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Community Portrait

He’s made a lifetime of friends in Auburn

By: Michael Kirby
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Talking with Buddy Rogers is like listening to a living oral history of the Auburn area. His memory has weakened a touch from a small stroke he suffered last year, but Rogers is still sharp on most local trivia, though he’s frustrated occasionally struggling to recall a name or place. Rogers was born in 1925 on his parent’s 40-acre ranch between Auburn and Newcastle. As the youngest of eight children, Rogers did his share of ranching chores. His parents were farmers and the crops they grew put food on their table. They also sold their crops commercially. They grew plums, cherries, peaches, pears, vegetables and raised cows and pigs. Rogers went to Newcastle Elementary School and then to Placer High School. “Eight of us guys that all went to elementary school together meet for breakfast once a month, but we lost two guys this year though,” Rogers said. Born just four years before the Great Depression began, his family worked long hours on their ranch as all 10 of Rogers’ family members did their share. “My father almost lost the ranch during the Depression, but he thought he’d see if there was any gold on the ranch and he hit a pocket, and I think it paid $3,000 and he paid the ranch off,” Rogers said. “My father was a pretty handy guy, he even made his own little gold bars.” WWII interrupted Rogers’ high school experience at Placer High, and in 1943 he joined the service with his father signing permission for him before graduating high school. “I joined the Navy and I’ll be honest with you, it was the first time I was away from home and I was scared on the ship,” Rogers said. “I was afraid of losing the ship.” Rogers served on two ships — a troop transport and a landing craft. He finished his high school education when he returned home to Auburn in night school. At home after the war Rogers went to work at the Auburn Lumber Company for a few months then started a career at the Dewitt State Mental Hospital in North Auburn in 1946. Working in the laundry, Rogers ended up a supervisor working with 24 employees and 113 patients. “The patients were very good workers,” said Rogers. Rogers worked at the Dewitt Hospital until it closed in 1970. Then he finished his career at the Sonoma State Hospital. Rogers met his wife Jeanne at Placer High School, but sadly she passed away in 2002, after 59 years of marriage. “I think when I met her she was 15. We were together 63 years and married 59 years,” Rogers said. Talking with Rogers brings up many old area family names. He went to school with Gil Machado and referred customers to Ralph Roper when he first opened his jewelry store in 1956. He was buddies with Keith Lukens whose dad and uncle had Lukens Hardware on Lincoln Way across the street from the Auburn Hotel; he went to school with longtime Auburn druggist Charlie Fink. The Scott brothers were lifelong buddies; Bill Scott was the longtime Placer County Sheriff, his brother Gene sang at his wife Jeanne’s funeral. He made a lifetime of friends in Auburn and his door at the Auburn Villa Apartments is always open to old friends and neighbors for talking and sharing a cup of coffee. It’s not just people but places he also recalls. Rogers remembers when there wasn’t much town north of what is now I-80. He talks about the old Jensen Chevrolet Garage where Big O is now located. Douglas, Burns and Auburn Drug stores were all downtown. He played football at the Gold Country Fairgrounds for the Placer Hillmen and practiced on what is now LeFebvre Stadium where he watches his great-grandson Todd Villiere play peewee football. “One thing I miss about the old Auburn is that I used to know everyone,” he said.