2013-08-08 / Telling It Like It Is

Telling It Like It Is

Remembering Chuck Rogers: My Mentor, Friend And Confidant
By Dara Mormile

February 2004 changed my life. I finished college in 2003 and wasn’t sure which road I would travel with my writing skills. I knew that the foundation of good reporting began at a community newspaper. Fortunately, the Canarsie Courier was located right in the community where I grew up. I had a dozen “news” clips from my college newspaper on hand in my display book when I went into the Canarsie Courier office – anxious to start my career as a freelance journalist. When Charles “Call Me Chuck” Rogers came to the front of the office and introduced himself, I had to admit, I felt a little intimidated. His tone was very official and he made it clear that he was a no-nonsense kind of editor. Even though he corrected an error on my cover letter, he was seemingly pleased at my motivation and drive to get my foot in the door. While he made his professional expectations clear and gave me an assignment right after our interview, I had no clue that, nearly 10 years later, Chuck would not only become my boss – he would become one of my best friends. He would also play the role of a long lost grandfather who told me some of the best ‘war stories’ while simultaneously teaching me the basics of journalism.

When I heard that Chuck passed away last week, I couldn’t react. I felt numb all over and slowly, my world caved in. The man who taught me everything about this business was gone? It’s fair to say that, unlike many reporters for our paper, the bond I shared with Chuck was unique. I was a young woman pursuing a journalism career – one that some may say is still dominated by men.

Chuck always had faith in me. One of the first heavy duty assignments I had was reporting on the renovations of Canarsie Park. The meeting was extremely detail-oriented and when Chuck said, “So miss...how’d it go?” (that was how he approached me the day after any meeting). When I showed him my article – and he whipped out that red pen – I knew I was in trouble! He never missed a step and when the page was bloodied with words, terms and x’s all over my sentences, I knew I had A LOT of improvements to make before I mastered the art of journalism. His long lectures on governmental, NYPD and religious rankings were among the basics he taught me, which helped build my practical knowledge. With each story I covered and reported on, he provided me with the tools necessary to go further in my writing career. Sometimes his criticism was harsh, but well received. One thing stood out about my beloved editor – he smiled, laughed and poked fun at everything while also being professional.

About a year into my reporting career – and working on staff at the office – I was officially part of the Canarsie Courier team. The more time I spent at the Canarsie Courier, the closer I grew to Chuck. Our friendship blossomed into something priceless, honest and loving – a relationship I didn’t know was possible to form with a superior! When I moved into my apartment in 2007, he came to my housewarming party and bought me an air conditioner. I will also never forget the best Christmas gift Chuck ever gave me – a slow cooker, which I still use ’til this day to make delicious chicken soup (and of course, I gave him a batch when I used the slow cooker for the first time). Sometimes I needed to go to the doctor in the middle of the day...Chuck was there (and then he wagged his finger at me and said, “Don’t do that miss!” – referring to how I shouldn’t get sick). Sometimes I needed to take a package home from the office...Chuck was there. Sometimes I needed a ride to an assignment during the day...Chuck was always there! As a matter of fact, he took offense when I turned down his offers to “take the streets” so he could give me a lift somewhere. Eventually, our personal and professional relationship fused. When my seat was in the back of the office, he would call out to me from the editorial department: “Daaaaaa- Raaa!” I can still see him leaning over his desk and taking his glasses off to look at me and then I knew that he found more typos in my articles! Other days, he would walk past my desk, to get his Diet Coke from the kitchen, pat my shoulder and say “Don’t get up!”

The banter between us was priceless – and I can honestly say that the way he wrote his columns mimicked the way he spoke. When I read his column every week, I felt like I was sitting there listening to him talk. That was the intention, I assumed. “Well whaddya know!” he would write. He also had a “helluva” time writing “Don’tcha think!” – because he wanted to give readers the sensation that he was casually sitting down with them in their living room chatting over a cup of coffee.

Who can forget his favorite – the “bang-bang shoot ‘em up” stories, which he often wrote like something out of a western from the old days. He couldn’t help himself when it came to giving a bit of humor to crime reporting. He tried to give it his own old school flavor by using terms like “criminals are taking more of a fancy to the neighborhoods” and he even coined the phrase “held up at screwdriver point.” Yes, burglaries are a serious matter, but that didn’t stop Chuck from starting one of his crime stories with, “A burglar who apparently has a penchant for a certain type of ethnic cash went on an overnight rampage...” Sometimes, I asked myself if our editor was really teaching me the art of crime reporting or if he was running out of clever ways to begin telling a story. Either way, it was part of his character, professional charm and relentless sense of humor.

I am forever grateful that he took me under his wing. In the last four years, he showed me the real ropes of “the biz,” taking me to the local precinct and – when his knees weakened and he couldn’t stand for long – he drove me to accident or crime scenes to take photos of the action. Carefully reprimanding me for not “thinking front page,” he would half squat down, camera in hands, and demonstrate how to take a picture of a fire or police lines. When Chuck’s physical condition began to deteriorate, it was up to me to chase the stories and –whether I told him or not – I sought his approval. His passion to get hard news was contagious and my appetite for action grew quickly. Simultaneously, he maintained the “grandfather-like” relationship with me, telling me stories about his successful grandchildren and then reminiscing about his wife Barbara, who passed away in 2005. I would tell him stories about my family and friends, too, and there were plenty of opportunities to chat about other personal matters in between our professional conversations.

On the other hand, many say that, while he was mild mannered, he had a hot temper and stubbornly felt that his way the right way, no matter what. He had a lot of pride in himself and often had a big head – and didn’t let anyone knock down his judgement. I’m one of the lucky people who got to know Chuck on a truly emotional and spiritual level. His heart was huge, his sarcasm added just the right amount of flavor to our office antics and his knowledge of Canarsie’s history went far beyond the textbook facts. Most of us at the office can recall his catch phrases and the old fashioned terms he whipped out on a daily basis. I can still hear him yelling “IT IS NOW POST TIME!!!” on any given Thursday afternoon when we’re getting ready to toss out papers that were returned to the office from the week before.

Chuck will be missed more than he knows and I wouldn’t be able to carry on the tradition of “keeping it local” if it wasn’t for his rich blend of humor and intelligence. Keeping his memory alive is the key to honoring a man whose legacy will never fade. And as Chuck used to say.... “That goes for your cat too!”

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