Sierra Views: Rogers and Laws have shared history

By Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat November 29, 2012 12:13 pm

Judy Laws and Bob Rogers don’t just study history. They live it.

Their latest adventure has been in leading the media campaign for the USS Iowa as the battleship made its final journey in May and June from San Francisco Bay to its new permanent home in the San Pedro district of Los Angeles. The 1939-built ship is now a museum.

 

That meant interviews with network television news crews, The Los Angeles Times and wire services.

It also meant seeing years of work reach fruition.

The pair worked for several years during the past decade to bring the Iowa to Stockton, but the effort fell through due to internal city politics. They later worked with Congresswoman Janice Hahn and the Los Angeles City Council to help the ship find a home farther south.

Being part of bringing the Iowa, which had a storied career in World War II and the Korean War, to California was “fun and satisfying,” Rogers said.

He and Laws were also two of the original members of an effort to make the USS Hornet a museum in Alameda. Their successes there included bringing astronaut Buzz Aldrin aboard for a book signing on the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 command module when it returned home from the moon in 1969.

Preserving military history is a natural progression following Rogers’ career as a U.S. Navy officer and Laws’ bloodline of Civil War, Spanish-American War and Vietnam War veterans.

“I really did the Hornet for my dad and my uncles,” Laws said.

Her great-grandfather, William McCleave, was a Civil War Army captain who also served on the frontier alongside Kit Carson. Her grandfather was in both Cuba and the Philippines during the Spanish-American War and she grew up on a series of Army bases.

“We were always surrounded by wonderful people with exciting stories to tell,” Laws said. “We’re a family of storytellers.”

With her father stationed in Washington, D.C., for a time, Laws found herself spending a lot of time at the Smithsonian Institution and National Gallery of Art.

“It was so interesting … and it had air conditioning,” she smiled.

She classified her interests in periods: Greco-Roman, the Crusades, the American pioneers.

“I was always trying to fill out the picture … the map of the world inside of my head,” Laws said.

Laws’ roots also stretch back many years in the Mother Lode.

The altar at the Church of the 49ers in Columbia is dedicated to her great-grandfather, a Presbyterian minister who first came to Jackson in 1850 from Ohio before heading south to Columbia during the following decade.

Rogers, too, has known the Lode for nearly his entire life. His family has owned property in Twain Harte since the 1930s and he spent summers there, playing piano during intermissions at the Sonora Opera Hall.

The Angels Camp couple both were born and raised in Berkeley but never knew one another growing up and went in opposite directions for college. 

Laws went to Stanford University, where she studied political science and history with an emphasis on the Far East. Rogers remained in Berkeley and earned degrees in economics, psychology and music from the University of California.

While he went into the Navy, she wanted to join the Foreign Service. After taking a federal civil service exam, she was placed into the Treasury Department and later in naval supply, working on the details of underway replenishment, she said.

Laws said she feared Treasury might be boring but quickly found herself having a blast amidst the hustle and bustle. She often made visits to the White House and Congress and wrote weekly legislative reports delivered to the president.

“You learned how to get into that big dinosaur of immovable government and find answers and get things done,” she said.

She came to know Nixon operative G. Gordon Liddy well.

“Gordon was my buddy. This wide-eyed innocent chipmunk-looking kid came in as a hard-charging DA. He was the most harmless, naive and enthusiastic guy in the world,” Laws said. “We watched him change into this hard … Wyatt Earp-type (and become a) sinister figure.”

Laws and Rogers met in 1990 in Berkeley, when he was selling real estate and she was working at a friend’s art gallery in the same office building. 

The first museum exhibit they collaborated on came in 1993 when they created a display on soap box derby racing for the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley.

Rogers raced as a child and they helped launch a nonprofit organization in Vallejo that became the Northern California All-American Soap Box Derby, which now has a wing in Tuolumne. One of Laws’ two sons from a previous marriage also raced.

“There’s a lot of science to it,” Rogers said. “It’s energy and how you get it going that fast.”

One of Rogers’ three sons, Bill, and his passion for the sport of skiing helped lead the couple into a stint overseeing the athletes’ compound for alpine skiers at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Laws said she was most impressed with the camaraderie among athletes from nations all across the world, a contrast with the “rivalries” played up in television coverage.

“We were blessed to be able to do all these things,” Rogers said. “You can go your whole life and not be able to do anything like this.”

The couple now makes their home in a town that reflects their greatest interest.

“We have this love of history and this is the birthplace of our modern California, the Mother Lode,” Rogers said.

Rogers worked from 2007 to 2010 as director of the Angels Camp Museum and the pair now work together as co-owners in Laws-Rogers Associates Museum Design Consultants.

“This is very much a partnership,” Laws said. “We just bat things back and forth.”