R.K. Rodgers

Robert Kay Rodgers had a life so full of accomplishment and activity that it is difficult to summarize in a single "Who's Who" entry. He was born Dec. 21, 1895, three miles south of Cane Hill in Washington County. After finishing the sixth grade, he began work for his father as a city drayman, carrying deliveries to and from the Lincoln railroad depot to business houses. Rodgers learned telegraphy and held several rail station agent jobs in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.

In 1917, Rodgers volunteered for the U.S Signal Corps and was sent to New Orleans where he trained as a wireless operator and later became a wireless instructor. After World War I, his father gave him and his wife, Bessie, a fruit farm near Lincoln. He rejoined the Frisco Railroad as station agent at Arthur City, Texas.

In 1923, he won a bid for a rail agency at Bonanza and acquired some coal interests in the Jenny Lind field. Affiliated with Shell Oil, Rodgers went into the wholesale oil distribution business, building a bulk plant on Midland Boulevard. He sold it to the Louisiana Oil Refining Co. for $165,000 plus inventory.

As mentioned above, Rodgers life was a busy one so we'll only attempt to bulletpoint a few of his achievements here:

  • 1932 — Went into the taxicab business with 28 Checkered cabs at 1208 Garrison Ave.
  • 1933 — Oklahoma Gas & Electric shut down the electric trolley line that operated throughout Fort Smith, and Rodgers secured a franchise for a city bus company.
  • 1935 — Organized Checkered Transfer and Storage Co. which grew from four to 30 trucks.
  • 1936 — Returned to the coal business with lawyer G.C. Hardin, producing 1,200 tons daily and employing 400 at a Bonanza mine.
  • 1941 — Appointed to the Sebastian County Draft Board.
  • 1942 — Bought a quarter interest in the Alma Canning Co. for his wife.
  • 1945 — Purchases Fort Smith Stockyards along with partner Bert Harper. Harper was president of Arkansas-Oklahoma Gas Co.
  • 1945 — Also that year, Rodgers was named to the board of directors of Sparks Regional Medical Center.
  • 1947 — Rodgers and Morgan Wright, manager of OG&E, purchased 17 acres of the former Electric Park on Midland Boulevard for $7,500
  • 1951 — Led what became for the time the most successful fund drive for Sparks hospital.
  • 1956 — Spearheaded an effort to clear Coke Hill shanty town from the site of the first Fort Smith at Belle Point.
  • 1962 — Appointed to the Oil and Gas Commission by Gov. Orval Faubus.

In addition to his very active business career, Rodgers also made time to be involved in civic and charitable organizations. He served on the board of directors of The College of the Ozarks in Clarksville, was one of 21 trustees of the rodeo and livestock show which became a nonprofit in 1974 and was twice president of the Masonic Home Association. Rodgers served on the board of the Fort Smith Boys Club and was a director of the Boy Scouts. While volunteering with the scouts, he helped establish Camp Orr.

When he died on July 16, 1982, he was 86. Bessie Howard Rodgers predeceased him in 1981.

Source: "City Leader R.K. Rodgers Dead," Southwest Times Record, July 17, 1982, p. 1A.