By Jay Ferguson, retired Louisville Water Museum Specialist
Robert Lee Rogers was 40 years old in 1963 when Louisville Water hired him as a drafting engineer, making him the company’s first Black employee “in a professional status,” according to a Courier-Journal article published at the time.
After Louisville Water published an article about Rogers in February 2019, we received messages from former CEO John Huber, who remembered Rogers as a talented engineering draftsman.
Huber said Rogers was often given the most challenging drafting assignments, and he was especially helpful to a young co-op intern. Retiree Terry Conway also recalled Rogers as being helpful and described him as quiet, very smart, and quick with compliments.
Even more light was shed on Rogers’ life this past January when his son, Robert Leslie Rogers, and granddaughter, Jan Rogers, came to Louisville Water Tower Park to talk about their family history and brought with them a treasure trove of personal materials.
The family members were kind enough to let us scan many original documents and photographs for which we are very grateful.
Some of the highlights from these materials revealed that Robert Lee Rogers graduated from Attucks High School in 1939. The school was founded in 1916 as the first Black high school in Hopkinsville.
The next year, Rogers enrolled in Kentucky State College (now known as Kentucky State University) to study agriculture.
The 20-year-old left school to join the Army in 1943. Three years later, Staff Sergeant Rogers received his Honorable Discharge from the 264th Quartermaster Bakery Company.
Rogers went back to Kentucky State to finish his degree and received his Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture in 1947.
While in college, Rogers was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated.
Then Rogers’ studies and work took him to several states around the country. After graduation, he travelled to Virginia to study horticulture and animal husbandry at the Hampton Institute (now known as Hampton University).
He taught school in Missouri until at least 1950. Later, while living with his family, who moved from Hopkinsville to Louisville, he got his Kentucky teacher’s license. In 1954, Rogers was in Boston and took at least one engineering drawing class at the Lincoln Technical Institute.
By the end of the 1950s, Rogers found his way back to Louisville, where he remained for the rest of his life. He married Eugenia Brewton in 1959 and became a stepfather to her son and daughter. In 1960 they had their own son, Robert Leslie. Robert Lee worked for the surveying firm of Peleske and Associates before joining Louisville Water.
Eugenia passed away in 1966. Robert Leslie, only six years old at the time, was separated from his brother and sister as they all went to live with other relatives, but they were able to see each other and remained close throughout their lives.
Rogers never remarried, but he became good friends with another employee at Louisville Water, Jaqueline Whiting, who was quite kind to the children and helped take care of them.
Robert Leslie said his father had a photographic memory. When they rode around town, Robert Lee would tell him about the pipelines he had drawn.
He passed away in 1979 and was buried in Eastern Cemetery.
We are grateful for the help of Jan and Robert Leslie. We now know a great deal more about Robert Lee Rogers, one of our trailblazers.