Tag Archives: White House

Carol Rogers

July 17, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in July/August The Encounter.

Something in Jeanne Rogers broke. It fissured slowly, building and building until it exploded into one moment. That moment came in 2007 in the piano room, where she had sat side by side with her daughter, Carol Rogers, for so many years.

“At last, my love has come along/my lonely days are over/and life is like a song.” The Etta James music drifted over Carol with an ironic sort of hopelessness.

Her mother was not playing the requested song.

A look of incredulity and sorrow passed over Rogers’ face. Jeanne noticed, and her fingers stopped on the keyboard.

“Guess I’m not good for anything anymore,” Jeanne said. She walked away, shut her bedroom door, and wept.

Rogers’ heart shattered, seeing her once proud mother struggle with the music they both loved. Growing up in north Omaha, their house was a like a “nightclub 24/7.”  Music was a connection in a city filled with prejudice, and people of all races flocked to the Rogers’  home to sing, jam, and dance.

As a Central High student, 16-year-old Rogers flew to the Arctic Circle (“probably as the token black person,” she says, laughing) with the Omaha Can Do Ambassadors tour. She later studied music at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but felt she was destined to leave and do something amazing.

Four years later she auditioned for Stevie Wonder. She recorded one song, was not hired, and did not even get to meet Wonder. Depressed, desperate, and distraught, she moved back to Omaha. Rogers heard God’s voice late one night telling her to go back to California, and a week later she packed everything she owned into her Volkswagen to audition for Trini Lopez.

At least that was what she thought. It turned out to be for Brazilian jazz singer Sergio Mendes. Rogers was soon selected to be one of “Sergio’s Girls.” Disciplined and focused—she’ll sing something 100 times just to get to the right spot—Rogers picked up the mixed style with ease.

“He (Mendes) is a genius, and a genius doesn’t let things slide,” she says. “I appreciated that.”

Rogers sang around the world.

“It was my finishing school,” she says. She grew up in the limelight, learning embarrassing life lessons along the way.

Rogers greeted King Hussein of Jordan with a hair pick in her Afro. She laughed so hard she could barely perform.

She jokingly mimicked Frank Sinatra while on a Brazilian state visit at the White House during Ronald Reagan’s term. “I did it my way,” she crooned in a Sinatra parody.

“Psst—Frank. . .look,” one band member whispered.

“Old-blue-eyes has better things to do,” Rogers said. She turned, shocked to see Sinatra standing behind her. He just laughed.

At the same event, she placed her makeup bag and silver stilettos on top of an antique piano. She saw the eyes of the security guards widen and heard audible gasps from the room.

“It was Martha Washington’s piano,” she recalls. “I just felt so at home.”

Rogers called friends in Omaha from the White House but no one believed her.

“If you are calling me from jail, you better not be asking me for bail money.”—Click.

“Are you drinking?”—Click.

She had the chance to again perform in front of Stevie Wonder. Rogers felt she wasn’t worthy to touch the hem of his record sleeve, but after hearing her smooth vocals he wanted to steal her away.

She was surrounded by glitz and glam—John Travolta’s birthday party, Bruce Springsteen’s gala, even getting flown to a private island in a helicopter.

She was also a single mother, and needed at home. So after 25 years with Mendes and 12 releases, including the Grammy Award-winning Brasileiro, Rogers called it quits. She became a vocal instructor to celebrities and continued to record albums.

“She is a real pro, one of the best,” Omaha pianist-composer Chuck Marohnic believes. “I just think she’s a treasure. Omaha is lucky to have her.”

While living a dream life with the stars, she, along with her siblings, kept a close eye on her mother. Rogers didn’t want to “uproot this old tree” and move Jeanne to California. Instead, she came back to Omaha in 2013 to be near her mother, currently at Douglas County Health Center.

Now 60, Rogers has time for herself. Snow showers replaced sunny skies. Her fast-paced, action thriller life became a slow motion picture.

Her hair is a mass of silvery dreadlocks, her posture elegant, and her face still smooth. She even started dating again. Perhaps her “lonely days are over” but Rogers refuses to settle for anything less than the best.

Her jazzy tone now has a gospel-like soul to it. She takes a sip of her Bloody Mary (with a bit of “stank” in it like her grandmother taught her) and smiles. Last night at Omaha Lounge, she sang from the heart. Even though her mother brought her back to the open plains of the Midwest, music will always be the catharsis, the glue that holds everything together.

“Music,” Rogers says, “is the thing that keeps me alive.”

CarolRogers1

Roger Holthaus

January 13, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Roger Holthaus was offered a summer job in 1960 as a park ranger in Wyoming. Several days later, a second letter arrived offering him a job in the Eisenhower White House.

 

The White House job was a perfect fit. He was one year away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science and government from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.

Looking back on his time in America‘s most famous house, Holthaus says, “Security was different then. When Vice President Nixon was not there, anyone could do what I did. I would go to his office to chat and have coffee with his secretary, Rose Mary Woods.”

Washington, D.C., was filled with Nebraska natives that year. Former Nebraska Gov. Val Peterson was Federal Civil Defense Administrator. Fred Seton was Secretary of the Interior. Seton’s newspaper, the Hastings Tribune, sat down the street from the drugstore owned by Holthaus’ father.

Holthaus’ boss in the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization was Bob Gray, special assistant to President Eisenhower and a fellow Hastings High School alum.  Gray would call Holthaus and say, “Ike’s out of town. Want  to join me in the swimming pool?”

“I was the state champion swimmer in high school,” Holthaus says. The retired attorney is still a champion swimmer, traveling the country to compete  in National Senior Olympics.

Holthaus returned to the State Department in 1961 after college graduation. “That was going to be my career,” he says.

But his path took a twist when he was called up by the Selective Service.  He applied for a direct commission. Within a week, Lieutenant Holthaus was on his way to Fort Sam Houston and then to a front-line aid station in the DMZ in Korea as part of the Army Medical Service Corps.

Holthaus left the Army and earned a master’s degree in political science and government in 1966 from the University of Nebraska. He then taught political science classes at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City for three years.

After graduating with a law degree from Creighton University in 1972, he became Deputy Douglas County Attorney and later established his own law firm.

Historical buildings have been a big part of his life.  His law offices were once in the 1600 Farnam Building, built in 1916 for First National Bank. He also had a condominium there. Today his home is in the St. Joseph Tower on 10th Street, built in the 19th century as a hospital.

Although he retired in 2012, Holthaus still maintains an office in the more-than century-old Keeline building near the courthouse.  He works there representing District 2 in the Learning Community of Douglas-Sarpy Counties.  He once lived in the nearby Orpheum Towers, which is listed on the National Historic Registry.

His Carleton College roommate was Garrick Utley, who became a well-known NBC newsman. Holthaus once jokingly told his friend that he thought Maria Shriver, Utley’s co-anchor on NBC News Sunday Today, was cute and would he introduce them? Utley called back in a few days and said,  “She says if I do, I will be terminated.”

At the time, Shriver was married to Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger.