If not for that broken-down car

Fateful stop 55 years ago united donor Dyke Rogers and WT

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Dyke Rogers never made it to the beach.

That was the plan back in 1966, having just graduated from Lake Worth High School near Fort Worth. Rogers had never been out of Texas. But he had a fresh high school diploma, a 10-year-old car, $100 in his pocket, a carefree attitude, and a goal of getting to Southern California’s beaches and figuring it out from there.

College? That would be a no.

He got to Amarillo, and then his car broke down. He did have a cousin in the construction business who offered to put him to work to earn enough money for car repairs. Rogers started roofing houses – and let’s put it this way, it was no day at the beach.

“I figured pretty quickly I didn’t want to do that,” Rogers said. “My cousin said that maybe I should go to school.”

There was only one problem – and a big one. Rogers was one of three brothers in a family of modest means. The family lived on Possum Kingdom Lake. His dad ran a fishing resort and later owned a small café where he also was short order cook.

The family didn’t have electricity until Rogers was 5 years old. There were no real windows in the house – just screens with plywood that closed over them. The outhouse was in the back. In short, Rogers had no money to go to college.

It was suggested that Rogers talk with Buff Morris at West Texas State. Not only did Rogers not know who Morris was, but he’d never heard of the college in Canyon either. But there weren’t a lot of options. It was worth a shot.

Morris headed up WT’s Opportunity Plan. He asked Rogers how he did on the ACT score. Rogers asked what was the ACT?  He was told the ACT would be given a week later, and if he scored well, there would be some Pell grant and scholarship money available. Rogers, the salutatorian of his class, scored high. He got the necessary money and enrolled at WT in the fall of 1966.

“When I went home for Christmas, my mom asked me how was the beach,” he said. “I never was very good about calling home.”

‘A chance to redefine yourself’

If not for repairs needed on a blue and white 1956 Chevy 55 years ago, there’s a very good chance that Dyke Rogers never would have set foot on the WT campus, much less graduated.

He never would have been a diversified businessman in the Texas Panhandle, certainly not an influential donor, and now with his wife Terry, co-chairs of the recently announced $125 million One West campaign, the most ambitious fundraising effort in the University’s history.

It’s probably too dramatic to say WT rescued Rogers, but it did provide him the beginning of a lifetime path for someone, he jokes now, whose idea of long-term planning in 1966 was lunch.

“The one thing that was startling to me – and I’ve had this conversation a lot with young people – is you have a chance to redefine yourself in college,” Rogers said. “You can become who you want to be if you choose to. You can set out to redefine yourself if you want. College can be one of the biggest life-changers there is.”

Academics at WT came fairly easy for Rogers. He was a good test taker. He had the highest grade average every semester among his Alpha Tau Omega fraternity brothers. He supplemented what scholarship money he received with part-time jobs, everything from a Kmart department manager to working a hamburger joint in Canyon. Rogers graduated with a business degree from WT in 1970.

“One of the biggest advantages I had was I was born poor, so you have to kind of figure things out,” he said. “If, say, you go to the cafeteria on a Friday or Saturday night, there’s an awful lot of choices for dates there. They are probably not going to turn you down and you don’t have to buy them dinner.

“I had to learn how to navigate the system, how to work, have a social life and get an education that I wasn’t fully appreciating at the time. And you learn that it’s your responsibility. It’s up to you to get up in the morning, go to class, and do all the things that don’t necessarily come naturally.”

When Rogers graduated from WT, he thought he might pursue law. He did well on the LSAT test and was accepted to the University of Texas Law School. That lasted all of one day.

“I figured out that I could not go to law school and work the way I’d have to work,” he said, “so I quit. I was a UT student for one day. So I took my next course, which was to figure what I needed to do the rest of my life.”

Rogers’ reputation and career eventually became that of a diversified and successful businessman. He owns Frontier Fuel Co. and is involved in real estate development and brokerage, convenience stores, travel centers, farm and dairy operations, and, to be different, is on the board of an artificial intelligence company and is involved with risk asset management of a nuclear facility in the Middle East.

“I’d describe myself as a guy who’s easily bored,” he said. “I’m a guy who has a hard time saying no when he sees an opportunity. I can’t have an original idea, but I’ve spotted some pretty good ones.

“I’m the Cliff Clavin of business – I know just a little about a lot. I’m willing to try about anything. Risk never bothered me. I like the adventure of it. I’ve been involved in things that worked exceptionally well and some catastrophic failures. I take it all with a grain of salt.

“Frankly, I’ve lived a blessed life. A lot of opportunities have come along, and I’ve taken advantage of those as they come. I’m not someone who has laid out his life and this is how it’s going to go. In my wildest dreams it could not work out as well as it has.”

He met his future wife Terry in January 1993, a blind date set up by Dyke’s daughter Leslie. They were married in April 1994, the second marriage for each. They have homes in Dalhart and Lake Tanglewood.

WT’s impact with Terry came much later than her husband’s. She is a graduate of TCU and was a single mom of two children and school teacher in the Amarillo ISD. It was increasingly difficult to live on a teacher’s salary. A close friend had earned a master’s in education at WT. Terry thought she would try the same.

Before online classes, she went to summer school and night school to receive her master’s as was certified as a school administrator. Terry was an administrator in four elementary schools in Amarillo.

“WT was a lifeline for me, as it has been for so many,” Terry said.

Not just to give, but to invest

Dyke Rogers did not have much involvement with WT for the first 30 years after graduation. Then he was asked to be on the WT Foundation board, of which he was later president.

“I got to know the deans and a good number of professors, but mostly students,” he said. “I realized pretty quickly what a treasure WT was to this part of the world, and the difference a person could make if they choose to be a part of that.”

Ten years ago, a $1 million gift from the couple endowed the Dyke and Terry Rogers Leadership, Education and Development program. The LEAD program has graduated eight classes of scholars.

“It has been one of the absolute joys of my life,” Rogers said.

Rogers has been recognized as a distinguished alumnus and recipient of the Pinnacle Award, the highest honor of service to WT. Naming the two co-chairs of the transformative One West campaign was a logical fit.

The One West campaign is designed to fuel WT’s long-term vision, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World . Already, $80 million, or 64 percent of the goal, has been raised. It dwarfs WT’s landmark 2012 campaign that raised $53 million. The focus is on students, instructors, facilities and programs.

“It’s an opportunity not to give, but to invest,” Rogers said. “It’s an opportunity to invest in people, places and programs and move WT to another level. What I want to impress is not just the economic difference it will make in the area because it makes a lot, but the human capital it will build in this area. The stories this campaign will write are still untold.”

Stories that might even match that of Dyke Rogers.

Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at  jbeilue@wtamu.edu .

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