40-year employee retires

Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2001

In 1961, Carl Rodgers left the U.S. Army, got married and took a job with Alaska Oil Sales.

On March 30, he retired after 40 years with the company.

"I'm going to fish the Kenai River, something I haven't had a chance to do lately. We used to, years ago," he said. "And I'm going to take up golf. My next-older brother and I have a farm in Pennsylvania. I'll have to go back in the fall and go hunting."

Rodgers, 61, said he has no plans to leave.

"I love Kenai," he said. "It's fun to visit other places, but it's always fun to come back. It's not crowded, and we have a lot of friendly people here. It seems like when you go to the South 48, everyone is looking out after themselves."

Rodgers, who came from Butler, Pa., near Pittsburgh, said he was stationed at Wildwood Army Base, the site of the present prison, after joining the service in 1958. He spent several years as a plumbing and heating engineer.

"We had a 500-man barracks, plus officers' and noncommissioned officers' quarters. I'd say there were probably 1,000 people there. They had communications in Building 100. We were a support group for them."

Kenai itself was a hamlet with a population in 1960 of 778.

Rodgers said there were not many stores.

"We had Kenai Commercial. It was owned by Helen Jones," he said.

That was the general store. There were two groceries -- Archer's Store and a grocery owned by George Navarre that stood at the present location of Paradisos. The only school was Kenai Elementary, now occupied by Kenai Alternative High School, Aurora Borealis Charter School and the Boys and Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula.

The GIs hung out at a soda fountain in the building now occupied by Old Town Village Restaurant, Rodgers said. That is where he met Kathy Wilson, his future wife. Her father owned Northway Cab, then the only taxi service in town.

"He liked me. Evenings and weekends, I'd drive for him and earn a little extra cash," Rodgers said.

He left the Army on Feb. 27, 1961, took a job March 30 driving fuel trucks for Alaska Oil Sales and Service and married Wilson on June 3.

"Our first place we rented when we first got married was next to the old Kenai jail downtown," he said. "It had a kitchen, bedroom, bath and living room. We paid $60 per month."

Shortly after that, he said, Don Bailey, who worked at Alaska Oil Sales and Service in Anchorage, bought the company and changed the name to Don Bailey Inc. About 1974, he sold it to Earl Billingslea, who changed the name back to Alaska Oil Sales. In 1991, Harbor Enterprises of Seward bought the company.

Alaska Oil Sales buys and resells fuel and oils from Tesoro, Chevron and Unocal, Rodgers said. In the early days, though, Don Bailey Inc. sold fuel on consignment for Unocal, which had no local refinery. The former Soldotna bulk plant was across the highway from the present Sal's Klondike Diner.

"We had a plant in Portage and a plant in Whittier," Rodgers said. "Ships brought fuel to Whittier and the railroad brought it to Portage. The 1964 earthquake wiped out both those plants."

The earthquake destroyed the Sterling Highway bridge across lower Kenai Lake, he said. Until a temporary crossing was built, Don Bailey Inc. bought fuel from the former Chevron refinery in Nikiski. After the road reopened, the company trucked fuel from the Unocal plant in Anchorage, which received it on ships from the Lower 48.

The earthquake also destroyed the bridge at Portage, Rodgers said. Until that was repaired, fuel trucks had to make the crossing at low tide.

Shortly after the quake, Rodgers gave up driving to become the company's dispatcher, a job he held until last month.

"Carl was just one of those perfect employees," said Darell Jelsma, Alaska Oil Sales general manager. "It's hard to describe him other than as one of those perfect employees who was never late and never missed a day unless he had to. He was our point guy, talking to customers day after day."

Rodgers' retirement party on Saturday drew close to 125 people, Jelsma said.

"They were customers, friends, people from the community, relatives, neighbors," he said.

Kathy Rodgers, 55, still works at Country Foods in Kenai. The couple loves to hunt.

"Between the wife and I, we've probably got 20 or 25 moose," Rodgers said. "We hunt every year. We set up camp at Mystery Creek."

During their years in Kenai, the Rodgers raised five children, all of whom now live in Las Vegas.

"June 3 is our 40th wedding anniversary. We're going down there and they're going to have a little party for us," he said.

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