Rhonda Rogers has a heart for senior citizens.
A young senior citizen herself, the Paris native retired in 1994 as a major in the United States Air Force. She now serves as Speaker of the House of the 18th Texas Silver-Haired Legislature (2019-21) during a challenging year for its members, whose ages range from 60 to 92.
Rogers bubbles with enthusiasm and purpose as she talks about their work as members go about fulfilling their charge to understand the needs of older Texans, and then present those needs through formal resolutions to members of the Texas Legislature.
“It’s not about us; It’s about the older Texans all over the state that don’t have a voice,” Rogers said of the group that normally meets three times in Austin during a two-year term, once for a biennial legislative session in the House of Representatives chamber. An executive committee, composed of about 30 members, meets several times throughout the state to develop resolutions.
Because of the global coronavirus pandemic, members met remotely more than 50 times this year to develop resolutions for the 87th Texas Legislature, which begins Jan 12, 2021. Resolutions range from the safety of legally prescribed medical cannabis to increased funding for home-delivered meals to increased access to healthcare through telemedicine, to the prevention of financial abuse of older citizens and more.
“We have one about fraud against nursing home patients,” Rogers said. “They can’t speak for themselves anymore but somebody has to, and it needs to be a group from all over the state. We have members in El Paso and in Beaumont, in Northeast Texas, in the Panhandle and everywhere in between. And when each of us goes to our legislators and says, ‘this is an issue,’ eventually they start listening.”
In addition to overseeing this year’s resolution process, and traveling the state to promote the organization, Rogers said she has two goals — to develop a new website and to update the organization’s official documents and procedures.
“We are in dire need of a new website, not just updated, but a completely new website,” Rogers said. “Our official documents have been piecemealed and amended every since 1985, and some of our procedures have not come up to the 21st Century.”
Because the group turned to virtual technology to do its work, which presented a challenge to aging members, Rogers says she fears the organization may lose membership.
“I already can see the next term is really going to be a lot about rebuilding because with the pandemic some of our long-term members say they will not be coming back, and others, because of technology, either choose not to keep up, or feel they are not capable of keeping up,” she said.
Although Rogers did not commit to seeking another term as speaker, her Air Force background in information management and in command assignments lends itself to the position.
She did hint at another term, however.
“I didn’t get to have my day at the Capitol,” she said.
The daughter of the late gospel quartet greats Helen and J.R. Rogers, the speaker is a graduate of Paris High School, Paris Junior College and the University of Texas. After retiring from the Air Force, she lived in New Orleans and graduated from the New Orleans Baptist Seminary before returning home in 2002 to be with her mother after her father died. Rogers served on Paris City Council from 2008 to 2011 and as Lamar County Veterans Officer from 2011 to 2014.