Roger Gardner was in Future Farmers of America while in high school over in Harrisonville, where his dad taught vocational agriculture. In February, 1982, Derry hired him to drive over from Mizzou to do farm reports, especially the early ones when Derry had returned late the night before from a speaking engagement. Roger went full time in May of ’83, after graduating from MU with an Ag-Education degree. Naturally, I saw Roger as a strong addition to our farm broadcasting staff and the eventual successor to Derry.
Until he came to me with an odd question in early 1984: “How do you see my future here?” he asked. I told him my vision. “Well, I don’t see myself being a farm broadcaster.” he told me. Eeeek! Now what was I going to do? I liked the guy, but… So, I asked him if he’d move to Des Moines and along with Greg Brown run that new property (Iowa State). He was only 22 and newly engaged. Here’s what he says today about revealing the news to his fiance’, Cheri:
“And yes, the conversation with Cheri was interesting. It was a fairly short conversation and I remember clearly the whole thing, including where I was sitting when I called her (a cube on the sun porch) and the day of the week (Friday). It was short (rushed) because you were leaving the next day for a barefoot cruise (for a birthday, as I recall) and you wanted this thing cleaned up before you left!
“Roger: “hey, i’ve got a question for you.”
Cheri: “OKayyyyyy?” (translation: “I wonder what’s coming next?”)
R: “what would you think about living in Des Moines?”
C: “the one in iowa?”
R: “next month”
(I then explained the reason and the opportunity…which was followed by an awkward silence)
C: “so you think this is a good thing?”
C: “OK then…well, sure.” (which sounded like what you say when someone proposes a place to eat you’ve never heard of before, but since you don’t have a better suggestion, you agree)
R: “great, I’ll see ya later.”
“I think the conversation was a little more involved than that, but not much. There are a couple of neat things connected with all this:
I’ll never forget the fact that Cheri was willing to trust me and take the leap with me…without any “push back.” That’s a great feeling, even when you’re only 22. The year proved to be a great “leaping off” point for our relationship.
The experience was great for us. Our first year of marriage, kind of on our own, was exciting. There were some great people in Des Moines, friends at church, who adopted us (probably felt sorry for us). we lived in a not-so-attractive apartment in a not-so-good part of town…but it’s hard to think of a time we’ve been much happier.
It was defining, professionally and beyond. In reality, the year wasn’t as smooth or as fun or as “big” as I picture it in my mind. But it was a very big deal for me…for us…the first touchdown, the first home run, the first game-winning 3-pointer. It is amazing how much I learned (from the experience and from Greg) and how much those early “successes” help fuel a career. But it’s true…and therefore, I wish the same thing for each of our young men and women in the company. I think those experiences really help shape your identity…how you see yourself and how you frame up your goals and the expectations you have for yourself.
“I therefore think the training and mentoring we try to do (and I’m sure we could improve) is so important. the benefit isn’t immediate…it’s realized over a long time, perhaps an entire career (or life)! i think it’s one of most important obligations of a responsible company.”
After the ISU network was up and running, Roger and Cheri returned to Jefferson City where Roger became General Manager of Brownfield and Learfield Satellite before becoming General Manager of Sports in 1989. He became a vice-president in the mid-90’s; was elected Executive VP in 2000 when we reorganized our leadership responsibilities, and was elected President and COO in 2006.
Roger and I and several others began a covenant relationship in the summer of 1996; attempting to walk together spiritually; holding each other accountable; not letting the sun set on our anger; sharing. He’s more than a friend; he’s a brother.