Bruce Rogers

Bruce Rogers

Topeka - Bruce Logan Rogers was born September 4, 1934, in Topeka, Kansas, the son of John Logan Rogers and Myrtle Elizabeth Schwanbeck. He shed this life June 10, 2021, while living in Wind Crest Senior Living in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. He grew up in Quenemo, Kansas, graduating from Quenemo High School in 1952, and going on for Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Kansas, Lawrence.

His work life began with the notorious Flood of 1951, which decimated the railroad beds in so many areas of the country. Although only age sixteen at the time, he was able to get a job on the section gang for the Santa Fe Railroad in the Quenemo region, where his father's cousin was foreman and in dire need of help to quickly repair and rebuild those beds. A painful experience for a young boy, he proved his merit and went to work on the railroad for the next three summers while he was in college.

Bruce married his childhood sweetheart, Veda Driver, in 1956 and the couple began marriage in the town of Winchester, Kansas, where Bruce had obtained the position of Music Instructor for all twelve grades, Instrumental and Vocal. Having completed four years of ROTC training at KU, Bruce was inducted into the US Air Force in June 1957 and the couple spent three years active duty with Bruce in Navigator training in Harlingen, Texas and then, as Navigator aboard KC-97's in Plattsburgh, NY, for air refueling the B-47 aircraft.

Following his term in active duty he and Veda returned to Kansas where he became High School Vocal Music Instructor in Junction City and then, the Winfield, Kansas public schools.

He also joined an active Air Force Reserve unit at Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base in Kansas City, Missouri, where he served ten years as Navigator on C-124's, flying many supply missions all over the world during the Vietnam War.

In Junction City, Bruce served on the board of directors for the Junction City Little Theater and was also active in the theater as Director and Conductor.

When the couple moved to Winfield, Kansas in 1966, Bruce helped organize the Winfield Community Theater and directed their first show, Guys and Dolls, in 1967 and then, many shows over the following years.

In 1969, the couple joined forces with Veda's brother, Richard and Ruth Driver to create Vassar Playhouse at Vassar, Kansas near Pomona Lake. They purchased a small farm with a rock house and barn and opened their summer theater June 18, 1970, attracting audiences from mostly eastern Kansas – Ottawa, Emporia, Olathe, Lawrence, Topeka and surrounding localities. The Driver couple left the partnership after three years, and in 1974 Bruce and Veda purchased a steamboat that offered cruises on Lake Pomona and they added a second theater venue, The Whippoorwill Showboat which offered a dinner, show and cruise on the lake. It was still a summer venture with the couple returning to Winfield and their teaching positions each fall and back again in the summer.

They decided in 1978 to add another venue – a train to be renovated into vintage era passenger cars and offer a restaurant of fine dining for their Vassar Playhouse patrons. They resigned their teaching jobs in Winfield and moved to Vassar to live full time, with the plan to do the renovation of their retired passenger cars over 1978 and then, open the spring of 1979. They hired a contractor to build the railroad bed and set the tracks around the barn. Since Vassar was located on the main line of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, they searched and purchased their passenger cars from the railroad yards in Sedalia, Missouri.

By June 1978 the project was well underway when on June 17,1978 the Whippoorwill had just departed its moors for dinner and show when it was struck by a small tornado. The boat overturned and there was loss of life. Certainly, they considered scrapping the entire venture, but Bruce had a real "Hell! We can do that!" attitude and the couple forged ahead to create their Vassar Shortline. They ran into an even greater roadblock in November 1978 when their older daughter, Kathryn, died suddenly following a brief unknown illness. That event definitely slowed them down, but then, life does go on and they found that work can be a solace in itself.

The Vassar Shortline opened on Easter weekend 1979, and life did continue with dinners and shows at the Vassar Playhouse. They also established the Kathryn Rogers Foundation for Artists in memory of their daughter in 1980 and hired a company of actors to offer plays and musicals in other area venues as a means for crafting their talents. They played a winter season at the Vassar Community Center, and two winters in the Osage City Opera House before taking a company of actors into Kansas City to create Theatreworks in mid-town KC. They then played one more summer season at Vassar Playhouse in 1985 before closing the theater. As Bruce put it, "I'm going to Kansas City to get a real job!"

His real job for two years was as baker for Café Allegro, a popular fine dining restaurant on 39th Street. In 1988 he found the position as Exhibits Manager for the Kansas City Museum and it was there he worked for the next almost thirteen years until his retirement in 2000.

Following retirement he turned the couple's historic residence in Northeast Kansas City into a homestay Bed and Breakfast, Gladstone Manor, and the couple ran that until their move to Colorado and Wind Crest Senior Living in April 2015.

Bruce was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 2012. He leaves as survivors his wife, Veda, his daughter, Maggie Hick (John) of Littleton, Colorado, a son Christopher of Winfield, Kansas, a French AFS Student Exchange daughter, Chantal Gilbert (Andre), twin grandsons, Logan and Bolton Hick, two French grandchildren, Raphael Gilbert (Vivian) and Mathilde d'Aubigny (Armand), four French great-grandchildren and a host of Vassar Players, audience, relatives and friends.

Bruce and Veda were inducted into the AKT Kansas Theatre Hall of Fame in 1986. The Vassar Playhouse collection will be housed at the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka and will be available to future theatre historians interested in 20th century theatre in Kansas.

A true Renaissance Man, Bruce reinvented himself many times over his lifetime, touching countless of lives. This will continue even after death by the donation of his body for scientific purposes at the University of Colorado. There will be no memorial service at this time, but memorial contributions may be offered to the Kathryn Rogers Memorial Scholarship at Southwestern College, 100 N College, Winfield, KS 67156.

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Posted online on June 15, 2021