Even now – years after Dr. William J. Rogers retired – it’s easy to assess his skill, other dentists say.
They’ve inherited some of his patients – and the fillings he did are still perfect.
“The old fillings are intact, probably 25 years-plus” afterward, said Kimberley Bolden. “He did wonderful work.”
Dr. Rogers – one of only three black students in the 1950 class at the College of Dentistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago – built a successful practice in the Lake Meadows community after he graduated in 1950.
“He had beautiful, snow-white hair. He had a commanding presence. He was kindhearted, but he was also the consummate professional,” Bolden said. “His patients adored him.”
Dr. Rogers, 90, died last month at Mercy Hospital.
He was born in Macon, Ga., where he attended Ballard Normal High School.
He and his buddies liked playing innocent tricks with a stocking they filled with stuffing. They called the game “Snake,” because that’s what it resembled.
“They would take a long stocking and stuff it and tie a long string on the end and put it across the sidewalk,” said his wife, Gertie Rogers. “They would hide and when someone would come walking, they would pull it” – and watch that person jump.
He was elected president of the senior class at his high school and also at his college, Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C. He played football there and joined the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
In World War II, he served in the U.S. Army in Italy, where he was a first lieutenant in the all-black 92nd Infantry. He worked building bridges with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Many African Americans of his era studied dentistry at historically black colleges such as Howard University and Meharry in Nashville, but William J. Rogers, who had a dentist cousin in Chicago, applied at UIC. “This was the opportunity for him,” his wife said.
He was also elected president of his dental school class, according to his wife and his granddaughter, Simone Stephenson. He worked as an instructor of pediatric dentistry at the university from 1950 to 1961.
“He was a good lecturer, and he won the prize they give every year for teaching,” said Clarence Towns, who graduated in 1942 from the UIC College of Dentistry.
Dr. Rogers co-founded the practice of Kimbrough, Rogers and Tanner at 3233 S. King Dr. “They had a very, very diverse group of patients that came to see them,” Bolden said, “from black professionals to black working-class men and women of all socioeconomic ranges.”
Clients included the future mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington, and the family of Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett.
When the dentist for Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad needed to treat him, Dr. Rogers and his associates opened their offices to them.
In 1976, he lost his first wife, Hazel, in a car accident. He married Gertie, another native of Macon, in 1981.
He and his dental partners enjoyed traveling the U.S. and the Caribbean to play golf.
He was active in the Lincoln Dental Society, the Chicago Dental Society and the Illinois Society of Pediatric Dentistry.
He was a member of the NAACP, and he helped organize a historic 1963 Chicago boycott to protest overcrowded schools. He also co—chaired a fund-raiser for the South Side Community Art Center that featured superstar soprano Leontyne Price.
Dr. Rogers also is survived by his children, Susan Rogers-Stephenson, Judy Rogers-Hayes and William Jr.; his stepchildren, Sheila Allison-Wells, Rosalyn Allison-Jacobs, Carita Allison-Weaver and James Allison III; his sister, Irma Ragland; his brother, Claude Rogers, and 11 other grandchildren and one great-grandson.
Visitation is at 10 a.m. Saturday and a memorial service is at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Congregational Church of Park Manor UCC, 7000 S. King Dr.