Connie Rogers served as Gilroy mayor for the month of September in 1997

Published in the June 29 – July 12, 2016 issue of Gilroy Life

By Marty Cheek

Gilroy Historical Society President Connie Rogers stands in front of exhibits inside the local history museum located at 195 Fifth St. Photo by Marty Cheek

Longtime Gilroy resident Connie Rogers has a passion for local history. The president of the Gilroy Historical Society often takes groups on free walking tours through the downtown and other areas of the city to explore the historic buildings, cemeteries and other locations serving as reminders that Gilroy is blessed with a fascinating backstory.

“Local history has always been an interest in mine,” Rogers said. “Being from New England, people seem to be more conscious of their history — and they save their buildings! They don’t tear them down. I think in that sense, I kind of came by it from my background.”

The tours are scheduled for the first Saturday of most months from 10 a.m. to noon. The number of people who show up can vary greatly, but Rogers remains dedicated to the program. Sometimes no one comes and sometimes there are more than 20 tour takers.

Roger’s own personal history starts in Vermont where she grew up and married Jim Rogers in 1963. They met at the University of Vermont where she was earning a bachelors degree in home economics. Jim had been in the college’s ROTC program to help pay his way through school and so was sent to an Air Force base in central Washington state. Rogers wanted to put her college degree to use, so found a position as a social worker. When Jim left the service upon completing his obligations, he decided to get his teaching credentials at San Jose State University.

“We had a little red Volkswagen and a cat and very few belongings. So we put everything in the little red Volkswagen and started down the coast,” she recalled those early years. “We ended up in San Jose, which was already too big for us at 264,000 people.”

After earning his credentials, Jim found a job teaching at Brownell Elementary School and the couple moved to Gilroy in 1966. They fell in love with the farming community. As Jim spent time in the classroom, Rogers continued her career for Santa Clara County as a social worker based in San Martin. She worked there for the next 10 years.
Two boys came into their lives — Andrew and Brian — who became the darlings of the couple. Andrew now is a second grade teacher at the private Stevenson Elementary School in Carmel. Brian lives with his parents.

With the children in elementary schools in the 1970s, Rogers found herself moving into leadership positions in Gilroy. She served as the president of the Las Madres Club, followed by time as the president of the parents club at El Robles Elementary School. In the 1980s, she was appointed to the Gilroy Parks and Recreation Commission.
“I learned a lot from Bill Ayer who was the parks director at the time,” she said. “He was a very sharp man.”

Her leadership in the PRC earned her an appointment to Gilroy’s Planning Commission when another commissioner left. At her first meeting she had to decide what location to put Gilroy’s new hospital (now Saint Louise Regional).

From the Planning Commission, Rogers found her way to a seat on the Gilroy City Council when in 1993 she ran for office against nine other candidates vying for three available seats. She found it was “really a steep learning curve” deciding upon tough city business and financial issues. In 1997 Rogers served for all of September as Gilroy’s mayor when Don Gage left that position to become a county supervisor and the six remain council members took turns as “mayor of the month.”

Rogers that year ran for re-election but lost the race. Being out of office opened up the door to her spending time on her passion for local history. She soon joined the Gilroy Historical Society at the suggestion of a friend. Her leadership skills learned over the years served her well as the president of the society, a role she enjoys.

“From my background in Vermont, I learned that people in a small town know that they’re interdependent,” she said of why she stays involved. “They know that everybody has to pitch in and help to make things happen. And that is kind of where I’m coming from. My other goal is to raise the profile of local history.”