Major Gallo Center donor's dedication shows, right down to the color scheme

Although major Gallo Center for the Arts donor June Rogers got to make suggestions about the new downtown Modesto building's design, she didn't always get her way.

She lost the vote on the color of the seats in the Mary Stuart Rogers Theater, which is named after her late mother-in-law.

"They liked burgundy, I wanted navy blue," the arts center board vice president said during a recent interview along with her husband, John, at the Mary Stuart Rogers Foundation's downtown office. "They thought burgundy would be pret- tier, and it did turn out prettier."

The foundation was one of the first groups to donate to the state-of-the art center, which will hold its grand-opening gala Thursday. The foundation contributed $5 million toward a $15 million endowment, with the Gallo families donating the rest.

Marie Gallo and Reagan Wilson, then chief executive officer of Stanislaus County, which owns the arts center, approached the Rogerses early on about assisting in the project.

John Rogers recalled that he quickly asked Gallo to get to the bottom line and tell him how much she wanted the foundation to contribute. When she told him $5 million, he nearly gasped.

"In my mind, I said, 'Yeah, right. What makes you think I have $5 million?' "

But Gallo's case was convincing, and the Rogerses said they ultimately decided to contribute because of how it would add to the community's educational opportunities.

Foundation donates millions

The Mary Stuart Rogers Foundation is one of the highest- profile philanthropic organizations in the area and has funded buildings and scholarships at Modesto Junior College and California State University, Stanislaus, as well as other schools in the valley and around the nation.

Other groups it has funded include Community Hospice and its Alexander Cohen Hospice House in Hughson, Townsend Opera Players, the Turlock Concert Association, Bethany Christian Services and the YMCA of Stanislaus County.

The foundation has donated $6.6 million to $24 million a year over the past nine years, according to its 990 tax forms, which are public records. The lowest figure was last year.

A member of the family that founded the Carnation Co., Mary Stuart Rogers was raised in San Mateo County and later lived in Santa Cruz before moving to Modesto with her husband and children in the 1950s. She established the foundation in 1985 and directed its activities until her death in 1993, when her eldest son, John, took over.

John and June Rogers both at- tended school in Modesto for a time. John went to Downey High School before heading to private school in Southern California, and June, whose maiden name was Welch, graduated from Modesto High a few years after Marie Gallo.

June said she used to watch Gallo, then known as Mimi Damrell, perform as a cheerleader at high school football games.

The Rogerses met and married after high school, had two children, who are now adults, and lived all over the nation for 26 years while John pursued his career in the Air Force. They returned to the valley in 1990, settling in Hughson, where they own a 50-acre almond ranch. The Rogerses also are part-owners of Sky Trek Aviation in Modesto.

John played accordion and sang in choirs and June performed in a modern dance program in school, but neither were particularly big arts fans in their youth, they said.

"I didn't see the ramifications or the benefits of the arts until I saw it as an educational venue after I graduated," John Rogers said.

Quality control

June Rogers threw herself into helping with the Gallo Center project, attending board meetings at which every detail was painstakingly discussed. She tested different seats, looked at carpet swatches and tile samples, and examined wall coverings.

She said she loves the finished product and is especially fond of the lobby and the lighting design.

"I think it turned out great," she said. "This is the second major design and it turned out great. It fits our county, it's not too opulent, it's not overdecorative. It fits downtown."

John, who visited the arts center for the first time during the private hard-hat concert for construction workers last week, said he was impressed with the sound. "I was at the top of the cheap seats and the center section and down in front while the music was going on, and it accommodates every seat of that house," he said, referring to the sound system. "It's really remarkable. You can hear perfectly."

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at lmillegan@modbee.com or 578-2313.

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