Popular former Milford mayor Rogers dies

Former Milford Mayor Joseph R. “Ronnie” Rogers, waves to crowds with his family — wife, Ruth Rogers and son, Joey Rogers — during the Milford Community Parade, Oct. 16, 2013. Mr. Rogers died Sunday morning. (Delaware State News file photo)

MILFORD — Former Mayor Joseph “Ronnie” Rogers, who led the city for a total of three decades, passed away Sunday morning.

“He was the longest-serving mayor in the history of Delaware,” said Milford’s current Mayor Archie Campbell. “He’s been around a long time.”

Former Delaware Sen. Gary Simpson worked closely with Mr. Rogers.

“He was the embodiment of someone that could appeal to both sides of whatever aisle he was walking down,” Mr. Simpson said. “He was just generally well-liked and never created enemies.”

Gwen Guerke, a former editor at the Milford Chronicle, said that for Mr. Rogers, his position was more than a job. It was his lifestyle.

“He was always outgoing, friendly, knew everybody in town,” she said.

Ms. Guerke said he was “very involved in the community” and “was very accessible face to face.”

Mayor Campbell said he first met Mr. Rogers, who held the reins of mayor over two spans between 1982 and 2014, years ago outside the Peebles department store. He recognized Mr. Rogers because he had a vanity license plate that read, “MAYOR.”

“He helped Milford grow,” Mayor Campbell said. “He actually made it easier for (the mayors who followed him,) Bryan Shupe and myself.”

Mr. Shupe, who is now a representative in Delaware’s state House, penned a Facebook post honoring Mr. Rogers on Sunday.

“Mayor Rogers’ commitment to over 40 years of public service (as mayor and city councilman) speaks directly to his character,” Rep. Shupe said. “He truly cared for the residents of his hometown and wanted the best for Milford.”

Dave Kenton, a lifelong Milford resident and vice president of the Milford Museum, said everybody in town knew Mr. Rogers.

“He was sort of an icon for the town,” Mr. Kenton said. “What was great about Ronnie was he was a man of the people.”

Mr. Rogers, right, welcomed former Gov. Jack  Markell to Milford during an address to the Greater Milford Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 15, 2014. 

He said Mr. Rogers “was liked so much because, even though he was a Republican, he did a lot of things for everybody, and if you called Ronnie, he would get back to you and get your complaint resolved.”

Mr. Kenton described the former mayor as “an expert at constituent services. Every time that someone asked for money to do something in Milford, he did it.

“He got involved with the state senators and representatives and brought a lot of money to Milford through the Department of Transportation.”

While Mr. Kenton called Mr. Rogers a “traditional” executive who took pride in cutting ribbons and running City Council meetings, he said the man also had a “progressive” streak.

“He voted to bring Walmart to Milford. It was a very contentious situation,” he said. “The small store owners did not want Walmart to come to town, and Ronnie made the deciding vote to allow the property out where Walmart is today to be zoned for Walmart.”

While Mr. Rogers “took some grief” for this, Mr. Kenton said he ultimately “stood up and did what was right for the people.”

Mr. Simpson remembered Mr. Rogers for his work on Milford’s Riverwalk, which he said was one of the longest paths of its type in the state.

“We were able to bring several hundreds of thousands of dollars in from the state to help finance that Riverwalk construction,” the former senator said. “I think that’s the thing on which I worked closest with him, and I know that he was instrumental in getting that all started.”

In 2008, Mr. Rogers was narrowly unseated by Dan Marabello, who currently represents the 1st Ward on City Council.

“Dan was a good guy. He came from out of state and located down in Milford,” Mr. Kenton said. “He worked very hard out in the Meadows of Shawnee.”

Mr. Kenton said Mr. Marabello is a “good politician” who is still well-liked in town, but ultimately, he said the voters preferred Mr. Rogers.

“(Mr. Rogers) was embarrassed about losing the election, and he went back and won his seat,” Mr. Kenton said.

After just two years out of office, Mr. Rogers came back and served four more. He finally stepped down for good in 2014.

But Mr. Rogers and his legacy will not be forgotten soon.

“He will be missed, but his legacy will live on through the impact he has made over the years throughout our community,” Rep. Shupe said.

Ms. Guerke agreed, saying “he just epitomized Milford.”