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AZ historian, ‘Times Past’ writer passes away

W. LAne Rogers, 1944-2009.

W. Lane Rogers, 1944-2009.

Williams Lane Rogers was born Dec. 29, 1944, in Salt Lake City. The 30-year Arizona resident chose to go by “Lane” because there was already a somewhat-famous “Will” Rogers in the world.

Rogers, who died July 30 at the age of 64, would leave his own lasting impression on those who knew him, starting with a 23-year-old girl responding to a job ad in 1977.

“We looked at each other and it was, literally, I kid you not, like time stopped for a second like in the movies,” recalls Patricia Rogers, his wife of more than 30 years. “With him it was, literally, love at first sight.” She would repeat the same sentiment four times.

The couple married the following year, on Sept. 27, 1978. “We were the loves of each others’ lives,” says Patricia.

She also remembers the other love of his life – primary-source historical research.

Rogers was a tireless researcher who would often work for hours upon end. “I don’t know how he could sit in a chair at his desk and work from four o’clock in the morning until eight o’clock at night,” says Patricia. “You’d have to remind him to eat.”

It was dedication and attention to detail – he wrote more than 900 articles for Arizona newspapers – that made Rogers a prolific and respected researcher, writer and speaker. “He was adamant about getting it right,” says Patricia. “He would often catch an error that got carried from one publication to the next. There were times when he would shoot off a letter.”

Bob Nilson, whose job in the tourism department with the city of Benson kept him right across the street from Lane and Patricia’s house for many years, recalls spending Sunday afternoons talking Benson and Arizona history with the respected historian.

“He would never write anything without footnoting a reliable source,” says Nilson. “You can be sure anything he wrote was factually correct.”

Nilson says Rogers was working on a book about Benson, and had “twelve three-inch thick binders” with information on the town from the 1880s to the 1950s.

“He had to have every detail correct before he could write the book,” says Nilson. “He had a big yellow legal pad he used to write on, and would cross out and rewrite sections every time he came across updated information. I guess that’s why he never finished his Benson book.”

Rogers, who has published three books, also has two more on the horizon: “The California Snatch Racket” which is about kidnapping, and “Serious Mischief: Crimes in California History,” which were co- authored with historian James R. Smith.

While his research and writing consumed a large part of his life, he also found time to care for his beloved dogs, which the couple had ice cream with every night at 8:30 p.m., although the dogs only got a tiny bit, assures Patricia.

Rogers also continually worked on the couple’s historic redwood house, which was built in 1880 by the Southern Pacific Railroad for the company’s “roadmaster,” who acted as the general manager of railroad operations and rights-of-way in a specific area.

From the late 1970s through the mid ’80s, he pursued another interest – politics. He began hosting an interview-based news radio program called PROBE in Salt Lake City, which aired Sunday mornings. A crafty interviewer, Patricia recalls he used to use his ever-present yellow legal pad to disarm his interviewees – which included four U.S. presidents.

“He would write things down on the pad, and politicians particularly, would try to read what he was writing,” says Patricia. This form of distraction helped Rogers dig deeper with guests who were typically very guarded.

Through a Tucson historian, Rogers came into the attention of Diana Creighton, who edited the popular ‘Times Past’ feature in the Arizona Capitol Times. He began submitting his stories of turn-of-the-century Arizona in the early 1990s, and was a fairly regular contributor to the section since that time, says Creighton.

Rogers’ expertise covered early 20th century crime in the Southwest, the Apache Wars, polygamy, labor unrest in Western mining camps, World War I, the Great Depression, slavery, the modern civil rights movement, Cochise County and the San Pedro Valley.

Patricia says her husband’s storytelling days may not be over. She has six cabinets full of his research, which she plans on sorting through and possibly publishing.

His legacy, she says, is “the history he wrote, and the research he did.” It will help future researchers, but it will also help her stay connected with the memory of the love of her life.

“I miss him terribly, but I have him all around me,” she says. “His library, his research his collection of music, the animals we loved, the house he worked on. While I miss him terribly, he’s still here in many ways.”

- W. Lane Rogers passed away early in the morning on July 30. He was buried in Benson High Street Cemetery in Benson, Ariz., on Aug. 5. A memorial account has been established at Bank of America, 149 W. Fourth St., Benson, Ariz., 85602 to help with funeral expenses.

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