood, Wyndmere and Fairmount, two Highway Patrol vehicles, and a KBMW car.
"I'd see him walking the streets every morning. Always had a smile on his face," said Nancy Grotluschen, of Kent, Minn. "He was fun to listen to on the radio, because you'd feel like you were right there. He was so expressive. ... It's so sad. He touched a lot of lives."
At the southside fire hall, about 200 people took in the ceremonies.
An honor guard of military veterans rendered a 21-gun salute, with a bugle playing taps.
Then, Tim Medenwald, a former Wahpeton firefighter, who also worked for the Aberdeen (S.D.) Fire Department, played "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes, accompanied by a snare drum.
"You couldn't want a better friend. He'd do anything for you," Medenwald said.
After the ceremony, people lined up to visit Rogers, hold his hand, give him a hug, and say goodbye.
His words of advice for those of us he will leave behind:
"Make every day count," Rogers said.