Roger Elkins, an Evart resident for the last 53 years, has dedicated much of his life to public service.
He taught science and math at Reed City for 32 years. He spent 10 years with the Evart City Council, much of that time as Mayor. Later he became Evart’s City Manager.
And on August 2nd, Elkins will be running for reelection to the Osceola County Board of Commissioners, looking to represent Evart Township.
He’s a history buff, and a man of faith. Whether it’s researching past area legends like Delos Blodgett and George Bennard for local historical societies, or volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and the Community of Christ Church, Roger is always looking for ways to contribute.
We caught up with Roger recently, and he shared his story with us. We learned that Roger Elkins is more than just another face in the crowd.
Marion Press: Where were you born and raised?
Roger: I was born in Lake County. My birth certificate reads Chase, Michigan. I was born in Pinora Township at my maternal Grandparents. Part of that farm is still owned by my family. Later, we moved south of Big Rapids at Rogers Heights. I attended Stanwood school and then the newly organized Morley-Stanwood School. I was involved in school activities and student government and did some sports.
MP: After school, where did life take you from there?
Roger: I graduated from Ferris with a teacher education degree. I taught at Reed City Middle School, science and math for 32 years. I enjoyed my teaching career. In the middle ‘80s, I took a part-time job with the Evart Review covering city council and school board meetings. I thought I could run for office, and chose to run for city council. I served as a council member and then mayor for a total of 10 years. I found the political role extremely interesting. Following teacher retirement, I worked for almost three years as executive director of the Big Rapids Downtown Business Association. During that time there was a vacancy in the Evart City Manager position. I was asked if I would be interested in serving as interim city manager, and then was selected to serve as City Manager. I held this position for just over six years.
MP: In your free time, what keeps you busy?
Roger: I do a lot of volunteering. I do a lot of things at the church, I’m involved with that. I’m not as heavily involved with Habitat for Humanity right now, but I’ve been involved in that. I was instrumental in getting a chapter in Osceola County. It’s actually Wexford/Osceola now. That was after I retired from teaching, when we got Habitat going. I’ve been involved with a number of historical organizations. Currently, with the Reed City Heritage Museum, home of the Old Rugged Cross [Reverend George Bennard].
MP: And how long have you been involved with the Community of Christ Church? What have you enjoyed the most about being a part of the church?
Roger: My whole life. I can just vaguely remember the old [formerly known as Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints] church kitty corner from the [post office] going over there. I remember drawing a dot-to-dot picture there, and mine looked terrible. Instead of going numerically, I just went with whatever number was closest! I’ve enjoyed the fellowship over the years. We’ve met a lot of great people.
MP: You’ve spent most of your life in public service, did you know growing up that that was something you wanted to do? Was there a career that you had envisioned as a kid?
Roger: No, it just happened. I don’t really know. I think I envisioned almost everything under the sun at one time. When I was in high school, I became pretty sure that I would do something in science; my best friend, he became an electrical engineer, and I thought I’d do something along that line. I ended up going into teaching, and I enjoyed that for the most part.
MP: How long have you been with the County Commission? How’d that come about?
Roger: Almost 12 years. I came in the back door on this, the person who was the commissioner had moved away, and I think there was 3 of us who had [applied]. I was selected, and then I filled out the remainder of his term, and now I’ve ran 4 or 5 times.
MP: What are some of the things the commission has accomplished or been working on since you’ve been on the board?
Roger: When I started as commissioner, EMS was a big question. Since then, we’ve built an EMS station in Marion and Tustin. The Commission on Aging, they’re going to be moving into the former Hersey Elementary School. They’ll be able to offer more programs there then what they’ve done. That will be where their main offices are. Eventually, that site is where they’ll be preparing the meals in addition to being a meal site. It’s much larger, and there are 6 or 7 classrooms to use for office space and for other activities. We’ll be able to do a lot more programming for seniors. The COA will be moving [into the former school] before Labor Day.
We’re also in the process of moving the district court, and the probate court, into the courthouse itself.
The COA had bought – there was a vacant church on Upton Street – a building that they thought might meet their needs, but that’s going to be the administrative building for the county. The county commission will meet there, and the county coordinator and his staff will have offices in there.
MP: You’ve been in Evart for 53 years. What have you enjoyed the most about living there?
Roger: I like the small-town life, it’s been very enjoyable. I’ve been particularly interested in the history aspects [of the area]. When I was teaching, one of our social studies teachers used a book called “Grandfather’s Day in Osceola County” and he would use that book for both Michigan history, and local history. So I became familiar with that, and some of the things that he had done. Delos Blodgett, in particular, I had become interested in. Back then [in the 19th century] every town had their lumber barons, but the more I started digging, Blodgett was not just a lumber baron, but – in my opinion – he was one of the top 3 lumber barons in Michigan, financially. In the 1880s or 1890s, the New York Times had carried a story, “Blodgett splits his 7.2 million dollars with his two children”. To think, 7.2 million, what that would be worth today?
MP: Tell us about your family.
Roger: Joyce and I have been married 54 years. We have three sons. Our oldest son is living in Evart right now. We have a son who is living in the Fenton area, and we have a son who’s living in New York City. We have a total of 7 grandchildren.
MP: What’s the key to 54 years of marriage?
Roger: I’m sure faith is a big part of that. Church life has been a big part of our lives. Out of my high school class – about 60 graduates – I think we’ve had over 40% of the kids in our high school class have been married 50 years or longer. I think that’s amazing.
MP: What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Roger: One of our scout mottos was, “Do your best.” – I often think about that. We had a tremendous scout master, and at the end of our meetings, we’d have a “Scout Master’s Minute”. It would be sort of a devotional, and I can remember a number of those lessons or stories that he had within there. But if I had to pick one, it would be “Do your best.” That’s what I try to do.