Former Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers, July 8, 1964 – Oct. 7, 2013

Former Lt. Governor Joseph Bernard Rogers, known in the Colorado political world and elsewhere as simply “Joe,” died unexpectedly on Oct. 7 at 49 years of age. He had the distinction of being the youngest American elected as a lieutenant governor in the country, and Colorado’s second African-American to hold the post when he was elected in 1998 at age 35.

As mourners would hear at his official lying in state at the Capitol on Oct. 14 and again at his well attended funeral a day later, Rogers “exemplified a belief that all things were achievable and possible through ‘faith in the good Lord.’”

As a youngster in Nebraska, Rogers idolized his grandfather, the late Reverend Emmett T. Streeter who served as pastor of the Claire Methodist Church in Omaha for 19 years. His grandfather’s words and deeds seemed to inspire the young man, who along with his mother and two brothers, moved to Denver in 1966 after his parents’ divorce.

A Colorado State Trooper stands guard at the bier of former Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers, who laid in state at the State Capitol on Oct. 15 after his unexpected death a week earlier.

In 1975, his mother married John Terry and the family became members of Bethesda Baptist Church, under the pastoral leadership of Reverend Harrell Alexander in Commerce City. Joe loved the choir’s singing and being part of youth activities and the ministry of Reverend Alexander.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock pays his respects to family members of former Lt. Governor Joe Rogers at the State Capitol.

Rogers attended Bradley Elementary School and Kearney Junior High School. He enjoyed music and loved to play tennis. He played the trumpet and became a Drum Major while attending Adams City High School where he lettered in track, tennis, and jazz band.

Denver City Councilman Christopher Herndon (District 11) offers support to a member of Joe Rogers’ family at the State Capitol where former Lt. Governor Joe Rogers lay in state.

Rogers once said that he first became enthralled with public speaking during a high school pep rally for the football team when he told his fellow students that there were other important things in life besides football and basketball. His comments received a round of applause and groundswell of support.

As visitors pass along the line of mourners for former Lt. Governor Joe Rogers, who died unexpectedly this week at the age of 49, Juanita Rogers, his widow, appears gratified as she greets her brother-in-law Nick Peterson.

Rogers also participated in the Upward Bound Program, designed to prepare high school students for college, and this program was what changed the academic course of his young life.

The Sykes family stands in front of a photograph of former Colorado Lt. Governor Joe Rogers shown with former U.S. Secretary of Defense Colin Powell, in the rotunda of the State Capitol on Oct. 15. Mom, Vickie, and Dad, Michael Sykes, flank their sons Jonathan and James, who are godsons of Joe Rogers.

Rogers worked his way through Colorado State University, majoring in business administration, and graduated in 1986. While a student at CSU he served as the president of the Congress of Afro-American Students for two years.

Colorado Lt. Governor Joe Garcia addresses mourners of former Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers, lying in state in the Capitol on Oct. 15.
Photos by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

“Joe was a student dedicated to service and often was the leader in marches and demonstrations against social injustices such as apartheid in South Africa and issues related to financial aid and resources for students,” according to the biography which was included in the church program.

He was a big brother in the Office of Black Student Services’ Big Brother/Big Sister program and an active member of the Black Business Scholars Association.

Rogers was the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Overall Achievement Award presented by the Office of Black Student Services. He was selected as the CSU Homecoming King during the 1983-84 academic year, becoming the first African American to hold this honor.

In 1986, Rogers was selected by Business Today Magazine as one of the top 200 student leaders in the country.

Rogers earned a scholarship to attend Arizona State University Law School where he enhanced his public speaking skills. He served as president of the Black Law Students Association, was a member of the National Championship American Bar Association Negotiation Team and the Jencks Cup Closing Argument State Championship. He also won the National Bar Association’s National Negotiation Competition — a contest involving 80 U.S. law schools.

After earning his law degree, Rogers began his legal career working as a contract associate with the firm of Harris & Palumbo, followed by the firm of Snell and Wilner, and then served as an extern clerk for the United States District Court for the State of Arizona. He then went on to practice law with one of Colorado’s most prestigious law firms, Davis Graham & Stubbs from 1989-1993.

In 1993, he and his new bride Juanita, whom he met at CSU, moved to Washington, D.C. where he served as legal counsel to former Colorado U.S. Senator Hank Brown.

With his wife and infant son Trent, Rogers returned to Denver in 1996 and ran for a seat in the House of Representatives against Democrat Diana DeGette, who won her first congressional election that year.

Rogers ran for Lieutenant Governor of Colorado in 1998, and in 1999, was sworn into office.

Rogers served as chairman of the newly formed National Conference of Lieutenant Governors. He was a principal speaker at the 2000 GOP National Convention. He served on the seven-member National Commission on the Voting Rights Act.

Among his numerous awards is as a recipient of the prestigious Trumpet Award from Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting. The award is one of the nation’s highest honors bestowed in recognition of African American achievement.

Ebony magazine called Rogers a “political trailblazer.” The New York Times described him as a “young, articulate, energetic and well-prepared newcomer.” But his political career as the number two official in the state was thwarted when the state legislature passed a bill requiring that candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket.

Then-Gov. Bill Owens, who had battled his second in command over several well publcized personal and political issues in the past, instead chose Jane Norton to be his runningmate for his second term election in 2002.

Instead, Rogers ran in the newly created 7th Congressional District, but placed last out of four in the Republican primary, receiving just 13 percent of the vote. The eventual winner in the general election, Republican Bob Beauprez, was one of several dignitaries who spoke about Rogers at the funeral, joining Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, and longtime community activist Dr. Syl Morgan-Smith.

Rogers created the “Dream Alive” program in 2001 as a tribute to the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He traveled around the country delivering inspirational speeches and motivating audiences from grade school, high school, college students to corporations and various other organizations. His remarks stressed the importance and value of truly understanding the struggle of the civil rights movement of the 1960s in order to carry on the legacy of Dr. King.

Rogers found time to give back to his community as a mentor in the Adams City High School, “Reaching for the Stars Program” and a number of other activities. He was an active member of the True Light Baptist Church in Aurora.

Joe’s favorite place was Disney World, where he would try to visit yearly and was able on his last vacation a few weeks ago to take his entire family on a Disney Cruise and to Disney World.

Survivors include his loving and devoted wife of 21 years, Juanita K. Rogers; three children, Trent J. A. Rogers, Jordan K. Rogers and Haley N. Rogers, all of Aurora; his mother, Lola M. Terry of Denver, Colorado; his father, Joe L. Rogers of Omaha, Nebraska; three brothers, Christopher J. Rogers, LaTra T. (Lai NaAhtiCoa) Rogers and James E. Jones, Jr. all of Denver; his aunt/godmother, Barbara J. Scarbrough of Tuscaloosa, Alabama; aunts and uncles and a host of other relatives and many friends.