Dr. Cheryl Rogers has spent most of her life contributing to the arts in East Texas and this week she will be honored for her efforts.
Young Audiences of Northeast Texas, an organization dedicated to providing arts-in-education experiences to students, will present Dr. Rogers with its Arts in Education Award on Tuesday.
Although Dr. Rogers serves as a Tyler Junior College administrator now, she previously served as director of fine and performing arts and held numerous other positions in the music department for 35 years.
“It's been a joy to come to work all these years even when I came over to administrative work,” Dr. Rogers, 62, said. “It's still a joy to come and I think part of that is the can-do atmosphere here.”
Born and raised in Tyler, Dr. Rogers attended Bell Elementary, Moore Junior High and Robert E. Lee High School.
As a child, music was a part of her life. She started singing in the church children's choir early on, but it was her elementary school music teacher, Varina Johnson, who piqued her curiosity about music.
“She would bring in musical instruments and lead us in singing and games and whatnot,” Dr. Rogers said.
From that point on, teachers invested in her and others provided opportunities for her talents to flourish.
By junior high, she was assisting the band director as the accompanist for the choir.
In high school, a choir assignment formed the basis for starting a girls' trio that Dr. Rogers sang in for four years.
At the time, Lee choir director Phil Point required students to get into groups and perform a song.
Dr. Rogers and two other girls joined together calling themselves “The Pebbles.” The class assignment turned into a true performing group.
They sang at Rotary Club and PTA meetings along with community events such as the Gilmer Yamboree and Grand Saline Rodeo.
Their repertoire included country, pop and '40s music and they made all the arrangements themselves, Dr. Rogers said.
“We were a hot item can't you tell?” she said jokingly as she looked through a scrapbook of their performances.
Their “crowning glory” was a live television performance on the “All-American College Talent Show,” something akin to today's “American Idol.”
Because music had always been a part of her life and she was good at it, Dr. Rogers chose to continue with it in college first at TJC, then at North Texas State University, now the University Of North Texas.
After earning a bachelor's degree in music education, she went on to earn a master's degree at Stephen F. Austin State University and started her music teaching career as choir director for Kilgore Junior High School. Within three years, in 1975, she moved to TJC and has been there ever since.
Her time at the college has been marked by a couple of firsts. As a student, she performed in the first TJC musical “Oklahoma” in 1969. As a staff member, she initiated the first Christmas Madrigal Dinner with the Chamber Singers in 1980. The tradition continued through 1995.
“We had the boar's head,” she said. “We wassailed. We did everything. We transported you back into medieval England, had great fun for many, many years.”
From 1995 to 2007, she directed the Harmony and Understanding and Concert Chorus groups. Their performances took them around the world including Japan, England, Germany and Austria.
She said one of the greatest rewards of her work as an educator has been to watch students succeed in the classroom and on stage.
“(The) first year as an instructor, you are learning,” she said. “You're about one lesson ahead of the students. I found out I really loved teaching music. You really are in awe of the talent that comes through Tyler Junior College. It's really nice to think you were a part of that.”
Although Dr. Rogers gave a lot of her time and energy to TJC, she didn't stop there. Her gifts as an instructor and department chairwoman were equally matched by her contributions as a performer, civic leader and community volunteer.
And that is something that made her stand out to Young Audiences, an organization she has worked with since its inception in northeast Texas.
Amy Baskin, executive director of Young Audiences of Northeast Texas, said the organization looks to honor people who have arts education in their hearts and have demonstrated that through their work and life.
She said Young Audiences' main objective is to make sure every child has access to the arts through education or another experience.
“We look for people who have worked toward that goal and she obviously has,” Ms. Baskin said of Dr. Rogers. “She has been teaching the arts since her career began, but on top of that, she has volunteered in the community to make sure that every child — not just the ones she was teaching — had access.”