Richard Rogers remembers a small, run-down library filled with so many books that they had to be stacked on the basement staircase.
He keeps old catalog cards tucked inside a book about Union, a reminder of the conversion from the Dewey Decimal system to the Library of Congress and from the days of card catalogs to computerized databases.
Rogers worked as a librarian at the Emma Waters Summar Library from 1970, when the campus was located near downtown Jackson, until 1992, after the move to the current campus. He worked evenings and most Saturdays, days when he could spend time with students in the library.
“Those kids knew why they were there,” Rogers said. “They would come in and really, really work.”
Rogers helped students dig through readers’ guides and other indexes to conduct research. Hard work, however, did not stop the students from having fun, he said.
Rogers kept a blue Hot Wheels Volkswagen, one that looked just like the car he drove, on his desk in the old library.
“Once in a while it would disappear,” he said. “Well I just happened to have a second one in the drawer, so I put it out there and a day or two later the original one would come back. I never lost one.”
Students also hid his nameplate regularly, so Rogers would put out a second that he also kept in his desk.
“I’d spoil their fun, but those were the fun things that I remember about the library,” Rogers said. “The kids were good. Some of them would stop by the library, we closed at 10, and … [they] would stop by the library just before it closed and tell me they’d been praying for me. That just meant so much.”
Rogers’ office was in the basement behind a furnace. When the downstairs and upstairs heaters were turned on at the same time, the library would blow a fuse and the lights went out, he said.
The library was far different from the beautiful libraries he had previously worked at in Nashville and North Dakota, Rogers said. But he quickly grew to love “this beaten down old library” and the students who studied there.
When he first moved to Jackson, the transition was difficult, with Rogers living unhappily on Hollywood Drive. One day he noticed the dormitory next to the old library, which was not being used as a dorm. He asked the business manager if he could live there, but the manager said, “No, Richard, that’s too close to your work.”
A week later, the business manager said he could live in a different dormitory, Ellis Hall, which had an efficiency apartment on the third floor. There, Rogers lived in an apartment surrounded by 124 students.
“That was when I got happy in Jackson, was when I moved on to that little campus,” Rogers said. “There was a lot of activity around. My apartment was private, I even had a private entrance … so I didn’t have to go through the dorms to get to my room, but you’d hear kids on the catwalks. … It was noisy, and I really loved it, so I became completely happy.”
Ellis Hall was the only building Union could not sell when the school moved to North Jackson, so Rogers continued to live there after the students left. He lived there for 13 years.
The move into the current library in the Penick Academic Complex was made over the course of one week in August 1975, Rogers said. Boxes had been made for the length of each shelf. One group loaded at the old campus, one group transported the books and another group unloaded at the new library, where a broken air conditioner caused sweltering heat.
“It worked like clockwork,” Rogers said. “We knew pretty well where all the books were going to go.”
Rogers has not seen the construction for the new Union library, which is scheduled to be completed October 2015, but has seen photographs of the building. He said he does not understand why the school needs such a large, new library, but that if he walked around he might better see how it fits into the campus plan.
Being a librarian had not been Rogers’ first goal in life. Since the fifth grade, he had wanted to be a college band director, he said. He majored in instrumental music education at Peabody College in Nashville, playing flute, violin, baritone horn, clarinet and more.
But junior year, Rogers became sick with Crohn’s disease, nearly having to drop out of school.
While he did receive his degree, he was only able to teach band for one year in Montana before his health gave way. There, he taught fifth and sixth grade band for 11 schools, visiting each twice a week.
“Oh, I had the time of my life,” Rogers said. “Those kids were so great.”
Since his doctors said he was not healthy enough to continue teaching, Rogers decided to study library science.
“My dad, who was an avid reader, said ‘You have no business being a librarian. You don’t read that much,’” Rogers said.
Rogers received his masters and “fell in love with library science.”
“All in all, I’ve had a wonderful life in spite of the health problems,” Rogers said. “I’ve been truly blessed.”
But after retiring from Union, Rogers made “the most costly mistake” of his life. Distraught because of his father’s death, he stopped at a liquor store and bought a pint of vodka. He was about 62 years old.
“I was hooked,” Rogers said. “I was really hooked.”
Rogers lived with his mother until she died about two years later. When he passed out drunk, she would cover him with a blanket and put a pillow under his head, he said. At the time he also became addicted to injectable codeine.
Despite attending Alcoholics Anonymous and seeing a private addiction counselor, Rogers said he could not break free.
After eight years of addiction, a neighbor invited Rogers to visit the addiction group at Skyline Church of Christ.
“It was alcohol that brought me to Skyline,” Rogers said. “I’m not proud of what I did, but I am proud of the way they got me free. … I don’t ever think about going back.”
Rogers has been free of his addictions for seven years. Today he lives at Jackson Meadow, a senior living facility, and attends Skyline regularly.
“Just hang in there and trust God with everything you’ve got, and he’ll make a way where there seems to be no way,” Rogers said. “I found that to be true in my 77 years of living. God is so good. Never give up.”