Randy Rogers roamed the winding paths of Green Lawn Cemetery, his un-tucked chambray shirt flapping in the wind and the John Deere Gator he steered with one hand, lifting colorful cyclones of fallen leaves behind him.
Rogers was scorching the daylight, he knew it, and he still had two trees to plant and security cameras to get around before the afternoon sun sank below the horizon. But even if he hadn’t finished when darkness set in, it would have been OK. Because here, for him, even the night blanket brings a joyful reward.
Because if he stays quite still, he can smell the coyotes lurking here as they come out of their dens. And if he listens carefully enough, he hears the howls as they gather the others together for their night hunt. And that’s just one of the countless things that reminds her of what a special place this is entrusted to her care.
âGreen Lawn has become a part of who I am,â said Rogers, the volunteer chairman of the board of directors of the Green Lawn Cemetery Association and its only paid employee as an executive director. However, as the 54-year-old with a shrug and a smile points out, it’s only supposed to be a part-time job despite his regular 50 or 60 hours a week.
âAll the family stories here, all the family stories, reflect our city,â he said. âAnd in addition to its historical importance, it is a place to find peace, tranquility and nature. You can focus here.
Some who know Rogers call it “The Lorax of Green Lawn”, because just like the character of the same name Dr. Seuss, they say he “speaks for the trees,âIn its unwavering commitment to the preservation of nature.
Others call him the “resident saint” of the cemetery for endless work that sometimes borders on madness (they add with a kind laugh). Many see it as a treasure for its historical knowledge when he leads countless tours and his respect for those who rest here. But above all, everyone who meets him simply calls him friend.
âRandy lives and breathes in Green Lawn Cemetery. We are so lucky to have it, âsaid Lynne Jeffrey, president of the cemetery’s nonprofit fundraising branch, the Green Lawn Cemetery Foundation. “Whatever he does, he’s running at full speed.”
She recounts how, when Rogers devised the plan for the cemetery (which is an official arboretum) to invest $ 15,000 a year to plant 200 trees a year, no one ever dreamed that he would plant 75 himself. % in the last six years.
Then, her voice rising in an air of disbelief and with the art of any good storyteller, she exclaims: “And you know what?” Imagine that! I mean, he goes to Pennsylvania every year to personally buy the trees!
She keeps. âHe’s a saint. He always says, “I became Green Lawn and Green Lawn became me.”
But before anyone called him The Lorax, Rogers had another title: Over to you, retired US Army Maj. Randel L. Rogers.
A combat veteran who commanded by the Ohio University ROTC, he spent 28 years in active duty, in the reserves and in the Ohio National Guard in positions ranging from psychological operations and war on infantry and logistics.
In the late 1990s, he began to observe birds as a hobby. He even has a presentation on bird watching in Iraq.
And that’s mostly how local lawyer Warren Grody got to know him. Both avid ornithologists, Grody worked with Rogers several years ago on a project to Scioto Audubon Metropolitan Parks Project.
âThe only thing about Randy is that he’s never gonna be bored,â said Grody, also a dedicated Green Lawn volunteer. “His military background means he knows how to plan a project and get it done. He’s amazing.”
So let’s go back a bit and explain.
Before Rogers retired from the military, he bought a house on the West Side in 2012 and hung a single bird feeder in the yard. The hobby quickly became an obsession. And soon after, he discovered that Green Lawn was a bird watcher’s paradise.
Then several things got mixed up at the right time. He met his wife, Doreen, and they married in 2013 and he retired from the military in 2014 before taking a part-time ranger job at Metro Parks. Around the same time Jim McCormac – who went on to work for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and is a renowned naturalist, botanist, arborist, bird expert and nature photographer – left the board of directors of Green Lawn. He thought Rogers would make a great replacement.
And now he’s still here.
Read more:Green Lawn wants to capture the original intention of the founders
Read more:Jim McCormac talks about the majestic old trees of Green Lawn
Rogers says the cemetery combines a lot of what he loves: history, nature, conservation and preservation and being an official.
On this recent busy fall day, he started out with paperwork, registering donations and sending emails. His lunch was spent the same as every day. Exactly the same. At 11 a.m., he goes to WG Grinders on W. Broad Street where he always orders Pizza Grinders with sausage, a few chocolate chip cookies, and iced tea with four Sweet’N Lows.
He knows it sounds ridiculous but he craves order in his life. He accuses the military.
âIt’s always about getting a job done,â he laughs. “And lunch is a chore.”
But shortly after returning to the cemetery just before noon, his cell phone rang. An employee of the operating company who oversees the daily work at the cemetery was digging for a back-up drainage pipe near the New Garden Mausoleum and found the problem. Water spat out everywhere. âMaybe you should come take a look,â he told Rogers. So Rogers left.
After diagnosing the problem and figuring out the next steps, he set off in his van to check on the progress of workers installing 78 new headstones at the graves of some of the thousands of Union soldiers buried at Green Lawn.
With Green Lawn founded in 1848, more than 154,000 graves since and covering 360 acres and apparently a million projects yet to be done, Rogers gets discouraged at times.
âIt’s easy to feel like you’re on a treadmill,â he said. “But then I come across a monument, or a hundred-year-old native tree, a reminder that what we are preserving here is history one story at a time. We preserve the memory of families, it is lasting.
As for Green Lawn himself, he has his favorite spots. He likes section G, “the heart of the cemetery”. It houses the first burials and some of the oldest trees. It still features the original Christopher Columbus topography with an ice ridge as the centerpiece of the landscaping.
Yet it is not his most precious place. No, it’s called Island 10 near Cemetery Pond and Historic Hayden Mausoleum.
Here, under an old chinkapin oak and next to a newly planted baby sassafras, is the Rogers Clan’s final resting place.
Patriarch Garnett L. Rogers, a Marine who served in Vietnam, died in 2019 and is now commemorated there with a cenotaph. Eventually Randy Rogers’ mother will rest here as well, as will his brother and Doreen, and, of course, Rogers himself.
Rogers and his wife often picnic here, spreading a blanket and lying on their backs to look through the canopy of tiered trees. There they think about all that life has offered them and count their blessings.
And they think about what comes later.
âWe look and say, ‘Yes, we can live with that sight for a few thousand years,’ Rogers said with a laugh. Then later he gets serious. ‘Where you rest, where you remember of you, it matters. â
The block of granite boulders that mark the spot is coarse rather than smooth and built to last, its engraving deeply cut so it won’t fade. And on one side is a crest chosen by the family based on the old Irish folk song, “Minstrel Boy â, a song about keeping your commitment.
For Rogers, that says it all.