Pioneer in helping handicapped in Miss. dead at 87

Published 3:13 pm Thursday, June 7, 2007

Abbie Rogers, who pioneered programs to serve Mississippi’s handicapped, has died at the age of 87.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hattiesburg. Rogers died of cancer Tuesday at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg.

Rogers was a retired special education teacher and founder and director of The Abbie Rogers Civitan Camp for Citizens with Mental Retardation.

“She was a respecter of all persons, and that’s what I loved about Abbie,” said Kay Boone of Brooklyn, Miss., an assistant director of the Rogers Civitan Camp. “She is one of those rare people who has impacted the world.”

Rogers said in a 2006 interview with the Hattiesburg American newspaper that she found her calling in special education as a University of Southern Mississippi student and became determined to facilitate a normal lifestyle for mentally handicapped children and their families.

She started the Civitan camp for the mentally handicapped as a service project for the Girl Scouts almost 50 years ago. The first camp, at Camp Tiak, included around 20 campers and just a handful of volunteers. Recent camps saw almost 300 staffers, counselors, and campers converge on Camp Iti Kana in Wiggins.

The camp’s success led to the founding of a host of other programs and services for a demographic of people whose needs before that time, had gone largely ignored.

“She is absolutely the most unselfish person I’ve met in my life,” said Richard Potin of Hattiesburg, whose son, Chris, is an administrator with the Civitan camp. “She just had a quest to make (mentally handicapped people’s) lives better, to bring some normalcy into their lives.”

Rogers’ Mothers’ Day Out program had brought families together since the mid-1980s for just that reason during special weekly meetings at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hattiesburg.

In addition to running the camp and the Mothers’ Day Out program, Rogers sat on the board of Right to Succeed, a nonprofit organization that provides homes for mentally handicapped adults. She was the recipient of a number of accolades, including the Ageless Hero award from former Mississippi First Lady Pat Fordice in 2001 and the 2004 Woman of Achievement award from the Hattiesburg Area Women’s Forum.

Survivors include her husband, L.A. Rogers of Hattiesburg; two daughters; four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.