Readers of The Gazette have been reading George Roger’s outdoors column since the paper was founded in 1999, and prior to that in the Stevens Point Journal where he had a Wisconsin Newspaper Association Hall of Fame career as a journalist and editor.
Now they can read enhanced versions of the column in “Among the Leaves: A Collection of Outdoor Essays,” which was recently published by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s (UWSP) Cornerstone Press, a publishing house run completely by students taking “Editing and Publishing” at UWSP.
A Stevens Point native, Rogers, 84, said most of the book consists of rewrites of some of best columns he has written for the two newspapers in the past 30 years. With 1,500 outdoors columns to choose from, he said it covers a variety of outdoors-related topics. “It’s not a hunting and fishing book,” he said. “It’s mostly about Wisconsin, except for a few places where I talk about climbing Mt. Fuji and going to Costa Rica. I tried to make it of broad interest. Anybody who has any interest in the outdoors I hope at least some of this will appeal to them. It covers such a wide territory. It’s about the outdoors. I tried to do something for the bird watcher, the hiker and the biker, and the nature lover.”
The man who convinced him to begin writing an outdoors column in 1982, Bill Berry, a managing editor at the Journal while Rogers was editor, also convinced him to put together the book and submit it to Cornerstone Press. “Bill Berry twisted my arm,” said Rogers. “He kept after me that I should get a book out of my columns. I sent a couple of samples to Cornerstone Press and asked if that was the kind of stuff they were interested in, and they were.”
Turning the columns into a book was rather easy for the early-rising Rogers, who often submits his column and editorials before 6 a.m. to staff at The Gazette, which he helped co-found with other former Stevens Point Journal staff members and owners following the paper’s sale to Thompson Newspapers in 1998.
“It really wasn’t that difficult since the subject matter was pretty much laid out and I knew what I was writing out ahead of time,” he said.
Rogers said his love for the outdoors began as a child when he spent a lot of time fishing in Portage County. Following high school he served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, and upon his return attended Central State Teachers College (now UWSP) and then UW-Madison where he majored in journalism, a career path paved by his father, Guy Rogers, who also served as an editor at the Stevens Point Journal.
While he didn’t graduate, opting to take a break he never returned from, Rogers landed a job at his hometown newspaper and stayed there his entire career, rising in the ranks from reporter eventually to the top editor position.
Gene Kemmeter, who worked under Rogers at the Journal and helped co-found The Gazette with him, said Rogers’ editorial and reporting skills were impressive.
“In the 1970s there was controversy over how hard it was to get in the UW-Madison Journalism School because of how difficult it was to pass the entry test,” said Kemmeter. “They gave the test to editors around the state and he was one of only two to get a perfect score.”
The outdoors was a pastime Rogers wrote about on occasion as a reporter and editor, but it wasn’t until the end of his career at the Journal that he started writing the outdoors column that is now titled “Woods & Water by George Rogers” in The Gazette.
“Bill Berry as managing editor said the newspaper needs an outdoor column,” said Rogers. “I agreed with him but didn’t know if I wanted to write it. I sort of got it by default because nobody else in the news room had enough time or the interest, so I thought I’d give it a try. I thought it would fizzle out after a while, but I’ve probably written about 1,500 outdoors columns of varying quality.”
This isn’t Rogers’ first book, though. He co-wrote “For the Love of Postcards: A Pictorial Celebration of Portage County Heritage from the Postcard College of John Anderson” with Judy Anderson. He’s also had stories included in books published by the Portage County Historical Society.
This is, however, the first, and probably only, solo book he has in him, he said. “I’m kind of like Harper Lee in that respect. Her only book was ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ This will be my only book.”
He said he has enjoyed the experience of working with students at Cornerstone Press. “They have been good people. They behaved very professionally. I don’t think I was much help to them, but I don’t think they needed much help.”
Cornerstone Press chose Rogers’ book from 29 manuscripts that were submitted earlier in the semester. Students gain editing, marketing and production experience in being involved in aspects of the publishing process. Cornerstone has published 32 other titles to date.
“I’m amazed to see how dedicated students become to the book publication project,” said Dan Dieterich, adviser of Cornerstone Press and professor of English. “They learn an enormous amount from one another about writing, editing and publishing. But perhaps the most important thing they learn is how to work as a team in a challenging and difficult entrepreneurial project.”
Rogers said he is looking forward to getting his hands on a copy of the book, which will be available to the public at a book release party Tuesday, Nov. 27, at the UWSP Dreyfus University Center from 6 to 8 p.m. where he will sign copies of it and give a short presentation.
The outdoors still holds a special place in Rogers’ heart, although he said he’s not able to do as much as he used to because of a bad ankle. His share of the proceeds from the book will be donated to the Environmental Mission Fund through the Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin. “I don’t get anything except the fun of doing it, which is alright with me,” he said.
More information about “Among the Leaves” can be found at the Cornerstone Press website at www.uwsp.edu/cornerstone, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cornerstone and on Twitter at @CornerstoneUWSP. For more information call 715-346-4342.