Valley Voices

How about naming a Fresno sports park for ‘Pop’ Rogers?

Dave “Pop” Rogers, back row, second from the right, with one of his basketball teams.
Dave “Pop” Rogers, back row, second from the right, with one of his basketball teams. Contributed by Bill Dunn

Fresno now has a park named for a human rights hero – Jaswant Singh Khalra – which honors the Sikh presence in our fair city.

City leaders voted this park to be a landmark reflective of the Sikh contributions and celebrate their shared values on justice, truth, and human rights. This surely is a great honor but how about taking a look back at our local history and honoring one of our native sons with a comparable park-naming presentation?

David Frank Rogers was born in 1897 in a small settlement called Millerton, which was about 12 miles northeast of Fresno.

David was the eldest of 10 children born to Portugese immigrants Manuel and Maria Goularte. In 1917, when the U.S. entered World War I, Dave was working as a printing pressman for Trewitt Publishing Company on Kern Street. He volunteered for the Army and spent two years in Germany fighting “the war to end all wars.”

Shortly following the end of the war, he courted and married his young sweetheart, Teresa Sousa, and immediately began building a small house on Liberty Avenue in southwest Fresno. The small house was approximately 250 square feet in size and consisted of a small kitchen with a wood-burning pot-belly stove and a small adjoining bedroom that was barely large enough to accommodate a bed.

Shortly after moving in, Teresa became pregnant with what was hoped to be the first of many children. On March 28, 1921, after some difficulty with the delivery, David F. Rogers Jr. was born. Tragically, Teresa died of unexpected complications while giving birth. David Sr., distraught over the loss of his wife, never remarried and devoted the rest of his life to raising his son and helping disadvantaged youth in the community.

David Jr. spent his childhood and most of his teen and young adult years as a regular at the Holmes Playground. Many of his spare hours were spent participating in various recreational activities, but his love of softball was his sport of choice.

Dave Jr. played on teams during the 1930s and 1940s that were sponsored or coached by his father and many times the entire league was funded solely from the print shop money earned by Dave Sr. as city funding was unavailable. Without these much needed monies, many recreational programs for Fresno’s youth would never have existed.

After his son had grown to manhood and married, David Sr. continued to put his time, money and energy into sports programs, which he had developed for the kids. In cooperation with the City Recreation Department, he originated the Dave “Pop” Rogers softball and basketball programs.

Using his meager military pension and his Social Security funds, he bought team jerseys, equipment and trophies to help supply the various leagues. The city of Fresno provided the playground leadership, umpires, ball fields and gymnasiums to facilitate the teams.

The boys who participated were 10-14 years old and were not involved in organized Babe Ruth or Spartan Baseball leagues, rather they were playing in recreational after-school leagues just for the love of the game. He would never turn a boy away and would often stretch the age limit to make certain everyone had a chance to play on a Pop’s Boys team.

Pop’s daily routine would start with a trip to the Security National Bank, where he would fill his coin purse with dimes to give to the kids he met on the street, especially the morning newspaper delivery boys.

He loved to officiate the Pop’s Boys Championship Softball games in spite of his failing reflexes and eyesight. In spite of his age-related deficiencies, Pop Rogers still possessed his ageless enthusiasm for the sport which seemed to rub off on all of the participants and spectators.

Pop died in 1972 of heart failure and pneumonia at 75. There are countless people in Fresno who participated in, or coached one of his teams, and who remembered Pop as a humble, caring, unpretentious individual who gave from his heart and his paycheck for the betterment of the youth in this community.

Why we have no park or playground named for Pop escapes me based on his invaluable contributions over the decades to Fresno’s youth community. If the city can name Figarden Park after an area in Fresno County and another park after a human rights advocate, surely a local park or playground can be named after this local hero, David “Pop” Rogers.

Bill Dunn, a native Fresnan who grew up in central Fresno, is a retired 30-year city employee who worked in parks, recreation and water departments. He participated in the Pop’s Boys sports games as a child. Connect with him about this memoir at billigafd@yahoo.com.

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