Goodbye Roger

We all have aspects of our work that we truly love.

 Let's just say things aren't quite the same as they once were, and they never will be.

Roger Kozak has left us.

His absence has left in a void in the Vermillion community that will be very difficult, if not impossible to fill.

Roger died Aug. 1 after fighting a losing battle with cancer for much of this year. When I first moved to Vermillion to start working at the Plain Talk, he was an alderman on the Vermillion City Council, and when you live and work in a community like ours, you can't help but get to know our local government officials.

While serving the community in local government, he also worked as an administrator at the University of South Dakota. Before that, he worked for the Board of Regents. And, before that, he studied business administration, served in the U.S. Army, and married his wife, Pat.

He served for three years as Vermillion's mayor, and when he retired and left city government, Roger, it seemed (and doubt this wasn't an illusion) became more active in the community and state than ever before.

The Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development Company, Junior Achievement, the Rotary Club, the Vermillion Community Foundation, the Dakota Hospital Foundation, and the University of South Dakota Foundation Board of Trustees all benefited from Roger's input and wisdom.

At the time of his death, he was involved in an effort to solicit funds from the community to pay for the furnishings for the new addition to the Vermillion Public Library. As long as he was able, he was always trying to serve others.

As you can imagine, I have written countless stories about community activities that have included Roger, and it's difficult to accept that such a vital, active presence in Vermillion is now gone.

He had some controversial moments in his role as our city's mayor, but the times I remember best come after he left city government, when Roger still found a way to be involved in our community.

On Veterans Day, Nov. 20, 2009, Roger served as master of ceremonies for the service held at the W.H. Over Museum.

 "Ordinary people who accomplished extraordinary things," Roger said before a standing room audience in the museum's Sletwold Hall. "Simply put, that's who our veterans are. Young and old, rich and poor, black and white, and nearly every category in between. They are men and women who serve or still serve America.

women who remember World War II and the Korean Conflict.

"All sacrificed something so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today," he said, while noting that American men and women in the military remained busy, even on that day set aside to honor them, protecting their nation. "They are helping us. It is America, not America's military, that al-Qaida and other terrorists have declared war on. But it is our armed forces who carry the great burden and responsibility of defending us."

The last time I heard him speak was March 20, after Mayor Jack Powell presented him with the Mayor's Community Service Award at the annual banquet of the Vermillion Area Chamber of Commerce and Development Company.

By this time, the word had already spread through the community that Roger was ill, but he pressed on, attended the banquet, and graciously accepted the award.

And, knowing how fragile life can be, he paused for a few minutes to give one last talk to his fellow citizens. Positive developments in a community are never accomplished alone, by a single person, Roger said.

"It is always the cumulative effort of many individuals coming together to see that a task is done, and done right," he said. "I've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with many of you over the years, and it's always been that maximum effort, together, that has made so many positive results come true."

He may have simply wanted to say thank you during that brief time at the podium. I think he knew, as did everyone who heard that last, brief speech, that he may not have another opportunity to stand before so many of his fellow townsfolk.

So, he made the most of it. Roger, through his wonderful message, reminded us all of the key to a successful future while also bidding us each a fond farewell.

Goodbye, Roger. Until we meet again.

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