In the classroom, on the stage, or over the airwaves, retiring professor Charles Rodgers commands attention.
(Photo by Judy Watson Tracy)
If you dropped Charles Rodgers in Midtown Manhattan for a weekend, the very first thing he’d probably do is catch a cab out to the Bronx, to Yankees Stadium, rather than, say, catch a show on Broadway. Which is probably not what you’d expect, considering he’s been a theater professor for the past 50 years.
Rodgers doesn’t look like a theater professor. You could almost call him curmudgeonly, but in an affable, grandfatherly sort of way. He has no sense of flair. On a Friday morning his office, now a hollow shell of empty bookshelves, he’s wearing a red Bermuda shirt, shorts, and calf-high socks that disappear into loafers.
“We’ll make this brief and then you can go over this list and take it with you,” he instructs me. The list is a yellow sheet with the title “Charles A. Rodgers, 1969–2013,” where he’s handwritten bullet points of his accomplishments since coming on staff at Rollins: “Manager of WPRK-FM, 1969–81”; “Coach of the winning Model United Nations debate team”; “Organized the first communications department”; “Broadcast all the basketball games during the 1970s, ‘The Voice of the Rollins Tars’”; and so on.
It’s a lengthy list recalling a lengthy career. More importantly, the bullet points are reflective of his style: simple, direct, matter of fact, nothing superfluous, thank you very much.
He’s just as straightforward recounting his academic career, which he does chronologically. He double-majored in theater and rhetoric (what we’d now call communications) at Ohio State University, where he then received his master’s and doctorate degrees. After graduation, he became one of the first faculty members of the Lima branch of OSU, in a little town just south of Toledo, where he was founder and director of the Theatre Speech-Communication Program.
He came to Rollins in 1969, when the school was “half the size of this and [there were] less than 100 faculty members. It was known as the Rollins family then. Everything was smaller.”
Why did he come to Rollins? “Look outside. Also, they offered me the job.”
The job was to teach speech and help run WPRK, which at the time was, in his words, primitive. “We didn’t come on the air until 4 in the afternoon, playing exclusively classical music.”
In the early ’70s, because someone asked him to, he became the first coach of the school’s model UN team. “We beat everyone in sight,” he says. “Harvard, Yale—we cleaned up.” He also broadcast all of the school’s basketball games during that era—“I was known as the Voice of the Rollins Tars. I liked that”—and was the faculty representative to the athletic department, a position in which he helped found the Sunshine State Conference.
“I love athletics,” he says. “I was never good enough to play basketball so I broadcast the games.”
In 1975, Rodgers was asked to head up the school’s brand-new Communications Department. He hired two people, one of whom still works for Rollins. Then from 1981 to 1982, he chaired the Rollins College Theatre Arts and Speech Communication Department. He left that gig after one year because “that was enough. I don’t like administrative work.”
“Over the course of history, I’ve taught about every theater course you can teach,” he says. And over the years, he’s been given a number of the College’s highest honors: the Arthur Vining Davis Fellowship Award, for which he was nominated by students and faculty members; the Hugh F. McKean Award (“I was elected by the students,” he says. “Be sure to put that in.”); and, once, Greek Man of the Year (“What the hell that means, I don’t know. They just took me to dinner and gave me a plaque”).
Between 1983 and 2010, he acted in and directed a number of plays at the Annie Russell Theatre: Brighton Beach Memoirs, Philadelphia Story, Biloxi Blues, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Hay Fever, and The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.
After recounting his career exploits for 15 or 20 minutes, he calls out to a woman in the next room, “I should get more money, Olivia! I just realized what all I’ve done here.”
Asked why he’s retiring now, he replies simply, “I’ve been here 45 years. That’s enough. Fifty years is enough.”
Except it’s not. He’s going to keep teaching at Holt. “The day after graduation I come back the next day at 9 o’clock to teach a class. I’m not retiring. I quit my day job.”