Former parks and rec director Frank Rog dies


Frank Rog

file photo

Frank Rog Amphitheatre, located in Central Park in Roseville, was the first city facility to be named after a living person. The amphitheatre hosts dozens of performances each year in the park Rog called the "crown jewel of the park system."

If you or your children or friends have walked or played in any of Roseville’s 30 parks, you can give credit to Frank Rog, who was parks and recreation director from 1960 to 1987. He started with one park and a mobile recreation program and developed one of the best parks and recreation systems in the nation. He added programs such as community gardens, trails, handicap play and picnic areas, and teen programs. He promoted community involvement.

Finding land was as simple as taking a walk around town, Rog explained in a 2008 interview. “We looked at open fields, places where there were no houses,” he said. “We got most of our park land for a really, really low price.”

Rog, who also served as Roseville mayor from 1988 to 1991, died on Sept. 24 at age 83 from complications related to Parkinson’s disease.

A celebration of his life will be held Sunday, Oct. 19, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Roseville Skating Center, 2661 Civic Center Drive. The program itself will begin at 2:30 p.m.

His vision for the parks

According to his obituary, “He added to the quality of life for the people of Roseville then and now. He was (also) instrumental in the development of the Roseville Skating Center as well as a robust youth recreation program and expansive trail system.”

He developed a popular puppet wagon to entertain kids for many summers, and he started the Central Park Foundation that “raised countless amounts of money since its inception in 1964 and has been invaluable in turning Central Park into the crown jewel of the park system,” he said.

The parks and recreation programs attracted national recognition for years. Locally, Rog was honored as one of the Outstanding Young Men of Minnesota in 1965 and 1985, and he received the Distinguished Service Award from the Minnesota Recreation and Parks Association and from the Roseville Area Schools. In 2009, the city of Roseville honored him by re-naming the Central Park amphitheatre as the Frank Rog Amphitheatre.

An article in the Review in 2008 stated, “For Frank Rog, the news that the Central Park Amphitheatre will be renamed in his honor is a humbling experience because, he said his only goal during his long career with the city of Roseville was to play a role in making the park system one of the nation’s best.”

Rog said, “I’m truly honored. ... It’s something I thought might happen after I died.”

“Frank certainly will be remembered by everyone for his impact on Roseville’s parks and recreation system,” said current parks and recreation director Lonnie Brokke. “It is considered to be one of the best parks and recreation programs in the country, and that is, in a large part, due to Frank’s vision.”

“He’s always loved to provide fun for other people,” his wife, Janet said in an earlier story. “He likes to see people having fun.”

After retiring, Rog was elected mayor of Roseville. He also co-owned and operated King’s Court Racquetball Club in Roseville for a number of years.

Rich Callinan of Arden Hills used to play racquetball at Kings’s Court and said, “I have some good memories of Frank Rog there. He was a friendly guy, very likeable and sincere. He was always a strong competitor in any sport. In his younger days he was very quick with a great racquetball ‘touch’ shot. He was fun to play, hard to beat and always wanted to make a friendly wager on the outcome. In later years, we were both members of the St. Anthony Athletic Club. Frank continued to play racquetball until his health would not permit.

“The racquetball world will miss Frank very much as a racquetball club owner, racquetball ‘mover and shaker’ and as a competitor. We will all also miss him as a good friend,” he added.

Growing up poor

From Rog’s childhood, it might have been hard to predict how successful he would be. But he wanted to be a good guy and got help from teachers and coaches. He then passed it forward to the Roseville community.

In 2003, Rog published his autobiography, “Let Me Be Frank,” which detailed his adventures growing up poor, the son of Polish immigrants, in Northeast Minneapolis during the Great Depression. He wrote that he often skipped school, scrounged for pieces of coal and grain that leaked of out of railroad cars, and he climbed bridges over the Mississippi River to capture pigeons to sell as he tried to earn money for his family.

“I disliked school. I was dumb, dirty, poor, big for my age, a freak and a loner. ... I had a dreadful case of acne, due perhaps due to poor eating habits, dirty clothes and a dirty body,” Rog wrote.

He often skipped school and sneaked into the movies to watch westerns featuring Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and Tom Mix.

“Everything the good guys did was the way I wanted to be, rescuing people from the bad guys,” Rog wrote. “When I look back on those movies, I think they probably gave me an idea of what was right and what was wrong. I wanted to mimic the cowboys. I think I did, as I got older, help those who were down and out or needed a friend.”

Bigger than his classmates, he was frequently teased until he discovered he could swim, run and throw the basketball farther than anyone else. For years, he held the school record for throwing the eight-pound shot in eighth grade.

But he still felt dumb and wrote that he had the poorest and holiest clothes in school. His teachers collected money to buy him new clothes as long as he went on to high school.

So he went to Edison High School, where a teacher named Helen Curry took him under her wing, taught him manners, took him to sporting events, told him which girls not to get mixed up with and introduced him to a girl named Janet Gareis.

“On the first date I ever had with Janet, I had Helen’s Plymouth, her money, and the clothes that she had purchased for me,” Rog wrote. Eventually, Rog and Janet married, had three kids and raised them in Roseville.

At Edison, Rog won a number of athletic awards, was elected class president in 11th grade and named “best looking” in 12th grade. 

Going on to college, he played varsity football and earned a bachelor’s degree in recreational leadership from the University of Minnesota.

“Without sports, some teachers and coaches who saw hope for me, and a girlfriend who encouraged me, I wouldn’t have made it,” Rog said.

Finding success

But make it, he did.

“Frank was one of the great leaders in the development of the city -- he developed the park system, started Rosefest and got things done,” said Dean Maschka, who was a member of the Roseville City Council when Rog was mayor.

Added Roseville Mayor Dan Roe, “I didn’t know Frank terribly well; I only met him recently during my time as mayor and on the council. He always had encouraging words for me, and I’m very appreciative of that. I’ve heard lots of stories, especially of his time as the parks and rec director, and his tenacity to get things done and move things forward for the department is legendary.”

“Rog’s obituary said he bent the rules, but that was always for the good of the community,” said long-time Roseville resident Don Zibell. “When he asked for something for the Roseville parks, it was hard to say ‘no.’ He obtained more free goods and services for the park than we can imagine.”

“The amphitheatre in Central Park was named for Frank. It was the first Roseville facility named after a living person,” Zibell added.

“Frank was the complete parks and recreation director. He knew what was needed, how to do it and how to get it done. He engaged people better than anyone else I have ever seen,” said Bob Bierscheid, who worked under him and then took over as parks and recreation director after Rog retired.

Frank Rog was knowledgeable and witty with lots of history in Roseville. He continued to stay involved supporting and attending events and providing valuable background and advice along the way.

He was definitely “one of a kind,” Brokke added.

Rog is survived by Janet, his wife of 60 years, son Chris and daughters Liz and Margaret, and six grandchildren.

Pam O’Meara can be reached at pomeara@lillienews.com.

 

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