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Coloma road commissioner: 'I never wanted to do anything else'

Road commissioner succeeds in male-dominated industry

Published: Saturday, June 14, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Ruthie Rogers steps into the monster of a truck she uses to haul rocks. Rogers, a lifelong resident of Rock Falls, is a self-employed aggregate hauler. She's also one of three, maybe four, female road commissioners in Illinois. She was appointed to the position for Coloma Township in 2011 and elected in 2013.
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Ruthie Rogers, a self-employed aggregate hauler, drives her massive dump truck to Emerson Quarry in Sterling. She balances the business with her duties as highway commissioner for Coloma Township.
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Ruthie Rogers learned the trade from her mother and father. "I just loved the truck, and I loved going with my dad," said Rogers, who worked with her father after graduating in 1966 from Rock Falls High School and inherited the business after he died in 1983.
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Rogers grabs a load of rocks from the Como quarry for a job on the southwest side of Rock Falls.
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Ruthie Rogers tips the bed and lays down a precise load of gravel along a lane in Rock Falls. "Tailgating rock is my niche," Rogers says.

ROCK FALLS – The person who drives the Godzilla of all dump trucks around Rock Falls isn't what you'd expect.

It's a woman.

Her name is Ruthie E. Rogers, road commissioner for Coloma Township and a self-employed aggregate hauler.

The 64-year-old lifelong resident of Rock Falls loves big trucks and hard labor. She holds her own in a male-dominated industry.

Rogers is one of only three – maybe four – female road commissioners in the state, according to Jerry B. Crabtree, associate director for Township Officials of Illinois.

"[People] think you have to be a man," he said, "and that's not right."

Rogers was surprised when another road commissioner told her the stats.

"I was stunned,” she said. “I never would have guessed it was that few.”

Industries that include construction and quarrying employ fewer females than any others – 1 percent or less, according to a 2012 U.S. Department of Labor study.

This never stopped Rogers. She has the business in her blood.

“My father had a truck before he ever had a wife or a daughter,” she said. “I kind of was born into the deal, and I never wanted to do anything else.”

The late Ed Rogers literally paved the way for his daughter. She watched him plow snow for the township, and haul quarry products for farms and road-building projects.

Little Ruthie liked to ride along.

“Before I ever went to school, I can remember sitting there, and I couldn't really look out,” she said. “I was so small I couldn't look out the windshield. …

"I just loved the truck, and I loved going with my dad – just listening to him shift the gears, how he'd rev it up.”

While other little girls wanted to be ballerinas and princesses, Rogers wanted to drive a big truck like her dad. She worked for him after graduating in 1966 from Rock Falls High School. She inherited the business after he died in 1983.

“It's the only job I have had,” she said.

Her mother, Ruth, helped out before she passed away.

Today's truck sizes would stun her father, Rogers said. She drives one of the tallest and longest around, with a 17-foot box. Her father's first truck, bought in 1929 or 1930, had an 8-foot box.

“I think the first one would have fit in the box of this truck,” she said.

Rogers regularly drives to local quarries to load the beast with rocks. She unloads at roads, farms, or wherever product is needed. She likes to feel the “surge of the rocks” as they rumble down.

“It's not work,” she said. “I just love it.”

Rogers balances her business with her responsibilities as a township official. Her community appointed her road commissioner in 2011, and elected her in 2013.

Rogers preps roads for resurfacing, rocks road shoulders, mows rights-of-way, cuts brush, and patches road surfaces, among other tasks.

Women and men are equally capable, Crabtree said, to perform the duties of a highway commissioner.

“Ruthie does a great job,” he said.

In winter, she drives a plow and oversees snow removal 24 hours a day on township roads. No one welcomed spring more than Rogers after last season's nonstop snowfall.

Even so, she would not trade her plow for a cozy desk job.

“I've never done that in my life,” she said.

When she is not on the road, Rogers works in a shop filled with tools and equipment. She has earned the respect of male peers.

“There isn't any real challenge there,” she said. “If you're proficient in what you do, you get along well.”

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