In the sunny city that brought spring training to Florida, Willie N. Rogers is a bit of a local celebrity.
He holds keys to the city, county, and nearby Lakeland, Florida; his birthday parties draw crowds, including politicians; and his portrait hangs in St. Pete’s Museum of History.
Out of a sense of reverence, everyone – young and old alike – addresses him as “Mister Rogers.” Yet the demurring hometown hero insists he’s no one special.
“My granddaddy on my daddy’s side, he always taught me and [my brother] Roy … ‘Ain’t nobody no better than you, and you ain’t no better than nobody else,'” he said.
Still Going Strong
The truth is few have lived a life as remarkable as Mr. Rogers. In fact, few have lived as long. He was shocked in early March when friends and family threw him a surprise party to celebrate his 101st birthday.
“I didn’t have the least idea,” he told CBN News. “I just thought I was going to Mulberry to see my sister!”
Longevity runs in the family. His youngest and only surviving sibling, Gertrude Glover, is 92.
Age doesn’t seem to be slowing down the “super senior.” He lives on his own, keeps his mind sharp with daily Bible readings, and still manages to get around pretty well – with the aid of a cane.
Just about every week, Mr. Rogers walks 1.5 blocks from his apartment to the historic Bethel A.M.E. Church, where he has been a member nearly as long as his 70-plus-year residency in St. Petersburg. Fittingly, it just so happens to be the city’s oldest African-American congregation – now synonymous with its eldest member.
The new pastor, the Rev. Kenneth F. Irby, recalls a conversation he had with a mentor upon learning that he was taking a post at Bethel A.M.E. Church.
“She said, ‘Oh, that church! That church: Mr. Rogers go to that church!'” Rev. Irby recalled.
Born on March 4, 1915, nearly a year into World War I, Mr. Rogers’ birth predates the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote by six years. Back then, America’s population, slightly above 100 million people, was about a third of what it is today.
Adventures as a Tuskegee Airman
While Mr. Rogers has seen a lot of change in his time, he has also helped to bring change.
In 1942, shortly after graduating from college, he was drafted into the Army and then transferred to the Air Force before ultimately being deployed to fight overseas in World War II.
Mr. Rogers served his country as part of the famous segregated military unit called the Tuskegee Airmen. Cornered by enemy fire on a mission in Italy, he thought he wouldn’t survive to see past his 27th birthday at the time.
“I said we’re going to get killed anyway,'” Rogers recalled. “I ain’t gonna die no coward. I’m coming out of here.”
Rogers managed to escape, but not without getting shot in the stomach by German soldiers.
“I was in the hospital at the 63rd General Hospital in London, England, for about three months,” he said.
Click here for more.
SOURCE: CBN News