Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

WWII veteran uses art talent to help disabled people around world

World War II veteran and Bloomsday perennial Jack Rogers had a stroke in October. He’s had many setbacks but still managed to make the race (in a wheelchair) and is still giving back to the community. From his nursing home room he paints scenes from the Pacific Northwest on wooden tailgates for Personal Energy Transporters for the PET Project. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Rolling his wheelchair to his desk beneath a window, Jack Rogers picked up his pen and added deft strokes to a picture of a lone cross-country skier traversing a snowy landscape.

Rogers, 93, has always said he won’t retire. And despite suffering a series of strokes in October, he’s kept his word, though these days his desk is in a North Side care and rehabilitation facility.

Looking up from his work he smiled and said, “Old age creeps up on you.”

He has spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals and rehab facilities following the strokes, but he still participated via wheelchair in his 40th Bloomsday race. He hasn’t missed one since the race began in 1977.

A founding member of the Spokane Watercolor Society, Rogers started the art department at Spokane Falls Community College in 1963 and taught there for 26 years.

Though he retired from the college, his schedule was still packed. In October, he was teaching a private student in his home when he suffered a stroke.

The past few months have been difficult, as the always-active man chafed at the limitations forced on him by his health.

“I need to make a contribution in this world by helping others,” he said.

Thankfully, his longtime friend Joe Kramarz found a way for Rogers to do just that.

Kramarz volunteers with Inland Northwest PET Project. Since 2005, the organization has been creating and distributing Personal Energy Transporters from a hillside shop in Colbert.

A PET is a hand-pedaled vehicle made of lumber and steel. The sturdy parts and solid-core rubber wheels provide transportation in terrain that would prove difficult for traditional wheelchairs to navigate.

The PETs are sent throughout the world to those who have lost use of their legs due to injury, birth defects, land mines, polio and other causes.

The organization has grown from a half-dozen volunteers to 100, scattered across the region from British Columbia to Alaska. Now Jack Rogers is one of them.

Kramarz came up with the idea to have Rogers paint customized tailgates for the PETs.

“We used to have Northwest-themed stencils on the tailgates,” he said. “Now we have Jack’s art.”

Kramarz knows how important it is for his friend to be useful. He takes the tailgates to Rogers and picks them up when he’s done.

“Jack’s told me many times, ‘If you’re not producing and helping other people, you’re not living,’ ” he said.

From a fly fisherman casting his line in a river, to snow-capped mountains, each scene Rogers creates has the unique flavor of the Inland Northwest.

“We just shipped 140 to Guatemala,” Kramarz said. “Jack’s done about 18, now.”

Dick Carpenter, founder of Inland Northwest PET Project, is happy to count Rogers as one of the many volunteers who make up the nonprofit.

“Absolutely incredible men and women come together as a team to make this happen,” he said. “It’s astonishing to me how committed these people are.”

The motto of the organization is, “Lifting people out of the dirt into a life of dignity and hope.”

Carpenter said the PETs have the ability to instantly change lives.

“In shame-based countries people with disabilities are hidden away,” he said. “Mobility makes all the difference – it erases the shame.”

As Rogers worked on a tailgate he said, “It takes me about two to three hours to finish one. My part is small; all the other volunteers make this happen.”

In addition to working with the PET Project, Rogers is still teaching private students and is illustrating a book for an author in Los Angeles.

The book is set in the Philippines – a place Rogers knows something about. During World War II his Army unit was the first one back into Manila, after Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s famous landing.

“I’m very fortunate God gave me a talent,” he said. “I have a duty to share it.”

Rogers still has no plans to retire.

“My point is not what I’ve done,” he said, “but what I’ve done for someone else.”