In my generation of journalists, nearly everyone I know was influenced by a great high school journalism teacher. Someone who lit a fire under us. Who saw some raw talent and encouraged us to develop it.
In my case, that journalism teacher was Steve Rogers.
Steve started his teaching career at Ellensburg High School after graduating from Central Washington University. He taught English and journalism classes and he also was advisor to the student newspaper and yearbook. He hadn’t been on the job long when I first met him, as a 14-year-old high school freshman. With his sense of humor and caring demeanor, he was one of those teachers everyone felt comfortable around.
At several career milestones in my life, I have thanked Steve Rogers for mentoring me. Notably, when I was named editor of the student newspaper, The Spectator, at Seattle University. And most recently, when I was honored by the Edmonds Kiwanis Club as Edmonds Citizen of the Year for 2019, for my work as founder and publisher of My Edmonds News.
Turns out, Mr. Rogers (he will always be Mr. Rogers to me) had been following my career from afar. In June, I received an email with a simple subject line: “You’re welcome.”
“I have been wanting to contact you for quite a while,” Mr. Rogers wrote. “I am honored that you mentioned me in the article about your most recent recognition by the Kiwanis. You have made this old guy proud.”
Turns out, Mr. Rogers had retired after a long career in education and is living in his home town of South Bend, Wash. I suggested lunch to catch up and two weeks ago we met halfway — Dupont, just off Interstate 5.
The last time I saw him — in 1975 — I was a senior in high school. I had decided to major in journalism in college after toying with the idea of drama (I acted in school plays throughout high school) or law. I am certain that Steve Rogers’ belief in me played a strong role in my final choice of major — and career.
Mr. Rogers is in his 70s, but when I arrived at the restaurant I recognized him — with his twinkling eyes and warm smile — immediately. We spent nearly two hours catching up on each other’s lives. He was a teacher until 1982, when he left Ellensburg to become principal of a small high school near South Bend, followed by 11 years as principal at Port Angeles High School. He then spent 17 years working as a community college admissions director, a high school English teacher, a school guidance counselor, and a consultant for an Olympia education group. He also served as a county commissioner and as member of the school board.
He and his wife Denise have two grown children, both in their 40s. His oldest, a son, is a high school English teacher.
Mr. Rogers technically retired in 2017, but I guess retired is a relative term. He serves as president of the county historical society, writing and publishing the society’s magazine. He is on several local, county, and regional boards. And he plays percussion in the Grays Harbor College Community Band in Aberdeen.
At the end of our lunch, we asked our server to take a photo to mark the occasion. And we agreed to stay in touch.
I think about Steve Rogers whenever I think about the future of journalism. It’s sad to realize that some high schools no longer have a student newspaper — the result of budget cuts and prioritization of other career paths like science and math. And from a practical standpoint, I get it. Financially, journalism is — at best — a questionable career choice, Newspapers are downsizing and closing. Layoffs continue throughout the news industry.
And yet, as I have said before, where would our democracy be without a free press? We need to encourage future journalists to continue this important work. That’s why I’m grateful for journalism teachers like Vince DeMiero at Mountlake Terrace High School, who for decades has mentored outstanding student journalists now working in the field.
It’s also why I am committed to ensuring the financial stability of My Edmonds News, MLTnews and Lynnwood Today. (Shameless plug: You can support us financially at this link.) Our communities deserve robust coverage of their governments, schools, local sports, the arts and businesses. Our students deserve recognition for their accomplishments. And our teachers deserve way more credit than we usually give them.
Until next time.
Teresa Wippel, Publisher