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Life Story / Obituary
All would agree that there was no one quite like Jane McKenna Rogers. An accomplished woman with a grace all her own, Jane was a remarkable woman in so many ways. With a smile that could light up a room, and often did, Jane was a blessing in the lives around her. Her positive nature and generous soul added much to those who came to know and love her. She expelled warmth and kindness to all, and for these things and so much more, she will be dearly missed.
Born on August 23, 1925, in Detroit, Michigan, Jane was the daughter of Willard and Helen (Benkelman) McKenna. A time of rapid growth, it was the heyday of the Roaring Twenties and the nation’s can-do spirit was alive and well. Joining her older sister, Mary Helen in their family home, as a young girl Jane and her family moved to East Grand Rapids, Michigan where she spent her formative years. Having attended the local schools, Jane was an outgoing and fun-loving girl who enjoyed the friendships of many. She met her lifelong best friend, Dana Babcock Anderson at a very young age and during their youth the two were nearly inseparable. Later they even stood up in each others’ weddings.
Despite the hardships of the Great Depression, Jane’s family remained hopeful during these tumultuous times. Some of her fondest childhood memories included well-loved times at their cottage on Lake Huron in Canada near Sarnia where Jane spent most of her summers growing up. With her Uncle Jack Benkelman having been a musician, composer, and voice coach, Jane and her family created lasting memories always to be treasured participating in the musical theater with her family. During her senior year of high school, Jane and her family left Michigan, moving to Akron, Ohio where Jane went on to graduate.
During World War II, much was being done on the home front for the war effort. Spirits were high and young people everywhere flocked to local dance halls and auditoriums for nights of dancing. On Christmas night, 1943, unbeknownst to Jane at the time, she met the love of her life, Willard “Bill” Bernard Rogers at the Akron Rainbow DeMolay dance held at the Masonic Temple. At the time, Jane was dating a young man, Ralph Gibbs. The two went to the dance held in the ballroom, but some of the kids were in the barber shop playing around. Dressed in formal attire, the boys were spinning the girls around in the barber chairs when in walked Bill, and so handsome. Smitten from the start, Bill proceeded to take a cold penny and dropped it down Jane’s back. She couldn’t figure out who that character was, and when everyone returned to the ballroom, he kept “cutting-in” while Jane was dancing with Ralph. Oddly enough, Jane and Bill attended the same high school yet they didn’t know each other.
Bill often just “dropped in” at Jane’s house to visit her parents while the other kids hung out. Sometimes he simply stopped by to visit when Jane wasn’t even home. Jane began taking classes at Grove City College and Bill attended Kent State. Many of the guys enlisted to serve in World War II. When Ralph left for the service, he told their friend, Bill, “You take care of my Janie”, and indeed he did!
Remaining stateside for a time, Bill joined the U.S. Navy. While in San Diego, Jane and Bill began writing letters to each other which in time grew into a deep, abiding love. Quite a smooth talker, he romanced Jane throughout these love letters that came to be a treasured part of their history. After a two-year courtship, Bill secretly presented Jane with a ring of small diamonds and an amethyst as an engagement promise. He promised her he’d get her a better one someday, and he did. They decided to keep it quiet until they could tell Ralph. When heading back to California after a short leave, Bill’s parents and Jane took him to the train station and since no one was yet aware of their close friendship, there was no goodbye kiss. He later told Jane that a fella needs a kiss from his girl when he’s going away!
After a two-year engagement, Bill and Jane were happily married on May 16, 1947. Jane wrote a letter and finally broke the news to Ralph although he went on to marry someone else before Jane and Bill even said I do! After the birth of their second child, the conflict in Korea erupted in 1950. Bill went oversees to Korea where he served as First Leutenant in the Army and received the bronze star. Jane stayed in Ft. Benning with the two children and 22 other officers’ wives during that time. Bill was only one of two out of the 22 officers who made it home alive.
By this time, Jane and Bill began a family of their own and from 1948 to 1958 they welcomed the births of six children, Susan, Richard, Helen, Alice, Willard, and Jane. Jane loved making a good home for her family. She was involved in the lives of her children and supported their endeavors, loving them unconditionally. Now an educator, Bill had his summers free which allowed them to take in numerous camping trips. Jane received her undergrad from Grove City College in music, and she eventually attained her masters at Wayne State University in elementary teaching. Before completing her education, she taught piano lessons in her home. When she went back for her masters, all six of her children pitched in to help with household chores.
Jane loved to travel. In 1971, Bill took Jane and other family members on an unforgettable trip to London and Paris. She also loved spending a month every year at St. Augustine, Florida, and she loved entertaining, too. The holidays were always a special time with everyone gathered around the piano singing. In her free time, Jane loved working on crossword puzzles, She also loved the cooking channel and of course, Dancing with the Stars. Her kids always knew not to call when her shows were on as she’d be anxious to get off the phone.
Faith was very important to Jane. As a young girl and some of her adult life, she was active in the Christian Science church. Yet at the age of 80, Jane accepted Jesus and was baptized. Jane was very creative and was an accomplished, professional artist. She won many awards and loved being in art shows after she retired. Jane had flair and class. She carried herself well, and was always a beautiful, well groomed woman with a wonderful heart.
Jane was a woman of substance who possessed many talents. Most importantly, she was a kind and generous woman who was a loving example. With their shared heart, Jane and Bill loved working with kids as they both dedicated their lives to teaching. Jane had a wonderful, positive outlook on life, and no matter the circumstances, her glass was always half full. She also had a great sense of humor which found many enjoying her company. She lived completely and fully, savoring life along the way with those she loved by her side. After her loving husband passed, Jane moved to East Grand Rapids where she had lived for a short time as a teenager. She loved being closer to family, and over the last six months of her life she lived with her son, Richard, and his wife, Marilyn at their beautiful horse farm. She loved all the activity there and especially the view of the horses. Jane passed away quietly, surrounded by her loved ones. Gone yet never to be forgotten, the heart of Jane lives on in the memories she leaves behind.
Jane M. Rogers, age 91, of Caledonia, formerly of Troy, passed away December 8, 2016. Beloved wife of Willard for 57 years and loving mother of Susan (Robert) Hammond of Lake Forest, CA, Richard (Marilyn) of Caledonia, MI, Helen (Ed) Gray, of Huntsville, TX, Alice (Steve) Antoniotti of Portage, MI, Will (Gretchen) of Kentwood, MI, and Jane (Gilbert) Serrato of Kilauea, HI; 21 grandchildren and 47 great-grandchildren. Friends are invited to visit with Jane’s family while sharing food and refreshments on Friday, July 14, 2017, 1-4 PM at the Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes, 6080 Stadium Drive; Kalamazoo (269-375-2900). Memorials may be sent to Faith Hospice of Grand Rapids.