Roger Lee Theodore Grunder, who many knew as “Roger Dodger,” had several dreams — one was to know Jesus Christ and be born again, and another was to help as many in the community who needed a warm blanket or sleeping bag for the upcoming winter get one.
One dream has been fulfilled, the other is ongoing.
Roger appeared on the Bladen Journal landscape about 2 years ago, when he would walk his bicycle down the sidewalk to the bench just to the west of our front door, sit down and read.
On my daily walks to the post office in those days, I would often see him there on the bench and say hello. But on one particularly sunny day, I sat down and introduced myself. His smile told me he was happy to have someone to chat with.
From that day forward, Roger and I became pals — and he quickly became a regular visitor to the Bladen Journal office, sometimes stopping by just to chat, other times to share a new joke he’d heard, and every once in a while to share a pizza lunch with us.
Roger was a character, plain and simple. He was homeless, which is something you would hardly guess if you just met him and talked with him for a while. He was a very intelligent guy — but he had no interest in one bit of the kind of life you and I have.
Somewhere along the way, Roger had run into trouble with the law, though I’m not exactly sure what kind of trouble it was. But what I do know is that he seemed to be working his way past all that and becoming a more integral part of society.
That path led him to the Bladen Crisis Center’s Thrift Shop, where he began helping Miss Ruth Hall with sorting and storing the donations that came in. When Roger disappeared from the bench in front of the office, he soon became a daily fixture at the Thrift Shop — where I often saw him helping folks with getting large items to their car or out back chatting with another employee.
And just like when he was sitting on the bench, my hello always evoked a wave and big smile — and sometimes a new joke.
As Roger continued to put his life together, he opened up a little more on visits to our office. He told us his father and sister lived in Elizabethtown, but that he didn’t like to impose on them very often for more than a shower or to wash his clothes. He told us he had, at one time, set up his camp in Tory Hole Park until the town began cleaning it out and he was asked to move on — which sent him out near the town’s industrial park, which created a much longer bicycle ride to town.
Roger knew most of those who are also homeless in the area, and he wanted to do something for them — as well as others who are in need — for the upcoming winter months. He settled on a community blanket and sleeping bag collection that ran the month of August. We were happy to publicize it in the newspaper and online, and the effort attracted somewhere around 35 items, many of which were brand new.
Roger was ecstatic, and he planned to do it again in October when things began to cool off more.
On Wednesday, Aug. 28, Roger came bounding into our front office in his usual chipper way and said he had big news. He said that, later that evening, he would be getting baptised at Open Door Ministries.
He was one happy rascal about that, and we were certainly happy for him.
Then, a few days later, Roger’s sister and nephew came to our office. She’d been there before to pick up the first load of blankets and sleeping bags, so I thought she was coming by to get the next load. Instead, she informed me that Roger had been killed.
Apparently, along with getting baptised on that Wednesday, he also managed to buy himself a car. And less than 48 hours after being baptised in water, Roger was behind the wheel of his car when I’m told it accelerated on its own and the car crashed somewhere out near the industrial park.
None of us could have been more stunned.
But I knew one thing: I wanted to make sure Roger’s Wish — which is what we have dubbed this effort — to collect as many blankets and sleeping bags for those who needed them was carried on. And so we will.
Throughout the month of October, in memory of Roger, the Bladen Journal will collect new or gently used blankets and sleeping bags. And early in November, we will find a way to hand them out — either through our office or through an area church. Anyone who can donate a blanket or sleeping bag can bring them to our office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Last week, a memorial was held for Roger at Open Door Ministries, and I would have attended except that my grandson was being baptised in Lumberton on the same night. But a silent prayer was said for Roger nonetheless. I’m told that his body was donated to the Duke University School of Medicine.
We will miss Roger’s visits, jokes and outgoing personality. But his memory will live on, and we hope his legacy will, as well.
— W. Curt Vincent is the general manager and editor of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.