Tisbury's John G. Rogers Is Dead at 76; Was Best Friend to Vineyard's Animals

By PHYLLIS MERAS

John G. Rogers of Vineyard Haven, audio engineer, former Tisbury animal control officer and longtime Steamship Authority employee, died unexpectedly on Sunday at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital. He was 76.

Although he was animal control officer for only eight years - from 1976 to 1984 -  his influence on Island animal welfare was profound. Not only his successors in Vineyard Haven, but the animal control officers of other towns regularly turned to him for his wise counsel. When Barbara Prada in 1982 became Edgartown's animal control officer, "John was always there for me. He was surely our Vineyard animals' best friend."

He was renowned for the trust that animals put in him, for his knowledge of their habits; for his patience and ability at finding lost, beloved pets.

Soon after she had arrived on the Vineyard and was living near Duarte's Pond in Vineyard Haven, veterinarian Michelle Gerhard-Jasny remembers being out one evening feeding pond ducks when she heard footsteps crunching in the woods behind her. "And there was John out looking for a lost dog, and he had been walking for miles."

"He was Martha's Vineyard's St. Francis," one Vineyard animal lover commented.

For decades, long after he had ceased to be in charge of Tisbury animal welfare, Mr. Rogers continued, morning and night, winter and summer, to feed the lost or abandoned cats at the town landfill. To assure that the cats got all they needed, he also fed the raccoons and birds and skunks at the landfill, scraps from his family's table so they would leave the cat food alone. And sometimes, he would stop in at the pound to visit with the dogs and cats and to talk with the town's present animal officer, Sharon Rzemien.

"For John, just sitting talking about animals provided the same pleasure a glass of wine provides for some people," she recalls. He was also known for his unprepossessing ways and for his sense of humor. He was a devoted supporter of the Pet Adoption and Welfare Agency (P.A.W.S.), working to find homes for abandoned pets. He was tireless and fearless in his animal work, and in the icy cold the night before his death was, as usual, out with his bag of kibble for Gray Boy and Rebok, two of his favorite landfill cats, and their companions.

Tisbury firemen remember the day, too, when, well ahead of them, he had crawled out onto the Lagoon ice to rescue a dog that had fallen through into the pond. At the time of his retirement from town service, the board of selectmen wrote to him:

"Your efforts to help injured pets and other animals at any time of day or night were always energetic and sympathetic. This required understanding not only of dogs and cats and even birds, but also a capacity to calm distraught animal owners and animal lovers." To be a successful animal control officer, he told a Gazette reporter in 1981, "you've got to have a good rapport with the people. . . . Most of the time it isn't the animal that gives you the trouble, it's the people." But Mr. Rogers did always have good rapport with the people, soothing owners in the same gentle, softspoken way that he calmed their pets.

"There was something uncanny about his relationship with animals," Vineyard Haven resident Mike Zoll said. "He could get into their thinking. We had a pound dog, Bashful, who would run away a lot -  sometimes as far away as West Tisbury. John always seemed to know just where to go to find him. And he'd give you an update on how his search was going, too, so you didn't worry. He was a real animal tracker."

Amy Zoll recalls the day two loud, large dogs found their way into a car parked at the Woodland Market while the car's owner was shopping. When the owner returned, there was, clearly, no way he could safely displace the dogs that had taken over his car. But John Rogers was called and quietly, gently, urged the pair out.

"He just had a calming way about him," said Gus Ben David, director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. "You always looked forward to seeing John."

John Rogers was born in Vineyard Haven Dec. 10, 1927, a son of the late Frank and Maria (Canha) Rogers. He attended the Tisbury School and then -  too young for the Navy - joined the Merchant Marine in World War II. The ship on which he served carried supplies to South America and to Europe. Later, he enlisted in the Navy where some of his duties included work with short wave radios.

The war over, he returned to the Vineyard where he cut ice for a time with the late Walter Chaffee at Lambert's Cove. Then, in 1952, he joined the Steamship Authority. During his 20 years with the authority, he served first as an able-bodied seaman, then as a bos'n and finally as a quartermaster. From his Navy days on, electronics fascinated him and when his daughter Nancy began taking piano lessons, he recorded her playing "so she would hear her mistakes and her good points," he said. But, in reality, his family knew, it was so he could indulge in his own love of electronics.

Before long, in his spare time, he was doing amplification for town meetings and grange meetings and meetings of the League of Women Voters. He was particularly notable for the sound amplification he provided for the Fourth of July parade float designed by A'Bell Washburn of Edgartown and New York to raise money for the building of a new MSPCA shelter in 1980 and for his sound work at the agricultural fair. He recorded weddings and memorial services, Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society and Island Community Chorus concerts. He recorded James Taylor in the 1960s performing at the Mooncusser Coffee House in Oak Bluffs; Carly and Lucy Simon and movie actor and Saturday Night Live comedian Dan Ayckroyd. He amplified the sound for school plays. When his customers were in a position to pay, he accepted payment from them, but if he was doing work for a charitable organization, like as not, he would forget to send a bill. He recorded the events honoring the 95th anniversary of the West Tisbury Grange, but never billed the grange. It seemed enough for him that he had, for the first time, heard David McCullough speak at the meeting. Not only did he amplify and record, but he fine-tuned his recordings. He carried with him in his van every bit of electronic equipment he might need. "He was a real genius as a sound technician," one of his admirers said.

Mr. Rogers also offered his electronics expertise -  almost always free of charge -  to members of the older generation who had acquired videos and stereos and TVs, but really didn't understand how to make them work. When he did agree to accept payment, it was almost always in the form of a bag of cat food or a contribution toward cat food purchase.

He was married for 54 years to Patricia (Gibson) Rogers, who survives him, along with their daughter, Nancy, her husband, Eric Bates, and their daughter, Phebe, of West Tisbury; a son, James, his wife, Kathy, and their sons, Adam and Jeremie, of Vineyard Haven; a brother, George, of Vineyard Haven, and four sisters, Eleanor Luce of West Tisbury, Olga Panagakos of Acushnet, Gloria Cory and Lydia Silva of North Dartmouth, and several nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by two sisters, Mary Pombo and Alice Duncan, and three brothers, Frank, Manuel and William Rogers.

A funeral mass was held at St. Augustine's Church in Vineyard Haven on Wednesday, followed by interment with full military honors at Oak Grove Cemetery in Vineyard Haven.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory may be made to P.A.W.S. Inc., Box 1636, Edgartown, 02539, or to Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Box 434, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.