Former Spokane Mayor David Rodgers was remembered Saturday as a man with a fondness for his morning bowl of Wheaties, tennis and time with his family at his lake cabin.
Friends and family gathered at First Presbyterian Church to remember the mayor who is known for revitalizing downtown Spokane in advance of Expo ’74 and efforts to help create what would become Riverfront Park. And given that Rodgers encouraged Bloomsday founder Don Kardong to start his annual road race, it seemed only fitting that his memorial service be held the day before Bloomsday.
Rodgers, who was 93 when he died last month, was Spokane’s mayor from 1967 to 1978. He was the last two-term mayor until Mayor David Condon won re-election in 2015.
His youngest sister, Nancy Wilkens, said Rodgers was always full of energy and was a natural leader even as a child. “He did a lot of good things with that talent,” she said.
She recalled how he once rode his bike 28 miles to a neighboring town at age 10 and how he and his brother John would use a stopwatch to time which of them could change her diaper the fastest.
Longtime friend Jim Cowles praised Rodgers for his work in the community.
“A great deal of what we enjoy in Spokane today is because of his forward thinking and determination,” he said.
Thus, when Rodgers was approached by Kardong about Bloomsday in 1976, he could envision what the event could become, Cowles said. He encouraged Kardong to move forward and agreed to shut down city streets for the race.
“I’m proud to have known David Rodgers,” he said.
Cowles is chairman of the board of Inland Empire Paper Co., a subsidiary of Spokane-based Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.
Condon spoke about Rodgers’ mentorship after Condon decided to run for mayor.
“He was a dreamer,” Condon said. “Mayor Rodgers taught me many things.”
Condon presented a key to the city to the family and gave mayoral “Condon coins” to Rodger’s grandchildren. He noted that the coins display an outline of downtown Spokane on them. It was “the skyline that your grandfather created,” he said. “It was your grandfather that made us a city of choice.”
He also read a proclamation declaring May “Dream Big Month” in Rodgers’ honor. The city’s flags are flying at half-staff this weekend in Rodgers’ honor.
Some of Rodgers’ grandchildren shared stories about their grandfather teaching them tennis, roping them into working with him on projects at the lake cabin and forcing them to listen to his tape of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” over and over again, even in the sweltering heat of summer.
Former Mayor Sheri Barnard was in attendance Saturday to say farewell to the man she once invited up to her office in City Hall so he could look out over Riverfront Park and see his legacy.
“He was a fine gentleman,” she said.
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