Monday, July 28, 2008

Ralph and Joan Rodgers

Sunday night Jenn, Fred, the kids and I visited with Joan Rodgers, wife of Ralph G. Rodgers, Jr. who passed away in 1996 after an incredible career in music and teaching in Utah. He also loved and served the Samoan people, having been the mission president there as well as being a young missionary earlier in his life. His resume is exhaustive. I will highlight a few things about this great man. Joan was definitely the wind beneath his wings and it was delightful to visit with her. She lives with most of her grown children and grandchildren in Arizona now so it was a rare opportunity. The Centerville Theater was renamed Rodgers Memorial Theater for it's founder after his death. There is no doubt he is directing the heavenly Tabernacle Choir even now. This man accomplished much in his short life. He passed away when just 60 years old.

Ralph and Joan Rodgers - photo taken at the time they served in Samoa as mission presidents.
I was privileged to have Ralph as my choir teacher in high school. My family got to know him through his work (Jenn at first in a performing arts class, later the theater). He had a hysterical sense of humor - a dry wit and as Jenn said, sometimes he was "scary." Intimidating might be a better word, but he knew how to get people to respond to him like few people do. He also had a mighty testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is one of my heroes and Joan is too!

A few notes about some of Ralph's accomplishments:
  • Young Elder missionary in Samoa (LDS Church)
  • Vocal music teacher, Granite Park Jr. High School (3 years)
  • Music director, Granite High School (6 years). He taught with passion and humor and in a way he probably couldn't today - he taught values, put his arms around struggling students and lovingly advised them. He also teased them and cried with them.
  • Married Joan Williams - six children - David, Scott, Steven, Becky, Mary & Adam.
  • Popular speaker at firesides, M-Men and Gleaner programs.
  • Played widower, Fennely Parsons in Promised Valley for many years in outdoor theater by the Temple. The play was written by Crawford Gates for the 1947 Centennial celebration of the pioneer entrance into the Salt Lake Valley. Joan played his wife and his three oldest children played their youngest. Summer performances were attended by millions of Temple Square visitors. (his wife, Joan, played small part as his new wife at the end of the show and his oldest three sons played his sons so it was a family venture)
  • Wrote play, Don't Forget to Remember and Joseph and Mary, A Love Story
  • Wrote music for LDS youth, I Feel My Savior's Love
  • Member of YMMIA General Board (LDS Program for young men)
  • Served on the General Church Music Committee & General Church Pageant Committee
  • Sang in Tabernacle Choir with his wife, Joan
  • Mission President - Samoa Apia mission at age 35
  • Director of Polynesian Cultural Center (also wrote program and had been on the board of directors for eight years prior).
  • Traveled extensively to the People's Republic of China to help them create a cultural center and training exchange program in cooperation with the Polynesian Cultural Center.
  • Performer in many musicals in the Salt Lake Valley
  • Memorable roles include Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and Charlie Brown in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
  • Manager of the Promised Valley Playhouse (theatre restored to replace the outdoor theater and to provide year-round musical performance opportunities)
  • Wrote lyrics for oratorio, Moroni, and III Nephi, Joseph, and Hear Ye Him.
  • Co-creator of Pages Lane Theater and Performing Arts School with Beverly Olsen, his sister, Margo Beecher, and his wife, Joan. (Theater was later renamed in his honor, Rodgers Memorial Theater, it was donated by the family to the Centerville Performing Arts Corporation)
  • Co-chair with wife, Joan of the Utah Statehood Centennial Gala (1/4/1996) just before his death on May 6, 1996 at the age of 60.
This man touched my life, and that of my family as well.

Click on the title of this post to read an amazing experience he had as a young missionary in Samoa which displayed Christ-like love and service given to him, who was there to serve. He told the story many times and never without crying as he told it.

He wrote a song about Joseph Smith, a tribute to mothers.

I Went Home

It was there in my home that I learned long ago
The lessons that carried me through
All the trials and strife that stood in my path
As from child to man I grew.

It was there in my home that I learned how to play,
How to work and the meaning of love.
I learned from example the power of prayer.
I grew close to my Father above.

I remember the nights with my family so close,
How we laughed, how we sang, how we prayed.
I learned from my family the lessons of life.
And I grew with my mind unafraid.

Then on that clear spring morning
I went to the grove as a youth.
I needed to have an answer.
I went in search of truth.

And after that glorious moment,
When they had talked to me,
I rose from my knees, I ran up the path,
I wanted the world to see

That the lessons I’d learned through those fourteen years
Were not meant for me alone.
I knew what to do, I knew where to go.
I went home, I went home, I went home.

By Ralph G. Rodgers, Jr.

(Based on a talk by Elder Marvin J. Ashton)

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