Some know Leland Rogers simply as the candy man.
“I nicknamed him that because he would always bring mints for the ushers so they could give them out to visitors in the mornings,” said Bob Avery, a friend of Rogers for 14 years. “He still brings in candy every Sunday morning even though he’s retired and out of that position.”
Rogers, 82, a Southeast Christian Church member since 1964, retired a couple of months ago after serving as an usher on the First Impressions team for 55 years.
“I don’t know how I got the job of getting the candy, probably about 30 years ago, but I started buying these candies at Dollar General,” Rogers said. “We keep the candy in the usher room closet for them to eat and so they can give them to anybody who has a cough or wants one. I still make sure the jar is full.”
Volunteering as an usher doesn’t come with a microphone or a large following, but Rogers favors being backstage.
“I like to be behind the scenes,” Rogers said. “I’m not a glory guy or whatever you would like to call it. I’m not a people person, really. I’m not too good with strangers. I would say I’m not too outgoing. I’m just me.”
“If you were trying to get a story from Leland, you wouldn’t get much because of his integrity,” added Brett Williford, who has known Rogers for 23 years. “Very seldom did I ever hear him talk about himself. He would talk about his kids and how proud he was of them, and how amazing (his wife) Martha was to put up with him.”
Rogers and his wife, Martha, who have three adult children and six grandchildren, were invited to Southeast by Martha’s coworker and never left.
“We more or less grew up with the church,” Rogers said. “Where they went, we went. What my wife and I did in the older church was help with youth groups, Sunday school groups and outings. I didn’t try to preach any sermons. I was just plain, old me.”
Rogers, who attends the Blankenbaker Campus, has quite a simple response to why he joined the usher team more than five decades ago.
“I got started because God told me I needed to do something, so I went ahead and did it,” Rogers said. “And another reason was because for a while we had a hard time getting ushers.”
Ushers at the Blankenbaker Campus open doors to the sanctuary, greet people and help them find seats. Everyone gets a job assignment when they arrive. Before they head to their positions, ushers take communion together and have someone lead a short devotional. Then, they will make sure all the doors are closed to the sanctuary when people come in and out.
Williford said Rogers has been in the thick of the tremendous growth at Southeast and all the structural changes that come with that, but it hasn’t changed him.
“Over the decades, the changes that come down the pipe are so hard to deal with, and I’ve seen so many older gentlemen who didn’t handle the change well,” Williford said. “One of the cool things about Leland was whether he agreed or disagreed, it was much more important for him to be patient, understanding, persevere and, even if he didn’t like it, to pursue harmony within our usher team.”
Rogers said he and his wife haven’t missed more than 15 to 20 worship services in 55 years of attending Southeast.
Rogers committed to waking up at 6 a.m. every Sunday to get ready, head to Southeast and lead the usher team.
“My wife got used to me not sitting in service with her,” Rogers said. “I told her, ‘Well, if I come down and sit in there with you this morning, the walls are going to crack.’”
Rogers worked for Hunt Tractor as a parts manager for 49 years until he retired in 2001.
To say the least, Rogers could be described in one word: dependable.
“I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but somebody said Bob Russell told them that I’ve been here for 55 years and haven’t heard a single sermon yet,” Rogers said. “Another guy by the name of Tom Clark told someone the only way I was going out of this church is if they carried me out in a box. I don’t know if that’s true or not either.”
Rogers’ friends describe him as compassionate, quiet, humble, gentle and soft-spoken.
“He was one of those guys that you wanted to say, ‘That’s the guy I want to be like,’” said Dwight Spurrier, who befriended Rogers two decades ago.
“The older I got, I realized watching this guy was really important, and he seemed to have it going on,” Williford said. “Whether we realize it or not, we’re logging the evidence of people’s character. That’s what I was doing with Leland. I couldn’t tell you when it dawned on me, but he was persistent, resilient and he led well. He was straight-forward, didn’t use a lot of words, but was so dependable and followed through with everything he said he would.”
“Since I’ve known him, he’s always been very dedicated, warm-hearted and has a dry sense of humor,” Avery added. “Whenever he was the lead guy, he would tell us, ‘Make sure you guys welcome people here and make them feel at home. Be friendly and make them smile.’”