Remembering lifetime member Ron Rogers

Family, friends and fellow unionists paid tribute on April 15 to former OSEA president and lifetime member Ron Rogers at a memorial service in Dallas, Ore. They remembered Rogers — who passed away after a long fight with cancer on April 8, 2019, at the age of 73 — as a man of great character and generosity.

Rogers served as OSEA’s 31st president from 1994 to 1998, a critical time in the organization’s history as OSEA transitioned from an “association” of classified school employees to a full-fledged union. But, like many OSEA leaders over the years, his journey into union activism was a gradual process.

Ron Rogers, OSEA’s 31st president, is seen addressing members in a photo circa the mid-1990s. Rogers passed away last week at age 73.

OSEA’s 29th president (1990 to 1993) and fellow lifetime member Mary Slawosky was the leader of OSEA’s Tigard chapter back when Rogers joined the union in August of 1982.

“He had just sold the Dayton School Co., which he had bought from the previous owner — his father,” says Slawosky. She describes Rogers as a very shy young man back then. Nonetheless, Rogers immediately signed up for OSEA upon meeting Slawosky.

“I gave a really great sales pitch, I have to admit,” says Slawosky. “With prompting, from Mary Jane Araujo and me, he got involved in Chapter 51.”

From the beginning, Slawosky said Rogers held chapter officers accountable for their actions and how they managed the members’ funds.

“His first thought was always the members,” she said. “Soon, we had him attending Conference.”

After attending his very first Conference in Monmouth, Rogers became hooked on union activism. He traveled with Araujo, Slawosky and other Zone I chapter officers to attend executive board meetings held in chapters around the state to learn more about how state business was conducted. He later became involved in the chapter’s grievance process and, shortly after that, Rogers became president of Tigard Chapter 51.

When not involved in his union, Rogers threw himself into his job as special education bus driver for the Tigard School District, which became the Tigard-Tualatin School District in 1992.

“He loved his job driving the ‘little yellow buses,’” Slawosky said. “We were told he was so kind and careful with his charges.”

In 1994, Rogers ran from the Conference floor to become president. Due to a constitutional change made by delegates at that Conference, Rogers had the distinction of being the first OSEA president to serve for a two-year term. (Before then, presidents only served one-year terms.)

At the time, Rogers said, “My goals concerning OSEA center around classified employees receiving the recognition and support necessary to feel good about who (sic) we are and what we do.”

During Rogers’ first two-year term, the OSEA Board of Directors hired an executive director with 23 years of labor experience and helped pass a budget that funded time release and additional staff to boost OSEA’s commitment to organizing around workers’ issues.

Ed Edwards, OSEA’s Director of Government Relations since 1993, remembers that Rogers’ presidency came at a “particularly tumultuous time” in OSEA’s history. Rogers worked hard to change OSEA’s culture, which still hewed closely to its roots as an association.

“Ron was the first president to use the word ‘union’ to describe OSEA,” says Edwards. “He promoted the concept of members as owners of the union and under his leadership OSEA became more involved with the American Association of Classified School Employees (AACSE).”

After serving his second term as OSEA president, Rogers became president of AACSE from 1999 to 2000. According to Edwards, Rogers was instrumental in adding AFT to AACSE long before OSEA’s affiliation with AFT.

In 2001, Conference delegates bestowed Rogers with OSEA’s highest honor — lifetime membership status. Rogers continued his support for OSEA well into retirement, attending many of OSEA’s Conferences in recent years. He was also active in Retired Oregon School Employees (ROSE), OSEA’s retiree chapter, and the Oregon Alliance for Retired Americans.

“Ron Rogers was a committed classified employee and OSEA member,” OSEA President Tim Stoelb said upon Rogers’ passing. “From his love for country-western dancing to his passionate attention to details during Conference, he was respected and loved by many classified employees. We’re going to deeply miss him.”

In his last Journal column as president, Rogers wrote what could also be his epitaph in which he described his tenure as president as “an incredible journey.”

“Effort and attitude has long been my criteria for success,” Rogers wrote. “I have worked very hard to represent you well, but in the long run it’s your call. My only hope is at the end of the day you all know I made an honest effort to do the right thing for all the terrific members of OSEA.

“Thanks to each and every one for allowing me to take the journey of a lifetime.”

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