by Terry Rogers
On Sunday, August 30, former Mayor Joseph “Ronnie” Rogers passed away at his home. Mayor Rogers served the City of Milford as Mayor for more than three decades before stepping down for health reasons in 2014.
“I had a stroke in January,” Mayor Rogers said at the time of his retirement. “The doctor told me it was time to slow down, so I decided it was time to step down. This was more on doctor’s orders than anything, but will look forward to some relaxation.”
Mayor Rogers was born April 11, 1938 in Milford, the son of Joseph and Evelyn Rogers. He graduated from Milford High School in 1956 and opened a service station in the city soon after graduation. He was also a salesman for Monumental Insurance for 30 years and a member of the National Guard for six years. Mayor Rogers was a lifelong member of the Milford Elks Lodge, Milford Lions Club, Milford Jaycees and Sussex County Association of Town Mayors (SCAT) along with many other civic organizations. He was a member of the Milford Moose and served as governor of the lodge at one time. He was a lifelong member of Calvary United Methodist Church and served on the Board of Trustees
Mayor Rogers was first elected to city government in 1972 as a councilman representing the First Ward. Today, that ward is represented by Michael Boyle and Dan Marabello, who defeated Mayor Rogers as Mayor in 2008 by just seven votes. Councilman Marabello served two years and Mayor Rogers was re-elected in 2010. Prior to losing the election in 2008, Mayor Rogers was the longest serving mayor in the state, a record he still holds.
“I had the honor of serving as Mayor of Milford for one term,” Councilman Marabello said. “Mayor Rogers’ many years of public service was extraordinary and is a testament of his dedication and love of Milford. My condolences to his wife, Ruth, and extended family.”
Representative Bryan Shupe, who took over the reins as Mayor when Mayor Rogers retired in 2014, worked closely with the long-term public servant as a Councilman with Ward 1 and as he shifted into the role of leading the City.
“Mayor Rogers’ commitment to over forty years of public service speaks directly to his character,” Representative Shupe, said. “He truly cared for the residents of his hometown and wanted the best for Milford. He will be missed, but his legacy will live on through the impact he has made over the years throughout our community.”
City Clerk Terri Hudson recalled that Mayor Rogers had such a great compassion and heart for the people he represented. He was the only elected official she knew that was involved in Milford City government before Hudson was hired by the City.
“Over those decades, he will always be remembered for being so outgoing, always having a smile on his face,” Hudson said. “When you were in his company, you just felt good about it. He was known up and down the state on a first name basis with everyone, and remarkably, never forgot a person’s name. He had a keen sense of humor, something he often used to connect with people, but often to make a point in the middle of what might be a contentious Council meeting, thus softening the tone.”
Hudson recalled how one night she was working late at City Hall with then receptionist Carlene Wilson, preparing for an upcoming City Election, when an unfamiliar car pulled up in the front drive of City Hall and turned out its lights. Finding it suspicious for that time of night, and seeing more than one person in the vehicle, they contacted Milford Police Department to respond to a suspicious person complaint. Several police cars arrived and the officers, with hands on their weapons, demanded everyone exit the vehicle, only to learn it was Mayor Rogers and his coworker who had returned from an upstate event. Mayor Rogers was being dropped off at his vehicle which he had left at City Hall earlier that day.
“We did not know his vehicle was still in the parking lot,” Hudson said. “Mayor Rogers would never let us forget that, always kidding that ‘no one mess around with Terri and Carlene because they always call for backup.’ He was part of our family and I remember he and Ruth being at my wedding and later attending such milestone events as baptisms, birthdays and graduations. Once I made the move to City Hall after being appointed City Clerk in 1997, whenever Mayor Rogers spoke at any event, he always made a point of introducing me as his right hand.”
During his time in office, Mayor Rogers was proudest of the fact the City ran smoothly and was in very good financial condition. He was also pleased that the City decided against allowing Delmarva Power to take over the electric system.
“I met Mayor Rogers when I first moved here,” Mayor Archie Campbell said. “He welcomed me to Milford and told me if I ever needed anything to give him a call. I thought that was nice since I didn’t know anyone here. He did a lot for this town, helping it grow but keeping the small-town atmosphere. He was so very proud to be the Mayor of Milford. He left big shoes to fill but he made this job easier for Bryan and myself. Our condolences to his family and to the City of Milford as we have lost a man who was proud to not only be from Milford but to lead this City.”
Hudson echoed Mayor Campbell’s sentiments.
“Ronnie was just a fine public servant, a wonderful person and a caring and dear friend to Keith and I,” Hudson said. “I was devastated when I got the call from his son, Joey, to let me know that Ronnie had passed. My thoughts are with Ruth, Joey and the rest of their family who were always so close and supportive of him throughout his political career and even more so once his health began to fail.”
Former City Manager and Police Chief Richard Carmean worked closely with Mayor Rogers for more than 40 years. He stated that Mayor Rogers would probably always be known as Milford’s longest serving Mayor and that he would always be considered Mr. Milford.
“He and his wife were at every City function,” Carmean said. “But he would also be at funerals, graduations, school programs, parades, the judging of pageants, and he would be recognized by most of the people attending. He believed it was his responsibility to represent the City and to be the face of Milford. He just loved to be in the presence of people, shaking their hands, whether they were grieving, celebrating or just sitting on a stool at the Diner.”
Although the mayor saw many challenges as the leader of the city, some of the biggest challenges he faced were personal. In his first year in office, Mayor Rogers and his wife, Ruth, lost a daughter in April of that year, and in July, the same year, lost a son. He credits the citizens of Milford with getting the family through those difficult times, and today, the couple credits the support they received in the community and their faith in God for getting them through a difficult personal tragedy.
Carmean recalls that difficult period in Mayor Rogers life and says that it helped the two men build not only a professional relationship, but a personal one that changed Carmean’s life as well.
“As a young Chief of Police, I had to go to the Mayor’s home, ask him to sit down and then advise him his daughter had been killed in a motor vehicle accident,” Carmean said. “In a short ten weeks, I had to go to his home and repeat the same conversation. His youngest son had lost his life in a motorcycle accident. At his son’s funeral, he took my hand and said “Chief, I had three children, and I only have one left.” He then said, “Please don’t knock on my door unless you call first. I hope you understand.” That experience creates a connection that few people can understand. He never got over those losses, but he leaned on his wife, Ruth, and his son, Joey. Many people who knew the Mayor have passed on, but I ask all Milfordians to remember him kindly. Love and peace to his family.”
Services are planned in the sanctuary of Lighthouse Christian Center at 347 Calvary Road on Wednesday, September 9. Friends may call after 10 AM at the church with a formal viewing starting at Noon and a funeral service at 1 PM. Interment will be private. The family asks that all those who attend wear masks and that they adhere to social distancing and gathering protocols. Flowers are accepted or the family requests donations to Delaware Hospice Center, 100 Patriots Way, Milford, Delaware 19963 in Mayor Rogers’ name.
In honor of Mayor Rogers’ service, Governor John Carney ordered flags in Delaware flown at half-mast on Wednesday, September 9.