Who was Dr. Rodger?
And why would a village care enough about a local doctor to name a school in his honor years before he died?
Dr. John R. Rodger and his wife Katherine drove into Bellaire in 1935 in a 10-year-old Chevy – planning to stay for one year before they would become missionaries to China. Although they never made it to China, Bellaire was truly blessed with the Rodgers’ presence for 45 years. They had three children – Mary Jean, Eleanor Jo and James Lowell Rodger. Dr. Rodger and his wife touched the lives of many and inspired them to goodness. If you ask the people who knew “Dr. John” as he was commonly known, you will hear stories of kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity, and love that he and his wife bestowed upon the community. “He was positive, nurturing, nonjudgmental, humorous, friendly, full of concern, an advocate of peace and brotherhood,” according to Loraine Anderson, a Record Eagle city editor. Dr. John was famous for sending hundreds of typewritten notes of praise and encouragement on prescription pad paper. He delivered over 2,300 babies sometimes going back into the woods with skis and snowshoes to do so. Dr. Rodger was a dedicated Christian, humanitarian, and at one time Bellaire’s only general practitioner. He was the kind of person who should live forever,” said Laura Dunson a former Antrim County clerk.
When he retired (at the age of 73) in September of 1978, over 1,000 residents, including some in wheelchairs, came to his doorstep to bid him farewell at midnight and to say thank you for his years of healing both body and soul. It was raining, bells were ringing, sirens blowing and the high school band was playing. He spoke about his last day of practice that started at 4:30AM with a house call to an elderly woman on Torch Lake. On the way back to the village of Bellaire he stopped at his brother-in-law’s cottage and watched the sunrise. “Going back into town, on the hill overlooking Bellaire,” Dr. Rodger said, “I could see the east glow of sunrise and it was like a new dawn, a new stage. Then I knew the recipe for retirement. You go back and live in the old days much as you look in a photo album. You enjoy it, have memories, but you don’t live in that album. You go forward and find joy in living.”
Dr. John lived what he believed – In God and family. He spoke out for civil rights and against war and the instruments of war. Just as Dr. John R. Rodger made a difference in the lives of so many, it is our hope to make a difference in the lives of all children who enter the elementary school that proudly bears his name. We hope to do that with kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity, and love so that in some small way Dr. John can live forever.