OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — The public life they led was a glamorous one.
Roy and Dale Rogers, movie and television stars, merchandising moguls, a leading Hollywood couple married in Oklahoma.
But early in their marriage, home was a quieter place where a special little girl waited.
Robin Rogers was to be the couples’ only biological child.
Born with Down Syndrome in 1950, she would die two short years later from the measles.
At the Dale Rogers Training Center now rest a few cherished family pictures, Robin’s favorite toy piano, and some painful memories that her parents transformed into an enduring legacy.
Director Connie Thrash-McGoodwin says, “Dale and Roy were the first folks to come out and really say, ‘No. This child is really a blessing to us.'”
The Dale Rogers Training Center doesn’t make awards big enough for what those parents did following the death of their child, even though the center does make a lot of trophies in one of their assembly shops.
Thrash-McGoodwin has been here for 30 years. presiding over the growth of what is now the largest vocational and employment center for people with disabilities in Oklahoma.
In 1953 a few parents, with the Rogers help, opened a small school for disabled kids.
As those children grew, so did the school.
“First it started with training,” says McGoodwin. “Then they started doing actual vocational placement.”
Instead of institutions, which were the popular choice for the mentally challenged, the kids here learned trades and independence.
The training center now helps out close to 1,300 people every year, people like Wade McGill.
“It’s easy,” he says of wrapping wires behind new frames. “It just takes a lot of training.”
Wade works in the new frame shop at the center.
It’s not much but he gets a paycheck every couple of week.
He’s doing something useful and he knows it.
“Do those wires hurt your fingers,” asks a visitor? “Nah,” he replies with bravado. “This job ain’t that bad.”
Director Connie adds. “The bottom line is that if Robin Rogers hadn’t been born and Dale hadn’t written her book (‘Angel Unaware’) then there wouldn’t be agencies like Dale Rogers around.”
It’s been 60 years since Dale Rogers put her own name on a family tragedy.
The Center celebrated on October 13th with an open house and a performance from Roy Rogers Jr., a son from Rogers first marriage.
Sixty years of helping disabled children and adults proved much bigger than any movie opening, and, in the end, more important than even an only child’s birthday.